Executive Summary

The ACLU of the District of Columbia (ACLU-D.C.) is seeking a consultant(s) with a detailed plan, timeline, and budget to help us listen to and understand how residents feel and rationalize public safety issues and solutions in the District of Columbia. We need to understand how best to communicate with residents about ongoing efforts to improve public safety that respect residents’ rights, including conducting surveys and/or focus groups. ACLU-D.C. will be launching a new policy campaign for the District of Columbia Crisis Response Coalition in the spring, and we seek to understand common concerns and messages that will garner more public support for the legislation. We are inquiring for consultants with expertise and experience in issue-based surveying and focus groups, the ability to conduct individual interviews if necessary, and provide messaging recommendations and analysis based on the results. The consultant will work under the direction of Strategic Communications Director, Amber Taylor.

ACLU Background

The Organization

The ACLU-D.C. is an advocacy and legal services nonprofit. It is the local affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, a national nonprofit organization devoted to protecting civil liberties and civil rights through litigation, legislation, and public education. The ACLU-D.C. works primarily on issues that directly impact people who live in, work in, and visit the District of Columbia and on challenges to specific federal government policies and practices where they fall within the jurisdiction of the D.C. federal courts to achieve a free and just D.C.

The communications team within the ACLU-D.C. works collaboratively with the legal, policy, organizing, development, operations, and administration teams to communicate strategically with external audiences to fulfill the affiliate's mission and organizational and policy goals. It utilizes various tactical delivery mechanisms, including traditional media relations, publications, outreach, events, public speaking engagements, and digital and social media to educate, persuade and generate action.

Explore the work of the ACLU of the District of Columbia here: https://acludc.org/

Scope of Work

This consultant will provide research, analysis, and recommendations for future messaging strategy on improving public safety advocacy, including reducing over-policing and police misconduct; increasing support for community-based solutions to public safety issues, the; criminal legal system and courts system; surveillance technology, D.C. conditions in jails/prisons/parole and District of Columbia Crisis Response.

Our ultimate goal is to overhaul the District’s criminal legal policy to protect the civil rights and civil liberties of the residents of the District of Columbia. This includes reforming the policies and procedures of the Metropolitan Police Department, the D.C. Jail, and other government agencies.

As part of this goal, we aim to advance legislation and funding in the D.C. Council and advocate with the Mayor and their agencies to implement new programs and legislation based on best practices. In addition, we aim to advocate for a criminal legal system that protects residents from crime while respecting the individual rights and liberties of those accused of crimes.

Other goals include:

  1. Establishing recommended messaging to inform our strategic communications on public safety and the criminal legal system that can be used for the next 4-5 years.
  2. Centering the experiences of those disproportionately impacted by crime and the criminal legal system along with people who have typically not been involved in political activities and process.
  3. Developing a messaging strategy for the District of Columbia Crisis Response Coalition’s legislative and advocacy efforts.

The specifics of the actual work to be conducted may vary or change depending on the circumstances. We hope that the consultant chosen will bring significant experience in public opinion and marketing research and will be able to advise on the final scope of the work in order to meet the project objectives outlined in further detail below.

  1. Public Opinion Research
    • Conduct surveys, interviews, and/or focus groups on public safety and criminal legal reform work in the District of Columbia.
    • Conduct follow-up focus groups and/or individual interviews to better understand D.C. residents' views on public safety and criminal justice, including reactions to messaging on ACLU-DC positions on these issues and the Crisis Response Coalition’s policy platform.
  2. Analysis
    • Conduct an analysis of research results to provide answers to the following questions:
      • What are current D.C. public opinions regarding ACLU-DC positions on given issues?
      • What messaging on these issues resonates with D.C. residents?
      • What messaging, if any, best shapes public opinion in line with ACLU-D.C. positions? Conversely, what messaging has no effect or dissuades residents?
      • Do D.C. residents support the Crisis Response Coalition's policy platform? What messages or communities have the most concerns?
      • What messaging on reforms related to the police and public safety are the most effective?
      • Is any current or proposed ACLU-D.C. messaging on public safety issues counterproductive?
      • What communications tools/mediums/formats are most likely to reach District residents?
      • How do responses to these questions differ by race, gender, age, location in the District, and other demographic data?
  3. Strategic Messaging Recommendations
    • Draft talking points, messaging recommendations, etc., based on the research and analysis for ACLU-D.C. overall public safety work and the District of Columbia Crisis Response Coalition's legislative and advocacy efforts.

