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RFP: A vendor to develop an e-learning course for the Sphere Project

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)
Last Date: September 5, 2011
Email:  (Reference:

Request for proposal:
A vendor to develop an e-learning course for the Sphere Project
Closing date: 05 September 2011

The Sphere Project is an initiative of a group of humanitarian non-governmental organisations and the Red
Cross and Red Crescent Movement to bring increased quality to humanitarian response. First launched in 1997,
the Sphere Handbook has undergone two revisions, the second resulting in the new edition launched in April
While this new edition of the Handbook retains many of the features of the previous ones, there are
substantial revisions to the Humanitarian Charter and a new section on protection principles. The Sphere
learning strategy to accompany and guide the roll out of the new Handbook was approved by the Sphere Board
in May 2011, following an extensive consultation with key stakeholders.
2. E-learning course concept outline
Since the early years, the Sphere Project’s approach to training has focused on developing quality training
materials and running interagency workshops. More recently, the strategy has moved to making those
materials available for agencies organising a workshop to use and advise on how to organise the workshop. A
range of training materials now exists, including those tailored to specific countries or regions, and a great
number of competent trainers are active around the world, delivering face-to-face courses of a high quality.
It is central to the new Sphere learning strategy that this sound base of training is built upon with up-to-date
learning methodologies and approaches that will lead to more humanitarian actors being confident and
knowledgeable about the Sphere Project. To this end, the Sphere Project office wishes to develop an
interactive, engaging e-learning course for humanitarian workers new to the sector, but one that more
experienced actors will find useful to update themselves with the new edition of the Handbook and re-explore
their commitment to the Sphere Project.
This paper outlines existing thinking of the Sphere Project, primarily the Sphere Project office, and a brief
outline of expectations for the vendor.
3.Guiding principles and approach
The Sphere Project has at its core a commitment to collaboration and cooperation; indeed, this is what makes
it so well accepted and respected. The coming together of actors within the sector to agree on the
humanitarian charter, the core and minimum standards, and more than a decade later, to continue being used
demonstrates the special nature of the Sphere Project. The integrity and success of the e-learning course will
be best served if this ethos is similarly adhered to. The vendor will encourage a spirit of collaboration with
organisations and individuals from the humanitarian sector, and Sphere Project companions and partners by
facilitating sharing and ease of access to the tool and provide effective feedback pathways. As they are
ultimately to be key users of the e-learning course, tapping into their expertise during the development has
many advantages. Moreover, the sector is awash with learning materials, including an expanding portfolio of elearning
courses that should be utilised if possible.
A second guiding approach also builds on the strengths of the Sphere Project. The subject matter naturally
engages people because it deals with human challenges. There is scope to make the Sphere Project e-learning
course one that people will find stimulating and interesting, and the approach needs to bring this to the fore.
The key challenge is in translating the standards embodied in the Sphere Handbook into appropriate practice
on the ground. Thus the desired outcome of the e-learning course, as it currently is with the face-to-face
workshops, is for users to be able to take the information in the Handbook and learn how to apply it
appropriately to real-life scenarios. In the e-learning course, the content of the Handbook should be delivered
by a carefully chosenmix of media, using text, images, video, and audio where appropriate.
Where possible the e-learning environment (content, interaction design, available functionalities, etc.) should
provide an experience that gives some feel to humanitarian workers for the reality of the situations they are
likely to face. It is a requirement that course participants should be actively engaged with materials beyond
clicking through pages and answering questions that require short term memory recall rather than a deep
learning approach. Through the case studies it should provide some complex problems that take a great deal of
thought and negotiation to analyse, including some ‘no-win’ situations, in which there is no easy or right
solution, and which require hard choices. This course will allow humanitarian workers, and all actors involved in
humanitarian action, to test their abilities and experiment with techniques in a realistic, but not real,
environment, and will encourage them to develop skills in solving complex and interrelated problems. Simple
metrics such as multiple-choice questions and right/wrong answers, and more reflective answers, should be
used so participants on the course can compare their responses to that of experienced practitioners, or relate
their proposed solution to what actually happened in a given scenario and discover how successful or not a
given intervention was. Bearing in mind that many participants on the course will be non-native speakers of
English1, we look to the vendor to provide solutions that can support effective learning even if fluency in
English is lacking.
For the desired outcomes to be met, the Sphere e-learning course is envisaged to be of around six hours to
allow participants to engage with the materials. The e-learning course will be a cost effective alternative to the
traditional face-to-face workshop, but with the capacity to reach more people with the same high-quality
learning. As the travel to attend a workshop is eliminated, there is less of an environmentally negative impact,
a consideration that will continue to gain in importance, along with budgetary ones in the sector. This does not
by any means sound the death knell for face-to-face workshops. The opportunities for blended learning and the
running of more focused workshops that build on the knowledge of the Sphere Project that participants will
have from completing the e-learning course will rise.
