Towards a broader concept of public-private partnerships:

Public-private partnerships (PPP)is a hot topic now as government at all levels redouble efforts to find practical and affordable
solutions to society’s many pressing social and community problems.

PPPs seem to represent a relatively painless way to share the effort, leverage resources and provide win-win situations. And there is concrete progress. For example the Obama’s administration just listed the first 11
investments by its new Social
Innovation Fund (SIF). The SIF initiative represents a new way type of sharing federal and non-federal funding, since SIF’s approximately $50 million fund leverages a 3:1 private-public match. Part of the $50m of public money is more than matched by $74m from philanthropic foundations, which will be given to some of America’s most successful non-profit organizations, in order to expand their work in health care, in creating jobs and in supporting young people (see

Although small compared to the federal budget, people have noted this partnering and participation spirit seems to reflect a broad administration strategy to promote new partnerships between government, private capital, social entrepreneurs (as well as with the public). And there is a locus of effort in the new White House’s Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation (OSICP) see
Other initiatives include such things as the “investing in innovation” (i3) fund in the Department of Education which offers competitive grants to school districts, consortia of schools, or partnerships between schools
and non-profits to implement new innovative practices and programs. Indeed Jenn
Gustetic has discussed some of this on her blog (for example Jennovation 1.0: Leveraging Innovation, Open Government, and Public-Private Partnerships to Create Public Value and Mind the Gap: How Innovative Partnerships Can Help Fill
the Funding Gap. As noted there ED as an example for leveraged the
principles of Open Government in several innovative ways to pilot “open grant making”.

This surge in grants got me thinking about PPP (and cooperation) in general and the various range of public-private partnerships. There is a long tradition of public-private cooperation in education and health care. For a long time NIST had a somewhat different approach in dual use technology partnership and still
helps develop standards that provide a better playing field for everyone.
That’s a richer type of partnership and leadership. But there really remain some issue
of what exactly is a “partnership” in PPP? Some might agree with Ingerson (http://www.icis.harvard.edu/ppp/critic1.htm)
that the range of voluntary projects described as “public-private partnerships“
is so broad that critics and skeptics are right to see what are called partnerships
as really forms (perhaps innovative forms) of subcontracting or grant making.
An example, sometimes cited, goes back to NY City Mayor Rudolf Giuliani’s 1998 speech referring to purely private donations to help finance new bulletproof vests for the NYC police as a public-private partnership (http://nycdoitt.nyc.ny.us/html/98a/bulletpr.html).

There is help in providing resources including technical ones but it may stretch things to call them partnership. Looking broadly one might see many parts of Open Government as forms of partnerships. For example the private sector provides technology and practices routinely. Clearly we might innovate grant making as part of some partnering efforts, but it is a limited form of cooperative “partnership”. Even efforts such as SIF, which does leverage and pool resources, is limited. A richer type of cooperation might secure efficiencies over time or employ complementary organizational strengths beyond financial resources. That is, the commitment of resources encompasses human, financial, and social capital. In real partnership success depend on how well participants coordinate their decisions and actions and indeed such participation is what Open Government seems to be about. To be successful partners might increase the scope of shared activities, and/or
expand the mission. One sees some of this in recent efforts such as the stimulus package to set higher standard for evidence, efforts to empower communities to identify and drive common solutions.

I think the better context for PPP leaps beyond the reinventing government movement that gained momentum some 10 years ago. With recent events it seems now like a converging
of innovation, Open Government and PPP. Again Jenn Gustetic has discussed some of this on her blog. What needs to be advanced now is real experience bringing such things together. tech Such open, innovative partnerships will involve a commitment of human and social resources in addition to financial, capital. This will in turn require more transparently compatible goals and values making clear the expected rewards
of the various participants and their organizational cultures. One of the challenges as well as the benefits of voluntary cooperation is that each participant gains some measure of influence over the decisions of all other participants. So decisions will have to be coordinated as part of more interdependent to ensure win-win situations.

Indeed any sustained cooperative efforts that require a significant commitment to such human and organization factors along with the financial resources.

One may think of it as a triple bottom line of partnership – human, social and financial resources.

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Profile Photo Jenn Gustetic

Thanks for the shout-out Gary.

Ya’ll can read more about my musings on the interplay between innovation, PPPs, and open gov on my blog: https://www.govloop.com/profiles/blog/list?user=3o7vfob8ap8bj

I agree that the elevation of “partnerships and collaboration” through the open government directive has had a role in bring the coversation about partnership back up to the surface. PPPs have been going on for a long time in the fede gov–but more often in silos in specific issue areas. It’s not as common a term as “contract” or “grant” which is ultimately the level at which I think they should be discussed–as routine options for providing better government service.