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I’ve worked on a number of procurement projects where the team writing the evaluation criteria have decided that they need to limit the size of the response from the bidders. To me it seems that they have a quick think about how much they want to evaluate and then set the limit based upon that. The evaluators may be included in this process but not always. The result is that, once the bids have been returned, the evaluators are left evaluating a document that may not have enough detail for them to have the confidence to select the maximum score. Alternatively the limit has encouraged the bidders to provide too much detail that is not required when answering a relatively straight forward question.

Why is it done?
The reason why people elect to limit the size of a response is to control the amount of effort it will take to evaluate the responses. The most obvious examples of when the evaluation effort is likely to be very large are: large procurement programmes such as a major infrastructure project; or a procurement project where you are likely to receive a large number of responses. In most cases you are asking people to make time in their “day job” to also evaluate the bidders’ responses. This is especially true when you have infrequent procurement projects, and creates a significant overhead when there are a large number of responses.

The other reason that a limitation is used is to provide the bidder with an idea of the amount of detail that is required within the response. This means the bidder doesn’t spend time and resource providing more detail than is required.

How to do it properly
It must be possible for the bidders to provide a response, within the limit set, that will enable them to achieve the maximum score possible. A university lecturer has a similar issue when setting exam questions. The student is asked to provide a response to a question; however they will only have a limited amount of time to be able to demonstrate that they understand the subject. The lecturer needs to provide a question that clearly defines what is expected without giving the answer. Further, it must be possible to answer it within the limited time. Lecturers are taught that the best method for doing this is once they have written the question to then write a model answer with all the details that they expect. Alternatively they can ask a colleague to write the model answer. This takes time; however it does ensure that it’s possible to provide an answer to the question that will obtain the highest possible score. This process should be applied to the questions set of bidders in a tender.

What should be included in the page or word count
There are some very obvious non-scoring items that can be discounted from the limits. If a page side limit has been set then any title and index pages provided by the bidder should be ignored. Similarly, if a word count has been set then ignore text in the title page, index pages as well as header and footers. These don’t provide any useful information that would count towards the score.

There is a song that suggests that a picture paints a thousand words. However, while this may be true it certainly isn’t true that a picture of, for example a person, will tell you much of their capabilities or professional experience. If the image has been provided to illustrate a point then there should be some text associated with the image stating exactly what the point is that it is trying to illustrate. With this in mind the area taken up by an image should not be included in the page side count.

Charts and diagrams are considered part of a page side count. If you’ve stated a word count then it is suggested that you work out how many words would have taken up the area covered by the chart or diagram. For instance assuming that a page for text is about 600 words (in Arial 10 point font) and a chart covers quarter of an A4 page you should assign 150 words of the word count.

What if the response is over the limit?
It is important to have considered what action will be taken if the response is over the limit and to publish this to the bidders. From the discussion above it also needs to be stated to the bidder what will be counted within the page side or word count and what will not be.

The rule that’s been applied to the projects I’ve worked on is to evaluate up to the limit then stop. Some flexibility has generally been applied so if the response is just over the limit then it’s been entirely evaluated. The rationale should include a comment stating that the evaluator has done this. It is acceptable to go back to the bidder and ask them what section of their response, based upon the limit stated, they would like to be evaluated. Another option would be to not evaluate the response as it is non-compliant however this is likely to be challenged by the bidder.

As a final note I have had a bidder ask whether page side is one or two sides of a page. It’s one side, that’s why page sides are stated rather than pages!

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