Do you know which challenges to expect when working with government?
What is the experience of other partnerships with:
This might help you find out
Are any one of these challenges likely to affect your collaboration with government?
Capacities to partner, for example due to:
- unreliable government funding,
- few technical resources or
- lack of partnering and collaboration skills, so government is not capable of delivering on their commitments
Accountability issues, for example because:
- officials abuse its bargaining power to negotiate certain terms, or
- redirect partnership resources,
- but also when there are delays to deliver not only due to legal constraints, but also due to lack of interest
Lack of continuity in the legal, regulatory, insitutional and political context, for example when:
- elections and political change alter policies or lead to a replacement of counterparts,
- but also legal and regulatory constraints that limit government’s flexbility and create delays
How did other partnerships experience common challenges as:
Capacities to partner
The level of engagement in a partnership is influenced by the institutional capacity of actors, which varies a great deal and is highly context-dependent. Local public institutions in particular may be hindered by a lack of reliable funding and technical resources. Partnership is rooted in the relationships between individuals.
The individual public manager requires particular skills and capacities for working in the changing context of governance and the increasing variety of PPPs in his or her portfolio. Skills such as holistic thinking, negotiation, strategy development, interpersonal communication, facilitation, and conflict resolution are necessary for all actors working in partnerships. However, public actors need to develop a specific leadership style that allows both accountability to be ensured and mutual understanding and trust to be fostered.
Most lead partners experienced capacity as the main challenge in partnering with the Public P. This first of all concerned the technical capacity to implement roles and contributions that were sought by the lead partners. In Kenya, the main certifying body (KEPHIS) suffers from a lack of capacity and is not well-equipped to certify large numbers of crops—the number of potato varieties and seed potatoes having quadrupled in 2015 alone, resulting in delays in project certification.
Lead partners are often confronted with unanticipated capacity shortages. In Solidaridad’s 2012 project on food security, agricultural extension (the application of new knowledge to agricultural practices through farmer education) was needed to help improve the resilience of small scale farmers in Kenya. This was usually performed by government agencies. In the wake of the 2009 Consitution, county government were created and took over this responsibility. However, as highlighted by the lead partner, Solidaridad:
The new county government in charge had no capacity to fulfill the role of agricultural extension, so half way through the project we had to create the new position of county coordinators to train the future trainers
In providing training to address limited capacities, one general challenge is high staff turnover, which also occurs as a result of government shuffles and other unpredictable contextual developments. This is particularly detrimental to the partnering capacity in an institution, which has been familiarizing itself with partnering with private sector. This capacity is key in that public actors may perceive a loss of control when ‘opening the door’ to the private sector to influence policy making. As the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries noted with regard to the potato project:
International companies are difficult for us to trust, because we do not know them or their motivation for doing business here
If the capacity that is being built to trust and work with these companies transferred or replaced, the next partnership that knocks on the door might be confronted with the same challenges: a lack of capacity to partner and negotiate.
Another type of capacity also hampers the working relationship with the Public P: financial capacity. This ranges from civil servants’ low pay (and the subsequent brain drain) to the unavailability of budgets for continuing activities initiated by the PPP. This challenge was cited by lead partners in both Kenya and Ghana and poses a continuous challenge to the institutional sustainability of the projects—a key ingredient in vertical scaling and ultimately system change.
How did other partnerships experience common challenges as:
Partnering involves a high level of insecurity and unpredictability, because partnerships operate in complex environments and across organizational boundaries; they hence require flexibility to adapt to emerging situations. Partnerships may not produce immediate quantifiable results and are based on the idea of sharing control. These characteristics of partnering may provoke tensions and challenges related to accountability for the Public P. Public actors are held accountable for ensuring the public objective and have their final accountability to the parliament and the taxpayer. Partnerships which do not have evidence of their value for money in advance may result in a risk-averse approach on the part of the Public P. The Public P applies accountability measures, such as reporting, in order to ensure that public objective of the PPP is met and that public money is spent in a responsible manner. Accountability measures may lead to administrative procedures and the requirements of public
agencies, which can burden the partnering process.
Partnering represents a new form of governance whereby the partnership is expected to be characterized by joint allocation of risks and decision making mechanisms, instead of by central
steering and control. For public actors, partnering often means a delicate balancing act between imposing and negotiation; on the one hand, the public actor sets particular norms, rules, and good governance principles – such as accountability, responsiveness, transparency, equity, and participation – that the PPP, including the public authorities, must abide by. On the other hand, the Public P uses its bargaining power to negotiate the terms of the partnership. Confusing these roles can lead to misunderstandings and conflict among partners and can prove to be costly in terms of effectiveness and efficiency, but especially in regards to the reliability and legitimacy of public actors. In addition, public actors may perceive a loss of control when they ‘open the door’ to the private sector to influence policy-making.