Intellectual Property

All work completed pursuant to the contract awarded to the successful production or marketing firm is a "work for hire" and all intellectual property rights will belong to the ACLU-D.C.

Budget Constraints

ACLU-D.C. has reserved $100,000 for this message testing.


  • Overarching research plan with a calendar and clear deadlines within a 2–4 month timeframe.
  • Qualitative research plan, recruitment scripts, discussion guides, transcriptions/recordings, and any associated work products.
  • The survey, focus group and interviews questionnaire(s).
  • Survey toplines, crosstabs, memos, and associated work products.
  • Talking points, messaging recommendations, etc., based on the research and analysis for ACLU-D.C. overall public safety work and District of Columbia Crisis Response Coalition’s legislative and advocacy efforts.

Proposal Contents and Submittal Requirements

This is a competitive RFP. The RFP process is designed exists so that you and your competitors have equitable information and opportunity to win this bid. The RFP process allows us to evaluate your proposal across a standard set of requirements. The company will be awarded to the vendor that best meets the needs outlined in this document.

  • Strategy. A broad overview of how you would approach this project, including initial thoughts on any research parameters or creative approaches you would consider to meet our goals.
  • Capabilities. Please include any relevant prior work, sample plans, or timelines that will help us understand what your firm brings to the table. Particularly valuable are past work done with ACLU and its affiliates and work conducting public opinion surveys, focus groups, interviews, and message research on issues like public safety.
  • Knowledge. Help us understand your experience and expertise, particularly in the civil liberties and civil rights space and the public safety solutions that don't center on policing. Experience in Washington, D.C. is preferred but not required.
  • Proposed budget. Outline your proposed cost. Please provide itemized pricing for each stage of your project (e.g. qualitative research, surveys, analysis, and delivery).
  • Team Members. Identify the team that would be assigned as principals on this project. Help us understand their expertise and how much capacity you are committing to ensuring that the project completes on time.

Proposals should be submitted in a PDF via email to Nathan Warner at nwarner@acludc.org by midnight on March 10, 2023.

Evaluation Factors

Diversifying our vendor base is very important to the ACLU of the District of Columbia. We will be evaluating offers based on the following factors:

  • Experience with similar projects and quality of work samples.
  • The overall cost of the vendor's proposal.
  • Demonstrated experience with public opinion surveys and/or focus groups on issues similar to the complexities of public safety issues.
  • Experience in Washington, D.C. is preferred but not required.
  • Demonstrated experience providing messaging and marketing analysis based on public opinion surveys and/or focus groups.
  • The thoroughness of the proposed plan in addressing key components listed in Scope of Work, above.
  • Sensitivity and experience working on social justice issues and public policy advocacy;
  • Organizations owned or operated by women, LGBTQ people, people of color, or formerly incarcerated are preferred, but not required.

Process Schedule

RFP distributed to vendorsFebruary 23, 2023
Vendor question and answer periodFebruary 23, 2023 - March 10, 2023
Deadline for responsesMarch 10, 2023
Interview PeriodMarch 13 - 17, 2023
Selection of vendor and contract negotiationMarch 21, 2023

Points of Contact for Future Correspondence

Questions about the RFP can be submitted via email or by requesting a Q&A call with the team. All inquiries should be sent to Nathan Warner at nwarner@acludc.org.

Proposals should be submitted in a PDF via email to Nathan Warner at nwarner@acludc.org by midnight on March 10, 2023.

Contracting with the ACLU-D.C.

This section contains information about contracting with the ACLU-D.C. Addressing this up front will save time during the contracting process.

Data Acquisition Standards

We take confidentiality and privacy standards seriously and will soon be required by law to pass them on to vendors handling certain kinds of ACLU-D.C. data. We typically want vendors to sign a standard Confidentiality and Security Agreement. A vendor’s breaches of the obligations contained in that agreement cannot be limited either to a dollar amount or to certain types of damages.

The use of subcontractors requires pre-written ACLU-D.C. approval, and vendors will be responsible for risks (liabilities) associated with contractors.

The clause in many contracts that requires the ACLU-D.C. to certify that it does not support terror/ism/ists and/or that it does not associate with individuals on a terrorist “watch list” is not one we can agree to. See this blog post for more information. We will provide alternative language that our counsel believes is appropriate; we are in compliance with all applicable laws, and will represent this during contracting.

Vendors will certify the lawful use of and obtaining of this data. They will provide the ACLU-D.C. with a description of their data acquisition services/strategy/approach such that the ACLU-D.C. can confirm the data acquisition strategy is consistent with ACLU-D.C. internal policies.