We asked 50 experienced, top-level public servants what they think is the important ingredient for success in partnerships between government and other sectors.
Transparency, openness, trust, understanding and integrity were the most popular responses. Taken as a group, they demonstrate a belief that the human element is more important than the way partnerships are structured. That result also implies that a naked quid pro quo and ‘alignment of interests’ tends not to work as well as a deeper collaboration with more social glue and goodwill.
There is a complication, however, in that partnerships are not made between individuals, but between institutions. That’s something made all the more pressing by the speed with which people change jobs and organisations. Many public partnerships are worked out over years and decades, long after the people originally involved have moved on. Is it possible to institutionalise goodwill and make a feeling of trust and reciprocity independent of the people who agreed the deal?
Perhaps this is where transparency and openness come into the picture. There is a wariness in almost all organisations about revealing too much to the outside world. Many public servants, in particular, have a deeply entrenched protectiveness about what they’re working on – often with good reason. So while individuals from different organisations may be able to speak freely with each other, the organisations themselves may not.
Decisions about what kind of information to share or how much detail to give about difficulties and priorities are made at an institutional level, and it is there that a partnership’s long-term success or failure may be thrashed out. That said, in the hundreds of case studies we’ve written on public partnerships, what often comes up is the need to put real effort into maintaining human contact.
The respondents were brought together by the launch of our global platform for public servants. The launch was held in London and hosted by the UK Cabinet Office with representatives from more than half a dozen other governments, including Sweden, the UAE and India, as well as from business, NGOs and academia.
The platform brings together the best policies and people in public service around the world. Officials can read about what’s working in their field elsewhere, and connect with innovators and experts who can help them. Its purpose is to let public officials help each other to solve society’s hardest problems. If you’re in government, you can sign up free here.
One of the first pressing questions our platform is built around is how to do public partnerships successfully. We’re also starting a series of webinars on that question. The first is hosted by one of our editorial board members, Sriven Naidu—Director of Programme Development and Partnerships for the Master of Tri-Sector Collaboration (MSTC) at the Singapore Management University— and is on the question: “For a cross-sectoral partnership to succeed, how crucial is it to identify common objective(s)?”
It’s for the Asia-Pacific region and will be at 1.30pm Singapore time on July 31st. To register to take part, click here. And if you’re interested in future webinars or would like to suggest a topic, please contact our community manager Darius here.