By Stella Pfisterer, Partnerships Resource Centre
Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) address public challenges such as water insecurity, droughts or malnutrition in developing countries. PPPs should therefore produce a certain degree of public value. However, there are doubts whether and how public value can be assured in partnerships that involve public funding but are predominantly implemented by private sector. The concept of public value therefore merits reflection, and in particular the link with PPPs. This blog proposes how to approach navigating public value in PPPs.
PPPs have a high degree of ‘publicness’: they address public development challenges, such as water insecurity, malnutrition or lack of inclusive development in developing countries. They often involve public money and there is concern whether private actor involvement in development activities challenges the public value of PPPs. How can we better understand the public value of PPPs?
In this blog, we reflect on the concept of public value and PPPs from a public sector perspective, and propose a first set of questions that aim to help PPPs navigate their public value creation potential. Our reflection is part of the PPPLab research topic “Partnering with governments”, and is based on existing knowledge of academic and practitioner literature.
Public value and PPPs
Public value means different things to different people. Very broadly, public value can be understood as “what the public values or what benefits the public sphere”. From the public sector perspective, public value is advanced when government activities contribute to society in order to benefit the public good. Such activities should be sustainable, financially sound, consistent with the needs of the community, and stimulate the public to perceive government as stable, reliable and trustworthy. This means that performance and costs are not the only criteria for assessing the public value of PPPs. Good governance such as responsiveness and legitimate processes are equally important values for PPPs.
“Public values embody or underpin the purpose that we think should be served by democratic institutions, by authorized and legitimate organizations, by our nations, and by our alliances” (Prof. John Bryson in Annual Review of Social Partnerships, 2017)
Questions to navigate PPPs to implement development policies
PPPs face a number of interrelated challenges regarding public value in particular related to responsiveness, responsibility and transparency. Below are four key questions which can help partnership managers navigate the public value of their PPPs.
Legitimacy: to whom is the PPP responsive?
PPPs are rarely directly accountable to “the public”; their accountability often rests with the public manager who funds and/or monitors the PPPs’ work. PPPs need to be responsive towards both the public actor they receive funding from or who is the formal public authority involved in the partnership, and towards key stakeholders and beneficiaries. In PPPs funded by public donors – through programmes such as FDW and FDOV – the question is to what extent the PPP is responsive to the public concerns and authority of the country and context in which they are implemented.
How to organize and manage PPPs for what type of public value?
Partners in a PPP should clarify the purpose and what type of public value the PPP strives for. In addition, PPPs should be based on fair, transparent, rational and intentional processes. Partnerships need to link to local institutions, laws and regulations. What is more, they need to understand the political process: what motivates public actors to actually implement these. On this basis, partnerships can identify mutual benefits and as such ensure commitment of the government partner.
What role does the public manager have in steering public value?
There is the fear, that partnership outcomes predominantly benefit private actors such as businesses or NGOs involved in PPPs. This results in a balancing act for public actors involved in PPPs: on the one hand, they need to act as a significant guarantor of important public values, and on the other hand, they need to adapt their roles towards power sharing with private partners. This causes tensions that can be effectively managed by experienced public managers who worked with private partners before and as such have developed ‘partnering capacity’.
How to assess, learn and be transparent about the public value of PPPs?
PPPs are a means towards an end and should therefore produce sustainable and scalable results that benefit the public. Partnerships should be assessed beyond their outputs in order to understand their public value. To do so, frameworks need to be developed to assess public values produced by PPPs (see for instance Page et al 2015). However, the goal should not only be assessing, but understanding why and how public value was generated (or not) and sharing these insights to a wider circle of interested parties.
This blog provides initial thoughts around public value and PPPs in implementing development policy that will be further explored by the PPPLab’s work around Partnering with Governments. Provide us with your ideas and comments on the topic of public value and PPPs and stay turned for updates and latest research insights.
References & further reading:
Bennington, J. (2011). From private choice to public value? In: Bennington, J & Moore, M. (Eds.) Public Value: Theory and Practice. Pp.31-51. New York: Palgrave Macmillan
Bryson, J.M., Crosby, B. C. & Bloomberg, L. (Eds.) (2015). Creating Public Value in Practice. Advancing the Common Good in a Multi-Sector, Shared-Power, No-One-Wholly-in-Charge World. CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group.
Page, S. B., Stone, M. M., Bryson, J.M., Crosby, B.C. (2015). Public Value Creation by Cross-Sector Collaborations: A Framework and Challenges of Assessment. Public Administration, Vol. 93(3), 715-732.
Pfisterer, S. (2017). Public value and our collective future: what kind of world do we want to live in and how to create it? Interview with Prof. John Bryson. Annual Review of Social Partnerships, Issue 12.
 Bennington, 2011