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Request for Proposals: Survey of the Virtual Exchange Field

RFP Issue Date: March 22, 2021

Proposal Timeline:

  • Proposal Submission Deadline: April 22, 2021
  • Notification of Status: May 3, 2021
  • Expected Project Start: May 31, 2021

Stevens Initiative Background

The Stevens Initiative is an international effort to build global competence and career readiness skills for young people in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa by growing and enhancing the field of virtual exchange. Created in 2015 as a lasting tribute to Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, the Initiative is committed to helping to expand the virtual exchange field through three pillars of work: investing in promising programs, sharing knowledge and resources, and advocating for virtual exchange adoption. The Stevens Initiative has awarded 60 grants and, by summer 2022, will expand its reach to over 43,000 young people in 16 MENA countries and the Palestinian Territories, and in 45 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, one tribal community, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C. The Stevens Initiative is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, with funding provided by the U.S. Government, and is administered by the Aspen Institute. It is also supported by the Bezos Family Foundation and the governments of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

More information about the Stevens Initiative can be found here: www.stevensinitiative.org

Project Description

Project Goals and Overview

The Initiative helps lead the virtual exchange field in research and knowledge sharing, serving as a central place for collecting and sharing promising practices and other resources.  We invite research teams and/or institutions to submit proposals to develop and implement a survey of the field of virtual exchange. This project will include cataloging as many virtual exchange programs as possible that were implemented during the 2020-2021 academic year, including summer 2021, analyzing the results of the survey, and reporting on these findings to the Initiative through a final report with data and a memo that contextualizes the findings. This survey, the 2021 Survey of the Virtual Exchange Field, will build on the 2020 Survey of the Virtual Exchange Field, an earlier effort from the Initiative. This iteration should improve on the last survey’s instrument and implementation and will include not only virtual exchanges between U.S.-based participants and participants in other countries, but all exchanges including those that don’t involve U.S.-based participants. The 2021 survey should exceed the previous survey response both in number of organizations reached and the number of virtual exchange programs documented.

The final product will provide empirical examples and critical insights about the dynamics of virtual exchange programs and the evolution and growth of the broader field. This effort will serve scholars, practitioners, and those seeking to bring virtual exchange programs to their communities. The Initiative will draw on the report provided by the consultant to publish a report to be shared widely with the Initiative’s stakeholders, including funders, grantees, partners in the public and private sectors, teachers, young people and their communities, as well as practitioners in the fields of education, technology, and international relations.


Based on the proposed outputs, the Initiative expects this project to require 250 to 300 hours of effort and anticipates entering into a project for a total amount of $35,000 to $45,000 depending on the scope of work, timeline, and final deliverables arrived at through the proposal review and contracting process. Proposals that suggest amounts outside of these ranges (either in hours of effort or total amounts of funding) will still be considered, but the differences should be justified in the proposal. The contractor who submits the selected proposal will enter into a fixed amount contract with the Stevens Initiative at the Aspen Institute, and will receive 50% of the total requested budget upon a signed agreement and the remainder following a mutually agreed upon payment schedule that is aligned with the approval of the final deliverables, listed below.

Suggested Project Timeline

The Initiative has proposed the timeline below for the development of this project and the submission of final deliverables:

  • May 31 – June 30: Project development, field analysis, and survey instrument development.
  • June 30: Survey commencement and announcement to the larger virtual exchange field.
  • June 30 – September 1: Survey administration, data and information gathering, respondent support, and data clean up.
  • September 1: Survey closes.
  • September 1 – September 17: Final data clean up, data analysis and report drafting.
  • September 20: First report draft due to Initiative.
  • October 4: Final written deliverables due to Initiative.
  • November 15 – 19 (tentative): One public webinar presentation, approximately 1-1.5 hours in duration, date and time to be determined.

In the proposal, applicants should provide a detailed timeline that describes all major project activities and milestones. The applicant may suggest a different timeline to accommodate their process; any differences from the timeline above should be justified changes clearly outlined in the proposal. The dates of the opening and closing of the survey and the due date of the final draft should not change.


