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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Program and Activity Developer

Project Summary

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) seeks a contractor to work with the education team at NMNH. The contractor will develop, pilot test, and refine immersive, participatory, and engaging learning experiences for the museum’s audiences, primarily intergenerational groups with children ages 8-16, as part of the development of programming for the Education Center, an innovative 10,000 square foot interactive programming space developed and operated by the NMNH Office of Education & Outreach. The contractor will be responsible for writing scientific content and instructional materials for onsite and online visitors, researching science topics, gathering and analyzing collections objects, data sources, and other materials for visitor use, and drafting scripts and templates for live programs, videos, staff/volunteer interactions, and other immersive experiences. The contractor will work with content drawn from a variety of sources, including staff, websites, news sources, scientific journals and partners and will assist with maintaining digital and physical files and assets, including scientific vetting.

Context: Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, located at 10th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W. in Washington, D.C., is the most-visited natural history museum in the world. Opened in 1910, the green-domed museum on the National Mall is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the world’s most extensive collection of natural history specimens and cultural artifacts. It fosters significant scientific research and educational programs and exhibitions that present the work of its scientists to the public.

The museum is regarded as a global leader in natural history collections, collections-based research, scientific discovery, and natural history exhibition. The current and ongoing restructuring of the Office of Education & Outreach is part of an institution-wide effort to promote the education and outreach activities of the museum to the rigor and renown of its science activities. A related intent is to advance the impact that the museum has on its visitors and on the field of museum education, particularly the integration of research and practice in an institutional setting.

Context: Education Center

To work toward this end, the museum is developing and opening an innovative, 10,000 square foot interactive programming space. In the Education Center, visitors will have access to a 20,000 object collection representing the museum’s research departments and a broad slate of interactive, participatory, and engaging programs ranging from self-guided discovery to participating with Smithsonian scientists in their research. The Education Center is expected to serve at least 500,000 museum visitors onsite in its first year and support 1 million online visitors with content that seamlessly integrates experiences at the museum and online.

The Education Center will require a broad slate of live and digital programs to support NMNH onsite and online visitors in their pursuit of participatory and engaging experiences to satisfy their own curiosities and advance their understanding of the world and our place in it. The Center will integrate a range of learning experiences for visitors diverse in expertise, time available, interest, and learning preferences. Experiences will include:

  • Hands-on, object-based discovery activities intended to teach a specific skill or pique interest in a specific area of science or research
  • Inquiry-focused, object-and-data-based simulations of NMNH field research or collections work, usually focused on using evidence to solve a mystery, draw a conclusion, or recommend a decision
  • Immersive, collections-based experiences using a 20,000 object collection of specimens and objects – including digital records and associated video and web assets – to answer museum-posed or their own questions, or create and share their own digital collections
  • Participation in collections-based curation and research, including identification of recently collected specimens and assisting the research team with creating digital records of collections specimens and objects
  • Discussion of science in the news and relevant national and international scientific topics with scientists and other enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff and visitors
  • Recording progress, questions, and notes in a digital field book, available at the museum, online, or via mobile device
  • Creating digital media and integrating natural history objects and specimens into man-made designs in a natural-history-focused maker space

Experiences available onsite will also be modified and adapted for online delivery, including videos, digital collections, and instructions for conducting basic, introductory research using museum collections. The Center will also have distance learning capabilities, with Smithsonian scientists, collections managers, technicians, and their partners able to webcast from their field locations or labs to the Center – or from the Center to the web – for intimate experiences of what natural history scientists do and how they do it.

The contractor will work with the education team at NMNH to develop, pilot test, and refine immersive, participatory, and engaging learning experiences for the museum’s audiences, primarily intergenerational groups with children ages 8-16. The contractor will be responsible for writing scientific content and instructional materials for onsite and online visitors, researching science topics, gathering and analyzing collections objects, data sources, and other materials for visitor use, and drafting scripts and templates for live programs, videos, staff/volunteer interactions, and other immersive experiences.


The deliverables for this contract are provided below. Guidelines for delivery are listed in parentheses as the number of calendar days after the beginning of the contract that the products will be prepared and delivered.

  • Concisely-written, educator-vetted instructional and descriptive text, procedures, and materials for approximately 35 educational activities of varying length and depth. Note that most educational activities will be selected and defined by the NMNH Education Center team.
  • Concisely-written, educator-vetted instructional and descriptive scripts and/or templates for approximately 10 replicable live programs. Note that most live program approaches have been selected and defined by the NMNH Education Center team.
  • Informal NMNH visitor evaluation to inform the development of activities and test their efficacy and potential once drafted.

