Awarded to Methods Business and Digital Technology Limited

Start date: Monday 26 November 2018
Value: £599,650
Company size: SME
Office for Students (OfS)

Alpha and Beta for a resource to support prospective higher education students with decision making

19 Incomplete applications

14 SME, 5 large

32 Completed applications

29 SME, 3 large

Important dates

Tuesday 9 October 2018
Deadline for asking questions
Tuesday 16 October 2018 at 11:59pm GMT
Closing date for applications
Tuesday 23 October 2018 at 11:59pm GMT


Summary of the work
The Office for Students requires an experienced, collaborative supplier to carry out an Alpha, and potentially Beta, for a new resource to support prospective higher education students with decision making
Latest start date
Wednesday 21 November 2018
Expected contract length
10 weeks
South West England
Organisation the work is for
Office for Students (OfS)
Budget range
Up to £170,000 (Alpha)
Overall budget is around £600,000

About the work

Why the work is being done
Research carried out in 2015 by the UK HE funding bodies showed that prospective students, and particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, needed greater support to make well informed choices about HE.
The OfS is now leading UK-wide work to determine how best to meet their needs. The outcome of discovery was a recommendation to progress to alpha to investigate how a new resource could better support decision making.
For the OfS, this would be part of our strategy to ensure that all students, whatever their background, are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from, higher education.
Problem to be solved
Our research has shown that simply providing data, as we currently do through the Unistats website, is not the best way to support student decision making and that a different approach is needed. The discovery identified a clear user need for additional support through the decision making process and help to find and understand information, as well as the need to dispel prevalent myths about higher education. In alpha, we will continue to explore the best way of meeting student information needs. Any new resource would need to be informed by research into decision making behaviour.
Who the users are and what they need to do
As a prospective student, I need to:
-understand more about HE to help me make an informed decision,
-understand the costs involved in undertaking an HE course; the student loans system (where applicable); and what other support is available,
-easily find and understand the information which is important to me,
-find courses which meet my needs e.g. are close to home or in the right subject area.

As a teacher or adviser/parent I need information about:
-the current higher education system,
-the range of options open to my students/children,
-student finance,
so that I can give good, well-informed, advice.
Early market engagement
Any work that’s already been done
We have carried out a discovery, the report from which is available here:

Reports on the research carried out in 2015 as part of the UK funding bodies Review of the Provision of Information can be found here:
Existing team
The OfS will provide service owner and product owner resources, as well as resource from our Data, Analysis and Foresight team to support with data aspects of the project.
Current phase

Work setup

Address where the work will take place
Office for Students
Nicholson House
Lime Kiln Close
Stoke Gifford
BS34 8SR
Working arrangements
The supplier should be co-located at the OfS’ office in Bristol, although it is expected that travel and off-site working will be required to conduct user research.
There is no separate budget for travel costs or expenses so this should be included in the overall project costs.
Security clearance

Additional information

Additional terms and conditions
At the end of the Alpha a decision will be taken about progression to Beta and a service assessment will be required.
The contractor will need to ensure that sufficient regard is given to the UK-wide nature of the project.

Skills and experience

Buyers will use the essential and nice-to-have skills and experience to help them evaluate suppliers’ technical competence.

Essential skills and experience
  • Experience of delivering digital services using an agile approach and successfully meeting the Digital Service Standard
  • Experience of designing and developing digital services that meet both identified user needs and strategic objectives
  • Experience of designing services which present complex datasets to users with varying levels of knowledge of and interest in statistical information
Nice-to-have skills and experience
  • Understanding of student data and HE information
  • Evidence of carrying out user research with school leavers (16-18 year olds), mature students and/or teachers

How suppliers will be evaluated

How many suppliers to evaluate
Proposal criteria
  • Evidence of understanding of the problem to be solved (20)
  • Evidence of how the project will successfully identify user needs, including recruitment of an appropriate range of users (35)
  • Evidence of how the project will be delivered within the required timescale. The proposal should include a project plan of activities and deliverables with appropriate risk identification and mitigations (30)
  • Identification of an appropriate team with relevant skills and experience (15)
Cultural fit criteria
  • Evidence of working on digital projects with a strong policy component and ability to work with policy colleagues
  • A collaborative approach, demonstrating how the supplier will work with the internal team and approach wider stakeholder engagement
Payment approach
Capped time and materials
Assessment methods
  • Written proposal
  • Presentation
Evaluation weighting

