Author: Kathy Selvaggio, West Linn resident
(The following submission was made to the City of West Linn regarding six proposals submitted in response to the City’s bid tender for a DEI audit.)
I am submitting the following comments and attached spread sheet examining six of the 13 proposals received from firms in response to the city’s Request for Qualifications for a DEI Program and Equity Audit. Due to time limitations, I decided to focus only on the six proposals that appeared to be short-listed by Mayor Axelrod and Councilor Sakelik during their discussion in the most recent City Council meeting. It is also important to note that, although I am quite active in both Concerned Citizens of West Linn and in the West Linn Alliance for Inclusive Community, these comments represent only my input as an individual, because time did not allow sufficient review and input from my colleagues in either group.
First, a bit about the professional experience that I bring to bear in reviewing these proposals. I have spent the past 25 years working in the field of international development, with a primary geographic focus in Africa (various countries in East, West and Southern Africa), but also in Central Asia (Azerbaijan and Republic of Georgia) and Southeast Asia (Vietnam and Philippines). The last dozen or so years I have worked mostly as an independent consultant conducting assessments, evaluations, and program reviews from a gender and social inclusion lens of a range of social and economic development projects, programs, and policies. As part of this work, I have frequently carried out quantitative and qualitative analysis, program recommendations, and occasionally training on how to integrate gender considerations (and sometimes other factors related to age, people with disabilities, people from different ethnic or religious backgrounds, social caste, etc.) into the design, implementation and monitoring of program or policy, including changes in management and decision-making structures that will ensure sufficient priority to these issues. The general purpose of this work is to ensure that the program or policy serves to break down disparities among different groups of beneficiaries, rather than reinforce them.
General comments on the DEI audit scope of work
- The RFQ/RFP scope of work was confusing in the fact that it identified the equity audit as separate from assessment of DEI competencies, data analysis, policy review and program recommendations. They would seem to be essentially the same thing, although the equity audit seemed to be specifically focused on racial equity, and the DEI program assessment seemed to encompass a broader range of equity issues. The fact that many of the proposals combined these two sets of activities suggest that they were perceived by the applicants as the same thing, or at least overlapping.
- I have concerns that the $40,000 budget – as well the level of effort proposed by many of the applicants — might not be sufficient for the task outlined in the RFQ/RFP, particularly with hourly rates ranging up to $325/hour. Likely because of the budget constraints, many of the firms are proposing a rather limited level of effort for some of the activities, which might be insufficient to carry out a thoughtful assessment, analysis, program recommendations and program roll-out. Similarly, the demand for a quick timeline might undercut this objective.
- I also wonder if there should be separate efforts aimed at an equity audit/organizational assessment of the West Linn Police Department — where racial/ethnic equity seems to be a bigger issue and where both the culture and the policies/procedures are distinct from the city government — and the other West Linn City Government Departments.
- I have some serious concerns around the training activities. Both my professional experience as well as familiarity with various studies indicate that one-off or limited diversity/inclusion trainings make little difference in the context of an entrenched culture and way of doing business. If training is to be an important part of the program, it should be accompanied by ongoing mentoring or coaching and other support services, as well as very clear ways of ensuring that training approaches translate into changes in behaviors and practice. This also suggests that the training/coaching might be separated from the equity audit/recommendations and pursued as a separate scope of work with a separate budget.
- My ratings reflect a moderate preference for local organizations, because local organizations will likely be more familiar with the local context and will be more cost-effective, but it is not a strict requirement.
Comments on specific proposals
In the attached spreadsheet, I have attempted to rate six firms in different areas identified in the RFQ/RFP, according to scale of 1-3, where 1 is a low rating and 3 a is high rating. I also give an average score for each firm in Column J, although I recognize that many of the scores are based upon subjective judgments rather than a truly empirical analysis. Below, rather than rank the six proposals in sequence, I simply group them into higher and lower priority below, with some high-level comments on each.
- The Kenly Group presents a good option by two local African-American women who have relevant experience with local government both locally and out of state (although there is a question as to whether a multi-racial, multi-cultural team might be preferable). Their approach appears to very participatory, both in its collaboration with city staff as well as its consultations with community. However, they have not adequately defined the level of effort they will devote to the activities, and their proposal is somewhat generic.
- Portland State University. PSU can cite a long list an impressive list of former local clients on similar consultancies, including the Clackamas County, and the Cities of Beaverton and Milwaukie. However, the team’s members and their experience as well as their racial/ethnic background is yet to be defined. The proposal suggests that PSU will rely heavily on students, who might not have sufficient experience with program development, implementation and training. PSU might be more effective in the role of assessment/analysis than in the role of program development and roll-out.
- Ready Set. This firm has a primary focus on DEI issues, some propriety approaches, and a strong multi-racial, multi-cultural team. Although they come within the budget, their high unit price ($325/hour) suggests a quite limited level of effort for various activities. In addition, they are not local and all of their experience appears to be in the San Francisco Bay area.
- Conducere presents a well-articulated proposal that checks nearly all of the boxes of the RFQ/RFP — although sometimes the proposal simply seems to parrot the RFQ. It offers relevant but limited experience with local government in Alabama. Their team is multi-racial. However, they are located in in Maryland. The level of effort to produce the different deliverables is not clear. I also have concerns that they might take too much of an academic approach.
- Empress Rules. This firm is local and offers some impressive local team members: Christine Moses has been active in Lake Oswego’s Respond to Racism and led a well-regarded session on equity in education at the Multi-City Equity Summit; and John Lenssen also is well known in this space in Oregon. However, their proposal seems a bit off the mark and not sufficiently reflective of the RFQ/P. For example, it focuses heavily on community engagement, rather than on internal workplace culture, policies and practices. Sometimes it touches on issues more appropriate for the private sector (e.g., supply chain analysis). Its budget is also 3.5 times higher than the $40,000 budgeted for the audit and program.
- Moss Adams presents a logical proposal from a highly professional operation offering efficiencies of a large firm. The proposal indicates extensive local government experience, including many nearby cities. However, it offers a somewhat technocratic approach and its experience with and commitment to DEI is not entirely clear. It mentions its own workplace culture but does not cite other work with muncipalities on DEI issues. Most of its expertise appears to be related to accounting. None of the 5-person team members appear to be people of color.