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. In an effort to clear up some of the confusion, today we’re focusing specifically on the RFI.

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.

As opposed to an RFP , the purpose of an RFI is not to solicit bids and hire a vendor to actually solve the issue. In fact, some RFIs will include language explicitly stating that it is 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:

“The County is seeking information from qualified firms who can provide digital content services that will enable public libraries to lend popular audiobooks and e-books via the library’s website. The responses resulting from this RFI will be utilized by the County to develop an understanding of market available options.”

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 vendor responses are utilized by the issuer to create an RFP! The issuing entity will review the solutions provided by the responses to the RFI, and 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 is an example of such language:

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

Therefore, businesses who provide quality, useful responses to an RFI will be looked upon favorably when it comes time to create the RFP; after all, it was the business's answers to the RFI that helped create the RFP in the first place!

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