Public-private partnerships: Mutual trust and respect
Mutual trust and respect
Mutual trust and respect are essential for any successful PPP.
Skills and approaches. All parties need to recognize and value each other’s skills and the different approaches they bring to the partnership. Parties should aim to capitalize fully on each other’s strengths, recognize potential weaknesses, and focus together on collaborative solutions for the best way forward.
Partnership culture. Some parties view collaboration primarily as a challenge or inconvenience. Those that encourage partnership are much more likely to succeed.
Common language. Organizations often have their own “languages”, full of acronyms and special definitions. Partners do not always spend enough time explaining their vocabulary. Misunderstandings early in the relationship can lead to delays, or slow the process of trust-building. Creating a common glossary of terms for the PPP can be helpful.
Stakeholder accountability. It is important to respect a partner’s accountability to its stakeholders. Parties should try hard to understand the needs of each other’s stakeholders, even where these do not seem particularly relevant to the PPP.
Project failure. Research and development aims to create innovative solutions. However, this can fail for numerous reasons; true innovation always involves risks. Parties should carefully analyze the major risks together, agree on mitigation measures, and accept joint ownership if failure occurs. Good project planning, Critical Path analysis, and early alerting to problems increase the chances of success. Organizations that do not take these steps often blame partners if projects fail. This can have a very negative long-term impact on “institutional memory”, in both the private and public sectors.
Honoring promises and communication. R&D or business partners do not often expressly say so, but mutual trust is vital. Trust does not materialize overnight, but grows as parties honor their promises. It also develops through good communication, openness, honesty, correct attribution of ideas and outputs, transparency of activities, and by parties working together to solve problems. Partners should discuss at the beginning the behaviors they expect from each other.
Pilot projects. Trust created through good cooperation on pilot projects can lead to much more substantial partnerships with longer-term commitments. Pilot projects are worth considering as a step towards achieving this aim.