The Innovation Of Public-Private Partnerships

The challenges of the 21st century not only cut across multiple agencies, they also cut across the lines between the public vs. the private sectors. Yet the original design of our government was not intended to collaborate well across multiple organizations.

A frustrating dilemma.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t rethink and evolve government to address these challenges – cyber security policies, national innovation policies, evolving intellectual property to digital, etc. – and take US public-private partnerships to the next level.

This breakout session involved Ken Spedden (Founder, Innovative Solutions Consortium), Bhavya Lal (Science and Technology Policy Institute), and Sue Zielinski (Managing Director of SMART at the University of Michigan), who shared their perspectives of what is happening with partnerships today. It was moderated by Teresa Shea and David Bray, both of NextGen Leadership Award fame.

The recurring theme in this session, reaffirmed time and time again, was that public-private partnerships require innovation.

A partnership that doesn’t have innovation at the heart of it is probably not the best partnership.

Ken Spedden opened the session by saying that lots of people have ideas, but until you have several parties involved in a shared vision, you are not going to have a partnership. Innovative thinkers need to come together and open up the lines of communication in order to make partnerships possible.

At some point you need to deploy your ideas, which requires money, and sometimes that is where the partnerships come into consideration.

David Bray added that there is a misconception by a lot of people that government is broken; but they would be wrong. This misconception comes from the fact that government’s challenges have changed, but our methods for dealing with them are slow in catching up. No challenge falls solely in the prevue of one singular agency. Until we figure out how we face this challenge of blurred lines and agency cooperation, the US will be at an inherent disadvantage.

What are some of the factors of partnership success:

– It’s important to keep the end goals in mind, what are you trying to accomplish with your partnership.

– Pay attention to scale. In this time of sequestration, when no agency has the money to accomplish something on their own, we have to look around for others with common interest.

– Don’t try and solve everything at the same time. What are appropriate projects for public private partnership? And what say do we have? Congress is the one that appropriates.

– Identify common goals, not just common interests. It’s not quite accurate to say that the private sector is only interested in the bottom line, and the public sector is only interested in providing services. Partnerships are more complex than that.

– Open to all is sometimes a recipe for disaster. Having everyone in the room at the same time is probably not the best answer.

– Understand that organizational cultures are inherently resistant to change. You have to be able to work within existing systems in an innovative way.

Resources for government to use: allows any existing government agency to work their way through partnership decision making processes. Will the private sector even know what I’m talking about when I tell them about the problem I am trying to solve? Are we even speaking the same language?

Innovation Toolkit: Presidential Innovation Fellows platform. It tries to answer the question of how we leverage all the different knowledge across government and tap into the vast expertise and knowledge base of government.

How we make these work:

– Embrace informal non-attributional brainstorming sessions. There is power in face-to-face conversations, especially in the age of email.

– Be okay with redesigning the system. It’s a great time to create a new paradigm. Keep your eyes on implementation that allows positive change for citizens.

– Partnerships can happen at every level of government, state and local initiatives are sometimes cloneable at other levels. Identify the things that are working at each level of government.

– Change the reward system that moves away from individualism and works towards openness.

– It’s all about interaction. Get the conversation out, get people talking.


NASA, Space X, and Oracle work together to create the space capsule and supply the international space station.

Do you have examples of public-private partnerships that are working?

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