An emerging museum recently asked me to review an RFP document they were preparing.
Unfortunately, a part of their boilerplate text outlined a number of tasks (basically "free work" like sketches, complete interactive exhibit descriptions, etc.) that they expected RFP respondents to complete as part of their submission.
I immediately informed the museum's staff that not only was speculative work (especially included as a requirement for an RFP) inappropriate, but it was unethical.
Initially, the museum's response was defensive -- "we are just using verbiage that we copied from other RFPs." My rejoinder was that making a copy of something that was bad to begin with, doesn't make the new document better!
Fortunately, the National Association for Museum Exhibition (NAME) (one of the Professional Networks of the American Alliance of Museums) has posted an Ethics Statement on their website that clearly addresses this issue. Item #4 of the Ethics statement states:
No member shall solicit free or speculative designs or plans from independent designers or exhibit fabricators. Members should discourage the submission of speculative designs from these outside sources.
In this case, once the folks at the emerging museum read the "official" ethics document from NAME they did the right thing and completely removed the offending language from their RFP.
Unfortunately, requests for "spec work" still regularly show up in RFPs -- either by accident or design. Sometimes respondents don't feel comfortable confronting (or ignoring) such RFP requirements/requests, but unless we help the folks issuing RFPs understand that speculative work is inappropriate (and also whenever possible calling out such RFPs) this practice will not change.
Maybe once we eliminate spec work requests from RFPs we can also get museums to drop the stupidly archaic (and decidedly non-environmentally friendly) requirement for multiple paper copies of RFP submissions in addition to digital documents. How about if you want paper copies, you just print a few copies of them out at your museum to share with staff? (And do you really need paper copies?)
While we're on the subject of RFPs, I'd be remiss not to point another great FREE resource (also courtesy of NAME) which is an entire online issue of articles (and "dos and don'ts") about RFPs including bonus downloadable documents related to the RFP process. Click on over to the NAME website to find the RFP Issue there.
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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!
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