However, challenges in terms of availability of participants are posed. In short, as participants will not be able
to rush quickly through the course during lunch breaks or at home, managers will need to set aside work hours
to allow their staff to follow the course, much as they do when staff attend a face-to-face workshop.
4. Audience for the Sphere Project e-learning course
For significant capacity building and maximum impact, the e-learning course should address as wide an
audience as possible who could benefit from applying the Sphere core andminimum standards in humanitarian
response. This includes international organisations, NGOs (both international and local NGOs), the Red Cross
and Red Crescent Movement, the United Nations agencies, national and local governmental workers and
academic and training institutions. Armed forces and the private sector should also be considered. In
recognition of the potential global audience, the e-learning environment and content will initially be developed
in English, but with the provision for later translation into Arabic, French, Russian and Spanish languages. The
vendor will be expected to develop a platform and environment that will, at a later date, facilitate simply and
cost effectively this translation.
Given that the Sphere Project is owned by the humanitarian sector it is imperative that people can access and
follow the course through the organisation with which they work if possible. This allows their manager to guide
the learning and credit is gained as part of their personal and career development. This means the e-learning
course should be available through the learning platforms of the Sphere Board organisations and others with a
commitment to Sphere. This also means that identity management and registration of results are important
elements to take into account. The course will also be available for the general public, students and other
actors working in humanitarian assistance through the Sphere Project website. This poses challenges to the
1 Translation is foreseen for Arabic, French, Russian and Spanish; although in the initial phase English will be the
sole language. Translation into other languages than these will not be supervised by the Sphere Project office.
development of the course, as well as to the back-end procedures, and the vendor is expected to work with the
Sphere Project office in order to offer practical solutions that fit our expectations.
5. Outcomes of the Sphere Project e-learning course
The Sphere Project e-learning course will:
1. Foster a better understanding and awareness of using the Humanitarian Charter, Sphere core and
minimum standards by humanitarian workers as a guide and decision-making tool.
2. Reach more widely, both geographically and in profile of participant, with quality learning that
enhances quality and accountability in humanitarian action.
3. Bring together in collaboration the experiences of individuals and organizations working in the field.
6. Content of the Sphere Project e-learning course
The content of the e-learning course will be based on the “Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in
Humanitarian Response” (the Sphere Project Handbook). It will explore what adhering to, conforming to or
meeting the Sphere minimum standards means, notably in the four key sectors: water, sanitation and hygiene
promotion; food security and nutrition; shelter, settlement and non-food items; and health action. Interwoven
with these key sectors will be cross-cutting themes, to ensure that vulnerability is identified and accounted for.
These cross-cutting themes are: children, older people, disabled people, gender, protection, HIV/AIDS and the
environment. Course content should acknowledge and respect social and cultural diversity and gender equity.
The course will be designed to support and encourage more effective aid worker performance. It will examine
the principles that govern humanitarian action, and the legal responsibilities of states and warring parties to
guarantee the right to protection and assistance. It will recognize other existing quality and accountability
(Q&A) initiatives, such as the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian
Action (ALNAP), Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International (HAP-I), Groupe URD and People in Aid.
Looking at the companion standards of The Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards (LEGS) Project, The
Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) and The Small Enterprise Education and Promotion
(SEEP) Network will also provide the learner with a more holistic perspective about Q&A issues in emergency
To ensure comprehensive coverage in the case studies of standards, key actions, key indicators and guidance
notes as well as types of humanitarian emergency and global location, a mapping process will be undertaken
early in the full development process to ensure that all themajor areas are addressed.
7. Possible technological solutions
The e-learning course must be developed in a web-based format that can be used both online and offline,
where an internet connection is not available. The video and audio elements should be offered through
common plug-ins which are freely available, and all rich media made available in low- and high-bandwidth
formats to allow users with slower network connections to access the materials. In addition it is envisaged that
the course be compatible with older browsers and computer technical specifications.
The e-learning environment should be developed in a modular way so that new content and translations can
be slotted in, and any updates to the Sphere standards can be easily incorporated. The offline version of the elearning
environment and content can be made available either on CD/DVD-ROM or on data sticks, making it a
practical and cost effective option for use in the field where internet connectivity may be very limited or nonexistent.
The vendor is expected to consider what the current, and near future, options are on the market to
achieve this.
The e-learning course has been envisaged as a standalone tool to be used by individuals studying on their own,
so it reaches the widest possible audience. However, tools should be included to aid reflection and support the
learning process. In addition this approach does not preclude the e-learning environment or resources being
used in tutor-led situations or by groups of participants and it should be possible for the resources to be used
for more collaborative forms of learning, if the Sphere Project office decides to move in this direction at a later
date. However, this is outside the scope of the first development of the e-learning course. The vendor should
however, examine how such foundations can be laid at the outset, and any implications that may result.
