The staircase of relationships: 10 key questions

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ImageIf public sector organizations are to maximize the value from public-private partnerships (PPPs), they need to move their joint working within the public sector from transactional to collaboration to true partnership working.  To do this requires them to move up the Staircase of Relationships (see previous blog).
In moving up the Staircase of Relationships, performance will improve within the public sector and the public sector will become a more effective partner with the private sector.  Improvement in performance, however, is not enough.  Public sector organizations should be seeking to transform their performance through public-to-public (P2P) partnerships  and to transform the performance that they achieve through PPPs.

P2P Partnerships should be about seeking to transform public sector performance as well as transforming the value delivered through PPPs. 
Where public sector organizations are involved in joint working, ten questions can indicate where they are on the Staircase of Relationships and whether there’s a disconnect between what is said to promote the joint working and the reality in action. 
The ten questions are:

  1. Is there evidence that the organizations involved in the joint working have a shared understanding of, and commitment to, the objectives for it?
  2. Is there consistency between the objectives for the joint working and what is communicated as priorities in each of the organizations?
  3. Is there evidence of shared accountability for the performance of the joint working?
  4. Is there evidence of a willingness to take risks and innovate within the joint working across the public sector organizations?
  5. Is there a sharing of corporate risks and rewards among the public sector organizations?
  6. Is there a willingness to share information and to explore all options to address challenges and opportunities together?
  7. Are resources viewed as belonging to all of the organizations involved in the joint working, or to individual public sector organizations?
  8. Is there a consistency of leadership, organizational culture, and behaviors for the joint working across the public sector organizations?
  9. Is there a consistent approach to the development and use of competencies, capabilities, and capacity across the public sector organizations involved in the joint working?
  10. Is there a consistent and tangible ambition and commitment to transform performance in all of the organizations involved in the joint working?
The answers to these questions can be very illuminating.  It is useful to ask the questions in each public sector organization and then to compare the responses to see if there is a consistency of response both within individual organizations and between them.  There can be a significant variance in the perceptions in each public sector organization about their own organization and about the other organizations with which they are pursuing joint working.
Answers to these questions can be used to create an agenda for the future to make progress up the Staircase of Relationships and in achieving improved performance in the public sector.  For those public sector organizations already involved in PPPs, it is useful for these questions to be asked in the private sector organizations as well as the public sector organizations.  To generate confidence, the process needs to be anonymous and to be handled by an independent third party.  The key is to draw out both what is working well and what the barriers are to making progress up the Staircase of Relationships.
Getting to Transform  
The Staircase of Relationships has, at its pinnacle, “Getting to Transform.” This step on the staircase is not about performing better what has been done previously through efficiency gains, but about a re-definition of the ambition for performance.  It’s about a re-definition of success, a re-definition of acceptable performance, and a re-definition of the nature and achievement of the public sector as part of a system of addressing the needs of its service users and customers.  Transformation needs to be defined in terms of outcomes and not just inputs and outputs in the Economic and Social Value Equation.
Public sector organizations aspiring to transform outcomes need to ascend the Staircase of Relationships in P2P Partnerships.  They need to have moved from transaction to collaboration to partnership working within the public sector.  Only then will they be able to seek to ascend the Staircase of Relationships with the private sector in PPPs to maximize the value available from PPPs and to transform the outcomes for the communities they serve. 
As there is a growing evolution of PPPs from just the provision of infrastructure to the provision of services (whether combined with infrastructure or not) and a desire to transform performance rather than to just improve it, it’s time to give P2P Partnerships the same attention as PPPs.  Only then will the public sector avoid taking a fragmented and sub-optimal approach to the provision of services and infrastructure in many PPPs.  Recognizing the differences between collaboration and partnership working and addressing the challenges of ascending the Staircase of Relationships is a key challenge for leaders and managers.

Read previous entries in this blog series:

1.  Developing Public to Public Partnerships (P2Ps) that improve infrastructure’s social and economic value

2.  10 tips for implementing a public to public partnership (P2P)

3.  The staircase of relationships – and P2P partnerships

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Malcolm Morley OBE

Director, ARU Centre for Partnership Working, Anglia Ruskin University

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