Building the “P” in partnerships: The ARU Centre for Partnership Working

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Organizations in all sectors are increasingly finding that achieving their objectives requires effective joint working relationships, or as we say in the United Kingdom—“joint working”. This is a key reason that PPPs, one form of joint working, have grown in popularity around the world. However, too often this type of relationship fails to deliver its potential. 

In the United Kingdom, some high-profile PPP projects have failed to deliver on time and on budget. A number of large private sector companies providing infrastructure and services to the public sector have failed or run into difficulties, such as the collapse of construction giant Carillion, which also helped operate a wide array of government services. It’s also the case that public sector organizations seeking to work in partnership with other public sector organizations have also too often failed to realize the full potential of that joint working. 

A fundamental issue in joint working both between and within sectors is the use of the term partnership.  Rarely is the concept of partnership understood and achieved in joint working. The reality is that relationships in joint working are often transactional or collaborative at best. 

Building self awareness

The starting point for seeking to develop effective partnership working is self awareness.  As an example you need to be able to answer: What is the question that partnership working is seeking to answer? What can and can’t the organization contribute to the partnership working? Is the nature of the relationship required understood and does the organization have the willingness and ability to develop that relationship? Is the organization clear about the definition of success and its risk appetite?

If the organization isn’t self aware, how can it seek a partner and develop the relationship required for partnership working?

Know your partner

As in life, choosing a partner takes time and requires getting to know each other. In the public sector, too frequently there’s a lack of understanding of the realities of competition, markets, and the financial requirements of the private sector’s corporate context. There is also too often a failure in the private sector to recognize the demands of public sector accountability and operation within a political context. 

The public and private sectors may use the same terms but they can interpret them very differently. Take the term “acceptable”. Acceptable performance, acceptable returns on investment, and acceptable ways of working in the private sector’s view may be very different to that of the public sector.

The public sector needs to ensure the private sector understands that although the private sector may provide services on behalf of the public sector, the accountability for those services continues to remain with the public sector. This means that values of the public sector partner need to be seen in operation within the joint working with the private sector. 

In situations where private sector companies win the majority of the public sector’s contracts it can change the competitive dynamic in the market, create barriers to entry to the market for new competitors, and reduce the ability of the public sector to achieve innovation and cost reduction. It can create a situation where the public sector cannot afford to let the private sector company fail financially.

Where contracts are being won by private sector companies on very low margins the private sector often relies on changes in specification to make the profits they desire. This can lead to an inability to achieve risk transfer to the private sector, a lack of investment in innovation, and act as a barrier to moving relationships from transactional to collaboration to true partnership working. 

Both public and private sector organizations often need to have a much clearer understanding of their partners’ contexts if they are to create shared understanding and commitment to the balance sought between economy, efficiency, and effectiveness from partnership working.

The ARU Centre for Partnership Working

In response to these and other challenges, Anglia Ruskin University in England has created the Centre for Partnership Working

The Centre seeks to support individuals and organizations in both the public and private sectors to develop the competencies, capacity, capabilities, and cultures to identify and address the barriers to effective partnership working.

The Centre will create a network of practitioners to support knowledge transfer and aid problem solving. It will provide workshops and seminars, undertake research, and provide articles and useful information for practitioners. It aims to be a center of excellence recognized for its contribution to transforming the effectiveness of joint working within and between sectors.

If you or your organization is interested in joining the network of practitioners and finding out more about the Centre please contact us at [email protected].

Disclaimer: The content of this blog does not necessarily reflect the views of the World Bank Group, its Board of Executive Directors, staff or the governments it represents. The World Bank Group does not guarantee the accuracy of the data, findings, or analysis in this post.

 

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Authors

Malcolm Morley OBE

Director, ARU Centre for Partnership Working, Anglia Ruskin University

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