Technical competence


Cultural fit




Questions asked by suppliers

1. Is working from your office in Bristol the only working arrangement that HE is interested in? Would you also consider a near-shore working arrangement (maintaining Agile ceremonies) with occasional travel to your office e.g. to participate in meetings related to project milestones?
Our experience is that having an onsite team works well, and we have a strong preference for that working arrangement. If a supplier was to propose an alternative arrangement they would need to convince us of their ability to create a strong, collaborative team culture, including OfS staff working on the project.
2. Is the CV of all the team members required at the 'written proposal' or 'presentation' stage? Depending on the start date and availability, resources may change.
We will require the CV of all team members at proposal stage. If there are any concerns about availability of proposed team members, these should be explained in the proposal and, ideally, details of an alternative provided.
3. Does part performance or reference of the supplier organization have any impact on the decision? We have not executed any project as a single organization but each resource has worked in various similar projects separately.
We don’t fully understand the question. It is up to the supplier to demonstrate how they meet the shortlisting criteria, which include successful delivery of projects to GDS standards.
4. When do we have to send the Written proposal and when will Presentation be held, if shortlisted?
The current dates we are hoping to achieve are as follows:

Deadline for shortlisting - 23rd October
Shortlisting - 24th - 25th October
Request proposals and confirm interviews – by end of 25th October
Proposals due – 8th November
Proposal assessment – 9th - 13th November
Interviews – 15th - 16th November
Outcomes and Contract Formation – 16th - 20th November
Project start – 21st November

5. Is there an incumbent supplier or have you already engaged with another supplier, for example during the discovery phase. If so, who is the external partner?
There is not an incumbent supplier. We appointed Methods Business and Digital Technology Limited to carry out the discovery and their report is linked to from the opportunity.
6. Have any technology choices already been made and are they set in stone? If not, can we choose the technology to be used by setting this out in our proposal if we are shortlisted?
No technology choices have been made. We would expect the choice of technology to be determined based on the outcomes of the alpha stage.
7. In our experience, the budget stipulated is not sufficient to run a successful Alpha phase. Is there any scope to increase it?
The budget is based on costs provided as part of our business case development during discovery. Suppliers can bid based on the work required to deliver the Alpha successfully. Costs will be scored, with lowest cost receiving full marks and higher costs being scored proportionally.
8. Will the Office for Students be providing any resources for the team and if so, which roles? For example, a content designer or developer?
The Office for students will only be providing product management and data analyst roles.
9. Given the geographic spread of the work, is there any budget allocated for user recruitment, lab hire and face-to-face user testing?
Proposals should include costs for recruitment and user testing.
10. Could an indication of exactly which roles you are seeking from the supplier be given? Obviously, some technical roles will be dependent on the technical approach, but any guidance on would be helpful, especially for non-technical roles that the supplier would be expected to provide (e.g., a ScrumMaster).
The supplier should provide some project management/delivery manager resource in addition to user research and service design roles and any technical roles.
11. Please could you confirm whether the new service would be restricted to covering Higher Education only – as in, university study only – or whether it could/should cover Further Education (e.g. level 4 and 5 provision in FE colleges), Apprenticeships and other forms of lifelong?
The current coverage of our information resources is generally Level 5 and above. We will want to ensure students have access to information about all types of HE routes, although this may not mean publishing the information ourselves.
12. Please could you clarify whether any of the existing Government-supported services (e.g. Unistats) might cease to be supported, or whether the new service would definitely be additional to all existing services? The discovery report mentions that the current landscape is 'very very cluttered', and there is some critique of Unistats, but it does not seem clear whether the new tool is intended to replace Unistats.
The Office for Students manages Unistats on behalf of all the UK higher education funding bodies. It would be replaced by any new resource that we develop.
13. Please could you clarify whether you envisage the new service being limited to a digital information offering, or whether some other form of policy intervention (such as face-to-face support, phone support, or even digital 'chat bot' style support) is anticipated? The brief talks about how "the discovery identified a clear user need for additional support through the decision making process and help to find and understand information", but the discovery talks about a "decision making support service" – it doesn't seem clear whether the brief is for an enhanced digital offering, or something more.
The new service is limited to digital information. The Office for Students is not permitted to provide advice and guidance to students on an individual basis.
14. Can you please confirm is this procurement just around the Beta stage or is it around both Alpha and Beta phases?
We are procuring a supplier to deliver the Alpha stage, and if we progress to Beta, then we would retain the appointed supplier for that stage.
15. Are you working with an incumbent supplier? If so have they been invited to respond to this opportunity?
We appointed a supplier to complete the Discovery stage. This was Methods Business and Digital Technology Limited and they were appointed from this framework.