Developing Successful Public-Private Partnerships

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Public-private partnerships have made transformative changes in urban areas.

For more than 50 years, private businesses and government agencies across the United States have forged relationships to finance, build, and operate infrastructure and develop services that benefit both sectors and the American public. These public-private partnerships (PPPs) combine the knowledge, skill, and financing of private businesses with the necessary public protections afforded by government regulations.

Public-private partnerships have been used to make transformative changes in urban areas by building parking garages, refreshing roadways, and revitalizing neighborhoods, among others. Since the worldwide financial crash in 2008, a growing number of governments around the globe have been turning to the partnerships to bridge the gap between stagnant public funding and the increasing need for services and infrastructure improvements.

Elyse Maltin, an associate consultant with JMW Consultants Inc., said successful PPPs reach beyond strictly adhering to contractual obligations. Instead, productive working relationships over the life of the project build success, Maltin said in, “What Successful Public-Private Partnerships Do,” published in Harvard Business Review.

“At the crux of successful P3 infrastructure projects is a simple but difficult-to-achieve construct: each party must be as committed to achieving the others’ goals as they are to their own goals,” she said.

Indeed, working toward a prosperous PPP requires dedication, foresight, and cooperation, which are skills that can be learned when earning an advanced degree, including an online master’s in public administration.

Building Success in Public-Private Partnerships

In her article, Maltin also said project leaders should have clear-cut plans that identify how goals will be met and how the relationship will continue through the duration of the work.

Maltin outlined three areas that are common to productive PPPs:

  1. A commitment to developing and improving the partnership. Partners should continually demonstrate their ability to work as a team by sharing innovations and solving problems. They should be flexible and open to resolving issues constructively.
  2. A system that enables partners to share perspectives. PPP teams should develop a system that will allow the partners to share goals beyond the project, whether it be building a firm’s reputation or earning a profit from the project. Open communication will prevent partners from developing feelings of distrust, passing judgment, or forming false conclusions about motivation.
  3. A pledge to find effective ways to rally after a failure. When problems happen, partners should not point fingers. Instead, they should accept responsibility, find ways to recover and move forward. Because this practice may be easier said than done, all parties should determine how the inevitable problems will be handled before a contract is signed.

Maltin went on to say that determining whether a PPP project was a success is simple: “The project is completed on time and on budget, and with all participants being happy survivors of the experience.”

“The lessons of what makes the best (PPP) partnerships work apply to any large initiative in which more than one organization is responsible for its success. The word ‘partner’ truly must connote that ‘we’re in this together,’ a sentiment that no contract can ever convey,” she stated.

Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs’ namesake George V. Voinovich, the former mayor of Cleveland, agreed. In the 1970s, the city was on the brink of bankruptcy. When Voinovich was elected in 1980, he brokered PPP deals that gave the city a new start. The PPPs reduced blight and ushered in big businesses and attractions, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Voinovich, in his book “Empowering the Public-Private Partnership,” suggested that the benefits of public-private partnerships can be passed down through generations.

PPP Benefits to Society

Voinovich had a positive impact on the city and the nation. After serving as Cleveland’s mayor for nearly a decade, he went on to serve as Ohio’s governor and in the U.S. Senate.

In his book, published posthumously in 2017, Voinovich outlined four vital factors to successful PPP relationships: asking for help, securing resources, establishing trust, and communicating effectively. Voinovich said that early in his first term as mayor he and his team agreed PPP would pave the way for the city’s revitalization.

“We agreed that the future of our city depended to a large extent on the involvement of business and that no one sector of society can go it alone,” Voinovich stated in his book. “The private sector can’t, local government can’t, and neither can unions or nonprofits.”

Today, PPPs are still functioning as a bridge between the growing population and stagnated resources. The World Bank Group, an 189-member-country organization focused on reducing poverty worldwide, said PPPs if done correctly, can “bring greater efficiency and sustainability to the provision of public services such as water, sanitation, energy, transport, telecommunications, healthcare, and education. PPPs can also allow for better allocation of risk between public and private entities.”

The organization said some risks are associated with the partnerships, but they can be overcome by:

  • Encouraging the private sector to carry out projects on time and within budget
  • Bringing in better public services and innovation through enhanced operational efficiency
  • Boosting local private-sector potential through joint ventures with large multinational firms and providing subcontracting opportunities for local firms
  • Developing gradual changes in the economy to make the country more competitive with a boost in business and industry associated with infrastructure growth

At the same time, Maltin, the Harvard Business Review author, said the most productive PPPs have commonalities. Success, it seems, is also largely dependent on project leaders working collaboratively to meet goals and keep relationships healthy.

Business professionals who are trying to build thriving PPP relationships must first understand the benefits of public administration to society. By earning a master’s degree in public administration, professionals learn the skills needed to build a leadership career in both the public and private sectors.

Through Ohio University’s online Master of Public Administration program, students learn the essential skills needed to bring industry and governing bodies together for robust PPPs.

About Ohio University’s Online Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) Program

Ohio University’s online MPA program is dedicated to preparing professionals for a career in public administration. Through the university’s prestigious Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, students build skills in policy, finance, leadership, business, management, and communications. The school occupies the No. 12 spot in the SR Education Group’s 2019 Best Online Colleges Offering MPA Programs ranking. The Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs is also ranked 68th on the U.S. News & World Report list of best public affairs programs.

The program, which is 100 percent online, offers concentrations including Public Leadership and Management, Non-Profit Management, and State and Local Government Management. Students can finish their degree programs in as few as two years.

Recommended Reading

Ohio University Blog, “Debating the Role of Public Policy in Regulating the Sharing Economy”
Ohio University Blog, “Master of Public Administration vs. Master of Business Administration”
Ohio University Blog, “Public Policy vs. Public Administration: How Do Public Organizations Get Things Done”


Springer, “Public-Private Partnerships as Historical Chameleons: The Case of the United States”
Urban Land Institute, Successful Public/Private Partnerships (PDF), “4 things George Voinovich did for Cleveland”, Senator George Voinovich on Public-Private Partnerships
World, Infrastructure and Public-Private Partnerships
World Bank, Government Objectives: Benefits and Risks of PPPs