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Commissioning Series: #3 Clarification Questions and Request for Information

It is true that sometimes providers don’t want to show their hand during the ‘clarification questions’ period for fear of giving away details of their bid. Having worked with a few partners and knowing most of the other providers in my field, I know that it is sometimes better not to ask a question, the answer of which will be made public, than indicate to competitors what you intend to do.

This creates a situation where some guess work is involved but is a hazard of the way procurement works. There is no way round this because the legal processes involved rightly dictate that all information be available to all potential providers. However, there is one method that can help inform commissioning that can sometimes be overlooked or undervalued – the ‘Request for Information’ (RFI).

An icon of a pencil and an online document
The value of the RFI

The request for information is a pre-procurement tool that allows commissioners to get a sense of the market. They can put out a draft specification or just ask questions of the market about their intentions and what they are thinking.

Some organisations use these really effectively and you are able to see how these questions have helped change or shape the service specifications. However, it is also clear that, for some, this is a tick box exercise to say they have consulted the market and it has little of no impact on the service specification (apologies if this sounds controversial!).

The real value of an RFI for commissioners is that you have an opportunity to get providers to ask and answer questions freely without holding back for fear of giving away their competitive advantage. Use this opportunity!

Write a draft service spec before going out for information. Get it ready as if you were going live. You will get a fully honest appraisal of what the market thinks of it because there are no legal constrictions on their answers or the risk of sharing their honest thoughts. I should say that we are always honest in RFI’s and clarification stages of procurement processes, however, the timing and set up created by commissioners can be optimised to achieve the best results for them – getting the maximum information and good critique from the markets on the service specification. If you go out with questions only, with no accompanying service spec, this is a missed opportunity.


As I mentioned in my previous blogs in this series, these are my own views and the views of many providers and commissioners I have worked with over the years. I hope this might have at least some use to people and am happy to chat further with commissioners off the record or to help match up commissioners with others who have taken new, innovative or particularly effective approaches. If you are interested, please check out my other blogs and get in touch for a chat!