Building on experience

Three researchers are completing a study that delves into the thorniest issues in government-industry service delivery partnerships and explains how they have been successfully tackled in this country. Patrice Dutil of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada, Prof. Jeffrey Roy of the University of Ottawa and CIO Government Review and Prof. John Langford of the University of Victoria have been researching the state of public-private partnerships in transforming service delivery. They have made case studies of a number of these arrangements looking for the common ingredients to a successful outcome.

Delegates to the Lac Carling Congress got a sneak peak at some of the findings in the report on collaborative public-private partnerships the three researchers have been preparing. The conference also heard from Dutil and Roy on how successful partnerships overcame what the delegates identified as the four biggest obstacles to successful collaboration between governments and the private sector.

Based on their research, Dutil and Roy told Lac Carling that time and patience are required to get the most from a public-private collaboration. Roy recommends building a strategic capacity in the workers involved in the project so they can ensure that the project can do what it is supposed to. As well, it takes time for the private and public partners to get to know each other and understand the demands each side faces.

Roy also suggested that, in major projects, the two sides consider starting with a short-term contract “to define the kind of relationship they expect. This can then be used to reach longer term contracts for up to 10 years.”

In addition, contracts should have wiggle room so that adjustments can be made as a project moves ahead, Roy said. “Middle managers need to be given the authority to work in a more collaborative manner.”

Roy also said it helps if a project has a champion who is prepared to see it through its life cycle. And managers and supervisors carrying the bulk of the work need to get more attention: “You need to take care of managers as well as front line employees.”

Dutil says the high turnover rate in the private sector frustrates public sector employees, who find they are constantly dealing with new faces. “The private sector has to make sure that its new workers understand the demands of the public sector.” He noted that in a tourism information arrangement between Bell and the Quebec government, the workers on the project were moved into the same building; this helped smooth out differences between the two sides.

At Lac Carling, participants voted on the toughest steps in creating a successful public-private partnership. They selected “providing ample operational latitude for the government managers to pursue innovation and creativity within the contract and expand the relationship if opportunity arises.”

In descending order of difficulty after that were aligning uncertainty and risk sharing in a project, choosing vendors that understand how government works and building trust and joint ownership between public and private sectors from the start of an endeavour.

The three researchers offered CIO Government Review some examples of how those challenges have been resolved in different parts of the country. When it comes to latitude and creativity in a project, Langford says the federal Government’s On-Line experience points to ways that these features can be incorporated.

“Learn from best practices around the world (via leading companies with global reach extending across diverse public sector clienteles) and build support across government through awareness, education and preparation,” he recommends. At the same time, government managers should engage the private sector “in the internal management and governance mechanisms of the process.”

He notes that private sector representatives have been represented on the government’s Managing Service Change Management Forum to help both sides understand each other.

Dutil points to the integrated campsite reservation system in the parks division of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Senior staff were “granted a remarkable degree of freedom in negotiating the contract and in representing the ministry during disputes. All the members of the OMNR special implementation team were handpicked, based on their ability to work with a private firm. It is interesting to note, Dutil remarked, that the agreement was hammered out by public servants with a passion for the file, not by an IT procurement department.”

Another example cited by Dutil is the collaboration between Tourisme Qu

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