Monthly community engagement myth - writing a detailed engagement strategy before going to tender

Want to get the best possible value out of the consultant or facilitator you engage?  Hoping to minimise wasted time, money and resources?  Seeking to deliver an engagement process that’s as effective as possible?  Our tip: don’t develop a detailed engagement methodology before you appoint your consultant. 

This month’s myth explores the potential consequences of this all too common error and provides 4 steps to achieving the best possible return on your consultant investment and delivering an effective process.


Developing a detailed engagement plan before going out to tender is a common practice.  It seems logical - provide detailed direction to consultants, ask them to quote on the same methodology, and set tight parameters.  The idea is that proposals will be easily comparable, and consultants will be clear on what you want delivered.

However, even though there does need to be internal preparation and thinking prior to commencing a tender or RFQ process, if you delve into the details too far, you’ll end up wasting time and money and missing an opportunity to develop the best possible process.   

5 reasons you should avoid this approach: 

1. Effective engagement is the aim

A methodology (your program of engagement activities) is less effective when developed in isolation.  It’s more likely to miss the complexities of the issue, consider the needs of participants or line up with the outcomes the organisation seeks. 

2. Re-scoping is unavoidable

A good consultant or facilitator co-design and reshape your engagement.  Re-scoping after the first meeting is normal – one of the reasons this happens is there’s a delay between writing the tender and engaging a consultant, and things change internally and externally.  By the time you commence the project you’ll need to regroup, so time taken to plan methodology in detail will be wasted.

3. You might miss out

Good consultants and facilitators are unlikely to be interested in delivering a process that has already been designed down to the last letter.  You could miss out on the opportunity to work with the best in the business.

3. Innovation is lost

Innovation is something most of us aspire to integrate into an engagement process.  A restrictive brief is going to reduce the likelihood of receiving creative, innovative ideas in consultant proposals.

5. Co-ownership is key

You lose the opportunity to engender a sense of co-ownership or form partnerships with your consultants and internal stakeholders, which is vital for delivery of your plan.

So, what is the alternative? 

1. Define the project at a strategic level

Define the problem and purpose of the engagement.  Then set out some core parameters and constraints such as timeframe, budget, summary of the community you want to involve and principles for the process.

2. Seek buy-in

Seek appropriate decision maker approvals at a high level (e.g. preliminary approval of strategic overview - purpose, principles etc.).

3. Go out to tender. 

Don’t include a program of activities - wait to see what innovations and creative ideas applicants can come up with within your constraints.

4. Co-design

Once you’ve engaged your consultant or facilitator, co-design the methodology together. A best practice engagement process is developed in collaboration with internal (and sometimes external) stakeholders, the facilitators delivering it and the project team overseeing it.  It’s also advantageous to have your facilitator support that co-design discussion.




What ‘ducks’ do you like to have in a row before you go out to tender? Share your ideas in the comments below. 




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