Test Critical questions

Public-private partnerships: An experience-based tool for practitioners

  • PPPs usually involve mixed communities of researchers. They have many different motivation sources, ways of working, management styles and stakeholders. To achieve high goals, a PPP must be based on enough strong, interlinked pillars.

Several key questions will help decide whether a PPP is the right approach.
1. Why choose a PPP as the vehicle to reach your destination?

  • Setting up PPPs requires a lot of work. Why not just seek another type of funding or access route to technology? Would a humanitarian donation be enough, or a royalty-free license to technology contained in proprietary patents or intellectual property?
  • What other options could achieve the same product outcomes?
  • Who are the essential parties and why should they be interested in a partnership with you?
  • What will happen if the PPP does not proceed?

2. Who benefits – and how?

  • What are the benefits from the PPP - and why do they matter?
  • Who benefits – other researchers, farmers, product end users, stakeholders, only some PPP parties? 
  • Can you quantify the benefits? How many farmers and communities will profit, and where? What will be the measurable environmental and sustainability gains? If you cannot do the quantifying yourself, who can generate the numbers for your business case? (You will need one!
  • What does success look like? Try to think beyond specific research outcomes. What will be a real success for an individual farmer or community? 
  • How much direct contact do you have with the relevant farmers? Do you really know what they need? Can you convert these needs into a product specification (link) that can drive the research partnership and program? 
  • How can you test your assumptions about farmers’ longer-term needs to be really sure that the PPP will stand the test of time?

3. How will products reach farmers?

  • How will seed products from the partnership actually reach farmers? This element is likely to be a core material part of the negotiation for the private sector party. But what about the public sector? How effective is the seed system in the developing country of interest? 
  • Will capacity-building be required? Does a seed system need to be created in order to achieve the farmer benefits? Should this form part of the partnership? Or how will this part of the agricultural development be achieved?

4. What are you prepared to give as a partner?

  • It is easy just to ask what partnering with another group will bring to us and our research. However, a key question is: What are we prepared to give or compromise? This often is the test of a real partnership!
  • What commitments are you prepared to make and what will you give?
  • What are the unique contributions that you can offer? 
  • How will you be a good partner and what do you expect from the other party? How realistic are these expectations?
  • What are your attitudes to exclusivity in this area of technology or the crops of interest? This topic is certain to form part of the contract negotiations!

5. Feasibility, likelihood of success, and risk management

  • How aligned are each organizations` R&D strategies and goals?
  • Does your idea have the support and commitment of your top managers? This is an absolute must! They will need to be consulted and participate in the negotiation, either in person or through nominees, and will sign the contract. 
  • How will the PPP be governed? Who will have decision-making rights?
  • How complex is the PPP? How important will project management be? Can you get an experienced project leader with PPP capability and skills? 
  • How likely is it that your preferred partner will want to participate?
  • What track record do you have as a research partner? How credible and trustworthy are you and your institution?
  • What is your attitude to confidentiality? True innovation in private and public sector will require some confidentiality, at least for an agreed period.
  • What is your attitude to intellectual property? True innovation and unrestricted access to technology for resource-poor farmers can profit from making the most of intellectual property rights. Royalty-free licenses and contractual arrangements can enable use in the countries of interest, and let farmers benefit fully.
  • What is the timeframe for PPP formation and product delivery?
  • How much will the PPP cost? Can you afford the dedicated staff, biological resources, equipment, and other expenditure?
  • How long will the PPP run for?
  • What major technical hurdles are there to overcome? How likely is success?
  • How realistic are your assumptions?
  • What are the key risks? How can you limit them? How much management will they need throughout the partnership? How will you monitor the outcomes to prove benefits to target groups?
  • Probably one of the most important questions is: Does your organization really want a close partnership with the proposed party, or do you just want something they have got? If it is really only the latter, then you should probably not proceed. Trust can grow, but mutual respect from the start is usually essential for a successful PPP.