Help! I have been asked to do a government tender…
7 June 2021 at 4:27 pm
A government tender hits your desk, what do you do next? How do you best leverage relationships and engagements to help position for a competitive tender? Neil Pharaoh shares some advice.
You have been invited by a policy department to complete a tender, so you put your best foot forward and get your team together to compile what you think is a great document.
It is sent into the unknown and a few months later you hear back, somewhat deflated, that you were unsuccessful. In frustration, you wonder why you were asked to do it if there was no likelihood of winning, and feedback from the department is slim on the ground – but maybe you need to re-wind and look back over the time leading up to the tender to discover what went wrong.
The above story is something I have heard many times in relation to government tenders, even when people are invited. So let’s put some reasons why you weren’t successful on the table, and discuss a couple of simple ways you can get ahead of the curve.
Firstly, the department (or agency) involved needs to “look” like due process is followed. It may have a preferred party in mind, or it may be that the person it wants was previously a public servant, but is now in the revolving door of big firm consulting so their network puts them ahead of the curve.
In both these circumstances the process needs to look legitimate from the government perspective. For the agency or department, there is not much extra work, if any, for you to apply and no skin off their back if you don’t get it. Remember, sometimes these outcomes are already decided, but perception management means we go through the motions.
Second, with our clients we spend a lot of time working through the concepts of five government stakeholders (executive/shadows, members of parliament, policy departments, central agencies and the political parties). For each decision, even small ones, often up to 100 people will be across it, and sometimes even if the policy department (Health, Education, Science) wants an outcome, any one of those other 99-plus people can make it difficult, impossible, or potentially flip the outcome.
Mapping the journey a tender or submission makes, through caucus, cabinet, departments or beyond, is a really critical process. You learn about how government works, and you also build your real stakeholder list – and identify those who can say no. Map the course of a project through government and manage your stakeholders accordingly.
Thirdly, it may be that someone along the way is just plain shitty, and you caught the raw end of the deal. Maybe one minister had a project going up for approval yesterday, and for whatever reason another minister shot that one down. If the roles are reversed, it could be your project, or tender which is caught in the crossfire.
It may be fine on merit, logic and support, but you just may not have got someone on a good day. This one is easily mitigated though. If you can plot the course of a decision (as per above) and you just ensure people know who you are, you greatly reduce the risk of being shot down for superfluous reasons.
Finally, maybe you didn’t play the political game. Merit is great, but as most of you who have read anything of late about sporting grants, multicultural grants, and even many infrastructure grants, know — just because something is top of the pile when it leaves the department, doesn’t mean it finishes that way after it has been via the minister’s office.
Backbenchers, electorates, margins, geography, and location are all key components in granting government money. If you can’t map to them, and show your influence within them, you are unlikely to survive the political cut – this is even more critical as we get closer to a federal election (and Victorian and South Australian state ones). See here for an easy cheat to see when they are due.
Do not be afraid if you miss out on a tender, as it does bring you closer to the next one, also be a little skeptical about no win, no fee arrangements with grant writers and consultants. I have a fairly good record working with social purpose organisations on tenders, but still feel uncomfortable doing the “no win, no fee” arrangements which are starting to occur in this space.
About the author: Neil Pharaoh has spent most of his voluntary and professional life in and around social purpose organisations, government, public policy and advocacy. Neil has been behind many leading social policy and advocacy campaigns on gender rights, equality, medical research and education, and ran for Parliament in Victoria in 2014 and 2018. Neil is co-founder and director of Tanck, which focuses on better engagement with government, and regularly runs workshops and advocacy sessions and advises leading social purpose organisations on their government engagement strategy and systems.
Happenings on the hill is a fortnightly column focusing on all things politics, policy, campaigns and advocacy. Stay tuned for updates around political trends and elections, lobbying and advocacy news, and hints, tips and ideas on government engagement that are specifically written for the social purpose/for purpose sector.
If you have any ideas, suggestions, tips or questions, please feel free to email Neil Pharaoh at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out to him via social media at LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @neilpharaoh.