RFPs vs. RFIs: What’s the Difference?

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The world of bidding on government projects can seem daunting! For one thing, there are a myriad of bid document types, and to make things worse, similar or identical document types often have different names or abbreviations, depending on the preferences of the entity that issued them. In addition to the standard Request For Proposal (RFP), one might come across RFIs, RFTs, RFBs, RFQs, IFBs and more. When it comes to RFP vs. an RFI, what’s the difference?

A Request for Information, or RFI, is often used by government entities (states, municipalities, government agencies, etc.) when the solution to a particular problem isn’t immediately apparent. Thus, an RFI is published solely in order to gather information from potential vendors on how a particular issue might be solved.

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RFP vs. RFI

As opposed to an RFP, the purpose of an RFI isn’t to solicit bids and hire a vendor to actually solve the issue. In fact, some RFIs will include language explicitly stating that it’s not an invitation to bid. Rather, it’s more of a hypothetical exercise to understand what the possible solutions might be. As such, the questions in an RFI are typically high-level, broad and somewhat open-ended.

An RFI will typically describe an issue/problem, and ask for expertise regarding how to solve it. For example, a typical RFI might include a statement such as:

Notice that second sentence. The County isn’t actually asking for bids, they just want to understand market options that might provide what they’re seeking.

“Hold on a second,” you might be thinking at this point. “Since an RFI is only asking for possible solutions instead of actual bids, why should I spend my time – and therefore money – responding, if there’s nothing to win?”

While this is a valid question, the answer is simple: In many cases, the issuer utilizes the vendor responses to create an RFP! The issuing entity will review the solutions provided by the responses to the RFI; then craft an RFP that actually asks for bids on the project. In fact, some RFIs will explicitly state that responses to the RFI will be used to craft a future RFP. Here’s an example of such language:

“Responses will not be treated as proposals, but will be used to create a subsequent Request for Proposal (RFP).”

It’s favorable to businesses who provide quality, useful responses to an RFI. After all, it was the business’s answers to the RFI that helped create the RFP in the first place!

Need Help Writing an RFI or RFP?

The world of government procurement can seem overwhelming, in part due to the dizzying array of documents, procedures and industry lingo. At The Bid Lab, our team are experts in the arena of RFPs, RFIs and everything in between. Let us help your business navigate these waters today!


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