The selected consultant will commit to providing the following deliverables:

  • Survey Development and Administration:
      • Selection of an appropriate survey platform that will accommodate this project and facilitate data analysis.
      • Design of the survey instrument, incorporating input from the Initiative, including the instructions, domains, and format. Consultants can use the 2020 Survey for context, while understanding that other realistic domains to be measured should be suggested in the proposal or might be shared by the Initiative during the development period.
      • Survey implementation including testing prior to launch, ongoing support for respondents, monitoring of respondents’ data during the survey period, and follow up or communication with respondents to clarify data submissions.
  • Final Report
      • A memo of no more than eight pages describing the survey methods and process, findings, and the identification of any relevant gaps or higher levels of program saturation that exist in the virtual exchange field as well as introductory and concluding remarks that contextualize the survey of the field effort. This memo must include:
          • An executive summary that highlights notable findings from the data.
          • All survey data formatted into tables designed for readability and easy distribution to partners.
      • The consultant will submit drafts on the following dates and will receive feedback from the Initiative within five business days following each submission:
          • First Draft: September 20, 2021
          • Final Draft: October 4, 2021
      • Other Deliverables:
        • Regular Check-ins with Stevens Initiative Staff: The consultant will be involved in regular (at least monthly) planning and monitoring calls with Initiative staff to discuss the project, development, data, and report drafts, and to provide regular updates and receive feedback.
        • Webinar: The consultant will contribute to the content development and facilitation of a one to one-and-a-half-hour webinar to share the highlights and analysis from the survey effort and report and answer audience questions about the content and conclusions. The planning period and dates of these webinars will be arranged collaboratively with Initiative staff but are tentatively scheduled for the week of November 15, 2021.
        • Financial Report: A report detailing expenses and the efforts associated with those costs.

Eligibility and Proposal Scope

The Initiative plans to work with a consultant or team whose experience and expertise will ensure quality outputs that meet the considerations outlined above. The configuration of the team (an individual, an established team, a newly constituted team, etc.) should be described in the submitted proposal. The Initiative expects applicants to be able to demonstrate expertise in conducting field-level research in some combination of the higher education, K-12 (primary and secondary school), international education, and/or the virtual exchange fields. Teams should also have demonstrated experience developing survey instruments and conducting data analysis, and be skilled in effective communication and project management. Proposals should incorporate all of the deliverables outlined above. This may require involving external partners or consultants as subcontractors. Consultants or teams based in any location are encouraged to apply. No restriction is placed on the geographic location of consultants/teams for a proposal to be eligible for review.

We are particularly interested in working with individuals or teams that include racial, ethnic, gender, disability, sexuality, and other diverse identities and strongly encourage applications from consultants who are traditionally underrepresented in the education and research fields.

Proposal Process and Selection Criteria


  • Proposals will be accepted until April 22, 2021 at 11:59pm U.S. Eastern Time. Questions can be directed to Kyle Kastler at stevensintiative@aspeninstitute.org.
  • Notification of Acceptance: All applicants will be notified by May 3, 2021 about the status of their proposal. A few applicants may be asked to an interview to discuss their proposal. When writing the proposal timeline, applicants should be cognizant that there will be a period between proposal submission and the start of the proposed work for this interview, negotiations, and contracting.

Proposal Submission Requirements

Interested applicants should submit a proposal through email to stevensinitiative@aspeninstitute.org with a subject line including “2021 Survey of the Virtual Exchange Field RFP.” The proposal should be comprised of the requirements listed below. Applicants can choose how they would like to format their proposals, but each requirement below should be included for a proposal to be considered complete. Individuals or teams are limited to one submission. Major components of the proposal should include:

