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How to select a professional consultant

InfraGuide Best Practice

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which was responsible for the publication of the National Guide to Sustainable Municipal Infrastructure (InfraGuide), has developed a best-practices document titled Selecting a Professional Consultant. This valuable tool promotes the principles of Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS), rather than price-based selection, as the best method for hiring professional services. The guideline authors - primarily career civil servants with many years of experience in procuring engineering services - recommend strongly that firms be selected based on issues such as their proposed team; their relevant experience; and their understanding of, and approach to, the project requirements. Once the best candidate is identified, a negotiation of scope and services should take place, followed by agreement on a fair and reasonable price. If an agreement cannot be reached with that consultant, the client is then free to negotiate with the next-ranked firm.

Some jurisdictions are ahead of others with respect to QBS. In 2008, Quebec became Canada's first province to adopt QBS as law: its provincial ministries and agencies must use the process for procuring engineering and architectural services. And in the United States, the QBS approach to selecting engineering and architectural firms is mandated by law across the nation. The "Brooks Act," which has been in effect there since 1972, requires all government departments and agencies to use QBS for procurements involving projects that receive federal funding.

Money-Saving Advice for Clients

Implementing QBS generally results in considerable life-cycle savings for clients, since selecting the best consultant usually results in a higher quality of product or service. This is often reflected both in the initialconstruction cost of the project, and later at the infrastructure maintenance stage. In a 2009 joint study by the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Colorado, entitled "An Analysis of Issues Pertaining to Qualifications-Based Selection," the researchers reviewed some 200 projects across the U.S.A. The study reported that 93% of clients expressed "high" or "very high" satisfaction with consultants selected using QBS; and that QBS reduced construction cost by 70%, and reduced schedule slippage by 20%. The study also concluded that QBS gave clients a better ability to address broad societal needs, and the concerns of their stakeholders.

A Tool to Implement QBS

ACEC has worked with the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) to develop an online training tool for procurement officials who are interested in introducing QBS. This training tool, known as QBS-Pro, can be downloaded from the CSA website.