In preparing the deliverables described, the contractor will be engaged in the following tasks under the direction of relevant staff from the Office of Education & Outreach:

  • Research, edit, and write text for onsite and online activities and programs
  • Communicate and coordinate with relevant scientific staff at NMNH and its partners to deliver text for activities, media, and collections objects
  • Coordinate with activity and programming designers to understand and gather content and draft materials for visitor use
  • Edit text and instructions based on evaluations, analytics and visitor studies to improve usability and learning outcomes
  • Gather objects and specimens for activities and programs
  • Ensure that content receives appropriate review and revision by science and education staff, using established procedures.
  • Research, edit and create images, graphs, charts, maps, and other resources
  • Research video, audio, and links related to science topics


The contractor is expected to have demonstrated capabilities to align content products and processes with strategic goals, the ability to review scientific materials and convey them in ways that appeal to non-scientific audiences, and experience communicating complex science topics through diverse approaches, such as inquiry-centered, object-based, discussion-based, and/or media-based interactions. The contractor is expected to have experience with informal science education techniques, such as learning through inquiry, object-and-collections-focused learning, and/or free choice learning approaches. The contractor should have excellent writing and editing skills and basic knowledge of a range of natural history (i.e., biology, geology, anthropology) topics.

Offerors are expected to have, at minimum, the following skills and/or experience:

  • Writing and editing instructional text and activities for hands-on, interactive, participatory, and/or immersive informal learning experiences
  • Writing and editing scientific information about natural history topics for an informal science education audience (e.g., museum, science center, website)
  • Delivering and testing educational programming in an informal environment
  • Researching scientific content and editing based on review comments
  • Detail-oriented passion for scientifically accurate yet interesting and accessible content
  • Ability to support multiple projects at one time and to negotiate diverse interests

Additional relevant skills and/or experience include:

  • Writing or development of programming for collections-based natural history science
  • Writing and editing multimedia for digital output
  • Editing photographs and graphics
  • Creating graphics
  • Facility with databases and content management systems

Scope and Timeframe

All project activities and deliverables will begin no later than September 28, 2012 and be completed no later than July 31, 2013.

The nature of the deliverables demands that a large portion of this work will be conducted onsite at the NMNH, in an office environment.

General.  On or before 11:59 PM in the vendor’s time zone on August 24, 2012, Offerors will be expected to provide a proposal via email to

At the minimum, offerors need to demonstrate that they meet the acceptability standards for non-cost factors, including that they have the ability to perform the requirements in a timely manner. 

Technical Proposal (Maximum 10 pages, not including resume)
The Technical Proposal shall address the Statement of Work and Deliverables sections outlined above; and shall contain sufficient quantitative and qualitative details to allow a complete and accurate evaluation from a strictly technical viewpoint. When preparing their technical proposals, Offerors should consider the evaluation criteria set forth below, against which the proposals will be evaluated 

  • Plan of Accomplishment

The offeror shall provide a thorough narrative explanation of the method and/or approach to the content and deliverables, and how they will proceed with the project to ensure it is completed on time. The offeror shall describe their plan for completing all work requested, being mindful to address every aspect of the work described above. 

A schedule of deadlines for deliverables should be included in the proposal, including those identified above in the Deliverables section and any additional key deadlines proposed by the offeror, including those for NMNH staff. Final schedule will be negotiated based on coordination between the proposal and the Museum’s strategic timelines. All activities, must be completed by July 31, 2013.

  • Capability to Perform

The offeror shall specifically address capability and capacity to perform the work required for this project, considering its size, scope and schedule. The offeror shall specifically address current capability, capacity and ability to complete this project considering the schedule.

  • Staffing

The offeror shall provide resumes of key personnel or resume of individual offeror if an individual proposal. Resumes should state experience as it relates to this project. 

  • Experience

The offeror shall provide examples of specialized experience and demonstrated technical competence in performing similar work as requested herein, preferably completed within the last five years.

Cost Proposal
Cost Proposals shall address pricing of the work as requested herein. The price proposals shall be all-inclusive. Cost proposals should include costs broken down and justified according to specific categories of deliverables, as indicated in section 4, “Deliverables,” above.

The price to the Smithsonian Institution for this purchase order shall not exceed $45,000. This price includes all costs. 

Proposal Evaluation
Proposals shall be evaluated in accordance with the following criteria being applied to the information requested above:

“Plan of Accomplishment” and “Capability to Perform” shall be granted equal weight and shall together be granted more weight than “Staffing,” and “Experience.”  “Staffing” and “Experience of the Firm” shall be granted equal weight. All evaluation factors other than cost, when combined, are granted more weight than cost.

Award of a contract shall be made to the responsive, responsible offeror, whose combined cost and technical proposal is, in the opinion of the Contracting Officer, determined to be the most advantageous and in the best interest of the Smithsonian Institution.

Inquiries regarding this Request for Proposal should be directed via email to

It is the intention of the Smithsonian to interview a select group of responsive offerors; however, it is possible that interviews may not occur.  Consequently, it is important that all responses to this request be complete and include all necessary information.

Submission of Proposals
The Smithsonian reserves the right to reject any or all proposals received in response to this request, and to negotiate separately with any offeror when such action shall be considered by the Contracting Officer to be in the best interest of the Smithsonian.  After limited negotiations or based solely on initial offers received, notice will be provided indicating that an award may be made.  It is therefore emphasized that all proposals should be submitted initially on the most favorable terms that the offeror can submit.  Written proposals must be received 11:59 PM in the offeror’s time zone, on August 24, 2012.

Disposition of Proposals
All information submitted in response to this Request for Proposal shall become the property of the Smithsonian and shall not be returned. 


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