Study Reveals Benefits to Hiring Design Services Based on Qualifications

Although a number of states are looking to change procurement practices to one based solely on fees, a study released shows benefits to government agencies when using qualifications-based selection (QBS) for design services.

By using a qualifications-based selection process, government agencies can hire qualified candidates who provide design solutions. Under the Brooks Act, all federal agencies, in addition to 46 states and local government agencies, must select engineering and architecture firms based upon their competency, qualifications and experience (rather than by price only). Legislators in several states continue to introduce legislation to overturn QBS requirements.

“It’s good to see quantifiable data behind what I have learned over my 33-year career,” says the former Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers, FAIA. “Quality-based selection is far better than one based on fees in virtually every project category.”

The QBS process brings forward data policymakers can use to determine benefits to clients. Clients prefer QBS as indicated in an independent study, conducted by Dodge Data & Analytics and commissioned by the AIA, where satisfaction levels of both public and private clients were higher for qualifications-based (rather than fee-based) selection processes.

Results of the survey found that a higher percentage of clients were satisfied with design teams when their selection was based on qualifications.

Starting work without a fully defined scope:

  • 53 percent were satisfied with qualifications-based selection
  • 17 percent were satisfied with fee-based selection
  • 30 percent were neutral

Dealing effectively with complex projects:

  • 51 percent were satisfied with qualifications-based selection
  • 19 percent were satisfied with fee-based selection
  • 30 percent were neutral

Effectively handling a challenging site or other unusually restrictive conditions:

  • 51 percent were satisfied with qualifications-based selection
  • 14 percent were satisfied with fee-based selection
  • 35 percent were neutral

Amount of constructability issues in the documents:

  • 46 percent were satisfied with qualifications-based selection
  • 14 percent were satisfied with fee-based selection
  • 40 percent were neutral

Amount of requests for information generated about documents:

  • 50 percent were satisfied with qualifications-based selection
  • 15 percent were satisfied with fee-based selection
  • 35 percent were neutral

Amount of rework that is generated due to design issues:

  • 57 percent were satisfied with qualifications-based selection
  • 16 percent were satisfied with fee-based selection
  • 27 percent were neutral

Positive contribution to overall project team chemistry:

  • 49 percent were satisfied with qualifications-based selection
  • 5 percent were satisfied with fee-based selection
  • 46 percent were neutral

Ability to maintain expected project quality level:

  • 57 percent were satisfied with qualifications-based selection
  • 8 percent were satisfied with fee-based selection
  • 35 percent were neutral

Overall, 57 percent of clients were satisfied using a qualifications-based selection process versus 32 percent who preferred a fee-based approach.

“I knew that quality-based selection was superior but what surprised me was just how low fee-based selection scored in nearly every category,” says Ayers. “The most compelling part of the report comes on the last page where the study found that the more you use quality-based selection methods, the more you will use them in the future.”

AIA supports public procurement processes for architecture services that mandate the open selection of architects based on qualifications and opposes hiring architects based solely on fees or bids. Given the level of education, skill and knowledge required of an architect to provide solutions to the challenges local and state governments face (whether it be affordable housing, crumbling infrastructure or fighting climate change) it is critical that states procure architectural services differently from day-to-day administrative services. Architects have an obligation to protect the health, safety and welfare of the inhabitants in the built environment and QBS allows this priority to be incorporated into design.

Complete details of the Dodge Data & Analytics survey results can be reviewed on the AIA website.

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