Request for Proposals - Strategic Growth Planning of CreativeGround

New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) seeks proposals from consultants to engage in the first phase of a planning process that will enable the growth of its CreativeGround digital platform.

Background and Rationale

CreativeGround.org is a signature component of NEFA’s creative economy portfolio and connects, promotes, and provides data about New England’s creative economy. The site was launched in 2014 and is the only regional digital directory of its kind. Free to all users, the site features over 30,000 in-depth profiles for cultural nonprofits, creative businesses, and artists of all disciplines. Site users learn about the creative assets in their own community, search for collaborators and resources, and promote their work to a broad audience. The site also serves as a data source for research about the creative economy in New England for NEFA. It reflects ongoing, real-time tracking of the creative people and places of New England and is built upon NEFA’s 40-year legacy of commissioned research on the economic impact of the region’s creative sector.

Investing in the sustainable growth of CreativeGround is tied to the goals from NEFA’s organization-wide strategic plan, adopted in January 2018:

  • Networks and Knowledge (Goal 2): improves access to and usability of the site for researchers, funders, policy makers, city planners, and arts service providers, further building understanding and leveraging connection of the arts ecosystem in New England
  • Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (Goal 3): increases the diversity and representation of and engagement with all aspects of the New England creative sector, reducing barriers to access and inclusion
  • Artists and the Creative Process (Goal 1): further supports artists and strengthens their professional capacity

CreativeGround planning is also informed by NEFA’s most recent study on the strength of the region’s creative sector, The Jobs in New England’s Creative Economy and Why They Matter. The report demonstrates that the creative sector can be invisible and challenging to support because it is embedded within all other economic sectors. The decrease of payroll jobs in the creative economy since the recession has made finding and supporting the growing number of self-employed creatives especially necessary. In the early 2000s, NEFA made an intentional investment in online tools to quantify and spotlight the New England arts sector and for artists to find resources without going through a private authority or curator with the launch of the CultureCount and MatchBook.org websites. In 2014, NEFA combined these websites into one free, searchable, online creative community with the goal of building both the capacity of the creative sector, and the capacity to study it.

Approaching the site’s five-year anniversary, it is critical to engage in a growth planning process that assesses improvements and sustainability, sets priorities for adding functionality, and outlines a robust user engagement strategy. It is an opportunity for site stakeholders to get inspired and dream big for CreativeGround’s next phase as New England’s online creative community and database; enabling staff to be responsible stewards and respond to opportunities with timely, appropriate, and strategic action.

Project Scope and Deliverables

CreativeGround growth planning should focus on the three major components of the site: the public-facing platform where users search, create, and update public profiles; the back-end database that allows administrators and partners to vet and export the data in the profiles; and the promotion of the website and its profiles through site design, marketing materials, and live and virtual outreach. Plans for CreativeGround should accommodate changes in the technology and data landscapes, and address the staff capacity necessary to implement changes, conduct planning, and maintain current activities.

Desired outcomes for planning:

  • Provide the priority and order for site enhancements that will streamline and decrease administrative burden; and best help users to add information, find resources, and increase their visibility and professional capacity.
  • Provide clarity on the strategies for increased usage of the raw data, including steps needed to keep the data clean, make it easy to access, and track its usage.
  • Provide effective messaging and statements of benefit to various existing and potential audiences, including an awareness campaign to keep or increase user engagement during planning.

Review of Opportunities and Input. Through collaboration with our web developers, partners at New England’s state arts agencies, field colleagues from other sectors, and site users, we have identified several potential opportunities for growth of CreativeGround. We have received valuable feedback and ideas for site improvements from users through direct input at workshops, by email or phone, user survey responses, an evaluation of NEFA’s New England programs by an outside evaluator in 2016, and focus groups for NEFA’s strategic plan in 2017. We are also part of several local, regional, and national research and planning groups, and regularly connect with peers for useful feedback. Planning should review this input and assess priorities, users, and partners that are most strategic. A few examples of potential site and program enhancements to be examined during planning:

  • Enhancing user experience and site responsiveness
  • Strategic partnerships for cross promotion
  • Increased administrative back end access to CreativeGround profile data
  • Streamlined searching and results display

Growth Roadmap. A key element of this phase of the planning process is a planning document, or “growth roadmap.” It should outline the work and resources needed to keep the site sustainable and useful for a variety of audiences. It should also identify guidelines for making and assessing future decisions about priorities and evaluating site activity and administration compared to site goals:

  • Clarify the end goals for growth
  • Estimate growth phases and timeline
  • Prioritize potential data, technology, and design enhancements
  • Identify metrics for assessing each phase of growth
  • Outline budget, funding, and staffing needs

The roadmap should be developed in close collaboration with our existing web developers, who will perform a technical assessment to test the site’s foundation for prioritized enhancements and create a technical workplan that specifies the steps and level of effort to implement the growth roadmap.

User Engagement and Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (EDIA). NEFA has a commitment to EDIA. It is of the utmost importance that CreativeGround is not just Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant but truly accessible and inviting to individuals of all backgrounds and abilities, whether searching, getting listed, or interacting in any way with the CreativeGround staff and community. Planning should outline a user engagement strategy that can be implemented by staff during and after the planning period:

  • Prioritize potential users, partners, and the strategies to engage them
  • Suggest site enhancements to optimize user engagement
  • Confirm stakeholder needs and appetite
  • Articulate messaging for diverse audiences

Timeline

Request for Proposals Open July 10, 2018
Proposal Deadline August 7, 2018
Project Start Date Late August, 2018
Project Completed Late November, 2018

Desired Skills and Expertise of Consultant

  • Deep knowledge of the challenges and opportunities of a searchable digital platform
  • Demonstrated experience with technology project planning, especially specifying tools for measuring project success, and identifying the resources needed for scaling up
  • Expertise in developing successful strategies for creating an online community and increasing user engagement both online and off
  • Evidence of a clearly designed planning process that includes information-based solutions and well articulated suggestions and rationale
  • Facility with strategizing for increased equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility
  • Familiarity with the New England creative sector and other potential site audiences
  • Strong track record of organizing multiple stakeholders and delivering materials according to budget and timeline of contract
  • An attitude of collaboration, openness, and flexibility
  • Based in New England

Proposal Requirements

  1. A summary of your approach
  2. A work plan/timeline that defines the activities required to accomplish the deliverables described in the RFP
  3. References
  4. Budget request

Note: Consultant(s) may submit proposals to complete discrete elements of this RFP if they do not have sufficient experience and expertise to respond to all parts. Consultants selected for this project should expect to work with CreativeGround’s existing web developers, Last Call Media, who will implement the technical elements of the strategic growth plan after planning is complete.

Please direct questions and submit complete proposals to NEFA’s CreativeGround team, via email at creativeground@nefa.org. Dee Schneidman, Program Director, Research and Creative Economy, is the primary point of contact for this project, with additional support from Morganna Becker, CreativeGround Program Associate, and other NEFA staff. Dee is available to respond to questions July 10 - July 20; Morganna is available to respond to questions July 22 - August 6.

Terms and Conditions

The RFP process does not imply any agreement or contractual obligation. The RFP only serves to gauge interest for the project by respective firms. Costs involved in preliminary activities will not be reimbursed by NEFA.

About NEFA

The New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) invests in artists and communities and fosters equitable access to the arts, enriching the cultural landscape in New England and the nation. See www.nefa.org/about_us/history_mission for more about NEFA’s vision, values, and funding.

See www.nefa.org/creative-economy for more information about NEFA’s creative economy work, including CreativeGround.