Community tools are envisaged as part of the forthcoming Sphere Project ContentManagement System (CMS).
Inclusion of these as part of the e-learning project would require consideration of issues around facilitation and
support. However, the Sphere Project would require dialogue between the e-learning tool vendor and the CMS
developer to ensure ease of access between the two platforms and good communications enabling user
authentication and sharing of user profiles.
8. Project Stages
It is anticipated that the work required to deliver the project could be captured in the following work packages:
Project initiation, Pre-authoring stage, Technical development, Induction, Case studies and Build tool.
The vendor will work with the Sphere Project office to agree upon a detailed activities flow chart, with key
milestones identified. The requirements of the funding bodies for this project will need to be considered, and
this too will have an inevitable influence on when the work packages are delivered.
9. The proposal
The proposal should outline how you would:
· demonstrate your understanding of the e-learning course that the Sphere Project needs and translate
this into a broad overview of an effective and engaging e-learning tool that can be delivered flexibly
· help manage the project flexibly in order tomeet funding body requirements
· address the challenges of seamless integration for the e-learning tool into the existing Sphere Project
web site and those of Sphere Boardmember, companion and partner organisations. In particular,
challenges exist for registration/enrolment and access to the course via the aforementioned websites
as well as facilitating feedback from both online and offline courses. Indicate technological principles,
standards andmethodologies (e.g., SCORM/IMS Learning Tools Interoperability frameworks - including
metadata, run-time standards and specifications - federated identity management) that you believe
need to be taken into account, and with which you have proven experience.
· ensure compatibility with older browser and computer specifications outlining a reasonable
specification that could feasibly access and run the e-learning tool in both online and offline contexts
· maintain a mix of rich media while addressing low bandwidth requirements for many users
· help facilitate future development or updating of the course without having to resort to major
redevelopment of the learning platform
· address challenges of providing user support in both online and offline contexts. Consideration should
be given to both learning and user support pathways
· anticipate and meet a range of accessibility needs as outlined by a range of existing legal, ethical and
usability frameworks while being prepared to go beyond “minimum compliance” thinking
· consider different language needs of users and consider future developments of the project in other
· ensure close collaboration with and support of content developers, both e-learning specialists from
within the vendor organisation and subject specialists identified by the Sphere Project
· collaborate with other humanitarian organisations in order to utilise and adapt existing resources,
materials and the extensive experience existent within the sector in order to avoid duplication and
Please also send examples or links to examples of similar work you have carried out. You may opt to include
mock-ups of an E-learning course or include a portfolio of relevant past projects, preferably in the humanitarian
sector, for review. These may be included as additional pages to the proposal (3-5 pages) or as a PowerPoint or
Flash presentation. The proposal should also include information from sections 10 (Qualification) 11
(Timeframe) and 12 (Cost proposal) below.
Send your proposal by email to and by 5.30 pm on 05
September 2011 (Geneva time).
10. Qualification
· Provide reference information for clients for whom you have produced materials that best reflect your
work and relevancy to this project. Briefly describe the role your company continues to play in working
with these clients
· Briefly describe your company’s organizational capacity and core competencies that will allow you to
produce this product and maintain professional support services (e.g., staff, equipment, software,
physical space, office location, etc.). Note particularly your experience in consulting with non-technical
staff of clients
· Describe the team that will be assigned to this project, including what each person’s role will be. As
pertinent, include information about awards received, relevant qualifications and experience.
· Please provide an outline of the development process for this project, including significant milestones
or project deadlines. This outline should also include details about how related communications will
be handled including engagement with the CMS developer and Sphere project web-development
· Please note your intended process to solicit input from project staff
· Please describe your experience and process in web usability analysis
· Please explain your customer service agreement approach related to testing and support plans
· Any additional terms and conditions that you will require in a contractual agreement
11. Timeframe
The project will be completed to fulfill deadlines set by funding bodies and so flexibility will need to be
exercised in managing when different phases are undertaken. The vendor should indicate if they can complete
the entire project within 12 months from the start date.
12. Cost proposal
While it appreciated that a detailed breakdown of costs is not possible at present, it is expected that a broad
proposal for what the projectmay cost should be estimated in the proposal based on the project outline above.
13. Reporting lines
The vendor reports progress to the Sphere Project office Training and Learning Management Officer at agreed
intervals or at other times when necessary.
14. Procedure
In case you would like to clarify issues, you have the possibility to send us any inquiries by e-mail, to and
After we have received the expressions of interest, we will select up to three parties for an interview with the
Sphere Project e-learning project team probably using video/audio conference.
Based on those presentations, the Sphere Project office will then invite the successful vendor to discuss further
details and submit a final proposal. We foresee selection to be completed and a start date for the project in
early October.
15. Terms and conditions
The Sphere Project is hosted by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and
as such IFRC terms and conditions shall apply to any contract with the vendor (document available upon


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