The public sector is based on bureaucracies with a hierarchical structure that outlines the mandate and responsibilities of a particular Public P. The political framework of the state determines which Public P (e.g., in the water sector, the regulator, national government agency, or municipality representatives) signs a partnership contract. The responsibility for implementation may, however, lie with another public agency. The institutional structures of public organizations may be challenged by PPPs, as partnerships are related to issues that cut across the responsibilities of various public actors at diverse levels of administration (including national or local). This requires good coordination between different Public Ps in order to avoid confusion and uncertainty about mandates and roles.
One challenge for PPPs is to find reliable public partners to work with. This relates to government’s accountability and its tendency to use its bargaining power to negotiate the terms of the partnership or access to assets such as land and water. In both Ghana and Kenya, PPPs struggle with getting public partners on board and securing their commitment and buy-in. This was especially the case when public partners became involved at a later stage of the project and could use their bargaining power to make their participation and contribution conditional.
Lead partners shared stories of the high expectations of public partners with regard to compensation for their engagement. In conventional aid projects, it is common practice to pay sitting allowances for participation and to provide cash transfers for transport, accommodation, and other types of allowances. In Kenya, the high level of corruption in the public sector is not conducive to good collaboration with PPPs or within them. Some of the experiences have been negative in the sense that the public sector obstructed the partnership. In Ghana, there have also been cases of corruption but, for example, in the case of SADA—the public partner in the water management project led by IWAD—this was addressed by a change of leadership, after which the partnership continued.
In both Ghana and Kenya, public partners are familiarizing themselves with the concept of PPPs in sectors other than infrastructure, which does not provide for such compensation. In sectors and areas with a high density of aid projects and NGO activity, however, public partners have used their bargaining power vis-à-vis the partnership frequently, especially in food security projects, which have tended to engage public partners only at a later stage of the project, if at all.
How did other partnerships experience common challenges as:
Lack of continuity in the legal and political context
National and international legal frameworks and regulations may be conducive to or restrictive of the introduction of PPPs in general and of the level of engagement of the Public P in specific partnerships. Legal constraints and procedures can create delays in decision-making by public actors, hampering the partnership process. Regulatory barriers can undermine or limit the flexibility of public actors.
The Public P operates in a political context where policy priorities may alter when there is political change. Short term projects with tangible outcomes tend to be preferred over approaches that require a long-term investment. In some public agencies, frequent staff turn-over and reorganization (e.g., rotation of office and changes due to elections) can not only lead to delays in decision making and challenges for knowledge management, but may also hamper trust-building between partners. Election cycles may influence political commitment, senior leadership and long-term policies towards PPPs.
A complex and unpredictable political and institutional context, and how this affects working with public partners is a common challenge among partnerships. PPPs operate in specific governance contexts in Kenya and Ghana .
In unpredictable contexts, such as Kenya and Ghana, many PPPs have been confronted by the ‘political realities’ of the country, whether as a result of the new county structure in Kenya or the recent change in government in Ghana. In some cases, these realities have ultimately led to a discontinuation of activities or of the partnership constellation. Some anticipated specific political and institutional risks in Ghana or Kenya, with a minimum of mitigating measures. Most lead partners operating in Kenya admitted that they had not expected the institutional changes that resulted from the devolution of powers to counties, let alone the implications for their projects. This devolution had a major impact on the Hivos @Scale project, which aimed to create opportunities for self-reliance and economic growth among smallholder coffee farmers in the Nyeri area. However, as Hivos noted:
The county governor decided to begin trading coffee himself. Our consortium lost the investment and had to find another county to work in
This is a typical example of a nonconducive role being taken by the Public P.
Elsewhere in Kenya, the Amsterdam Initiative against Malnutrition (AIM) attempted to change its approach in the Micronutrient Powder workstream, in response to the administrative devolution. It shifted its activities from the nation as a whole to counties with high potential. However, these counties were to distribute the micronutrient powders, but were not allowed to do so as their health workers had not yet been adequately trained. The scaling process was thus seriously slowed down. Both workstreams in Kenya were discontinued after result phase 1.
In Ghana, the challenge was instead the unpredictability associated with the 2016 elections – which resulted in a change of government – and the resulting potential institutional ramifications of new leadership. In some cases, this influenced, and sometimes hampered, the relationship with public partners. According to the lead partner, CABI,
Elections could change everything; they are the cliff hanger for the project: a lot relies on political support from the Ministry of Agriculture
The lead partners cited the complexity of working with different levels of the public sector. The political framework of the state determines which Public P (e.g., the regulator, national government agency, or municipal representatives) signs the partnership contract. The responsibility for implementation may, however, lie with another public agency. An example is the project to vertically integrate the potato chain in Kenya, which was confronted with another, more risk-averse Public P than at the start—the parastatal Kenya Health Plant Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), which caused unexpected delays due to their adherence to strict and time-consuming certification protocols.
Suggestions for further reading
Corruption Perception Index, Transparancy International
Mid term review of the Facility for Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Food Security (FDOV), Royal Tropical Institue (KIT), 25 November 2016, p. 8
Brinkerhoff, J.M. 2002. Partnerships for International Development. Rhetoric or Results? Lynne Rienner Publishers, London
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