  • A brief narrative, no longer than 750 words, describing the process the consultant will follow to produce the deliverables outlined above, including:
      • A description of the individual/team’s understanding of the virtual exchange landscape.
      • A summary of the proposed methodology/process for developing and implementing the survey.
      • A summary of suggestions for supplementing outreach efforts from the Initiative to increase response rates.
      • The proposed process to analyze and report on the data gathered.
  • A detailed timeline, listing the amount of time to be spent on each project component, including at least:
      • Project development and administration.
      • Planning and check-in calls with Stevens Initiative team (at least monthly, potentially more calls at the beginning of the project).
      • Survey administration and implementation.
      • Data analysis: Some of this data gathering time should be reserved for follow up or data clean up with respondents.
      • Written deliverables: Writing, editing, and any other components, with time for revisions.
      • Other deliverables: The development of content, plan for collaboration with Initiative staff, and required effort for implementation.
  • A budget detailing all costs including the hourly rate of the individual or team member that corresponds to project deliverables/activities and any additional anticipated costs (response incentives, licenses, fees, overhead costs, etc.). Notes for developing a budget:
      • Do not request support for work that will be conducted prior to May 17, 2021.
      • In the 2020 Survey, the Initiative included modest incentive for survey respondents. Applicants are encouraged to include costs associated with incentives in their budgets as long as those costs are reasonable and appropriate. We consider modest incentives included in the overall budget range of $35,000- $45,000. Proposals that suggest amounts outside of these ranges will still be considered, but the differences should be justified in the proposal.
      • Awards will be disbursed as fixed-amount contracts with the individual or team that apply for the contract and follow a schedule that will be determined during the contracting phase.
      • If, due to an institutional affiliation, a contract would need to be made between the Initiative and another institution (for example a university) rather than with an individual or team, this should be detailed in the application with plans for any delays or long contracting periods.
      • As stated above, some proposals can include budget requests outside of the proposed ranges listed above, but these requests should be reasonable, associated with additional effort or costs, and justified in the proposal.
      • The maximum allowable rate for overhead or indirect costs is 18% of direct costs. Applicants should include any requested overhead/indirect costs in their budgets submitted as a part of the application.
  • Examples/samples of prior work on similar projects, specifically including field level survey administration in international education, in both U.S. and international contexts.
  • Individual or key team member qualifications, including CVs or resumes.
  • Diversity and Inclusion Statement: Applicants may include a statement that describes their individual/team background and how their inclusion in this effort would further the inclusion and representation of traditionally marginalized communities.
  • At least two external references familiar with the individual/team’s work on similar projects.

Criteria for Selection

When selecting a consultant/team, the Initiative will pay particular attention to:

  • Alignment with the Initiative’s understanding of the virtual exchange field and the need for a survey: The Initiative is committed to expanding our understanding of the reach of virtual exchange, including the number and types of programs and the growth of the overall field. The project description in this call for proposals represent our approach and applicants are encouraged to review our previous survey effort here. Proposals that demonstrate a clear understanding of this approach, include the improvements and expansions requested above, and offer reasonable suggestions or updates will be preferred over other proposals.
  • Cost effectiveness:The Initiative seeks to engage a consultant that demonstrates an appropriate cost and use of funds and who is likely to deliver high quality deliverables.
  • Feasibility: Proposals should be well planned, logical, and should attempt to accomplish realistic goals. Applicants should indicate how their proposal is feasible and realistic within the parameters of this call for proposals.
  • Applicant’s experience: Through this effort, the Initiative will prioritize our need to work with an applicant with a proven track record in implementing survey or field analysis projects that are similar to this project. Recognizing that experience can be varied or diverse, the Initiative will take into consideration an applicant’s experience with surveys, data analysis, and international education and/or virtual exchange.
  • Applicant diversity and inclusion: Following our commitment to principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion, we invite proposals from individuals, teams, and firms that are led or include significant contributions from individuals who represent communities traditionally underrepresented in similar publications, including women, racial minorities, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and individuals with disabilities, among other traditionally marginalized communities.

Applying and More Information

For more information about the Stevens Initiative or this call for proposals, please see stevensinitiative.org or email stevensinitative@aspeninstitute.org. The Stevens Initiative will not be able to provide feedback on proposals that are not selected.


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