Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Public-Private Partnerships for Social and Human Services: A Case Study of Nonprofit Organizations in Alabama1

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Public-Private Partnerships for Social and Human Services: A Case Study of Nonprofit Organizations in Alabama1

Article excerpt


This paper seeks to provide an integrated theoretical framework for public-private partnership (PPPs) via the incorporation of network and collaboration perspectives, the examination of past empirical research in PPPs, and the findings in research conducted on PPPs. The authors argue that this integrated framework can contribute to the literature on PPPs and lead to a deeper understanding of the concepts involved. Applying the framework, the case study of Alabama PPPs in area of social and human services confirms some of the empirical findings from other research but also exhibits a certain variation.

Keywords: public-private partnership, network analysis, intersectoral collaboration, nonprofit organizations, new public management.


Public-private partnerships (PPPs) have become a popular topic with scholars and practitioners as increasingly more public services are being jointly produced and delivered by various combinations of governmental and non-governmental organizations (Bult-Spiering and Dewulf 2006, Yescombe 2007, Grimsey and Lewis 2007, Hodge, Greve and Boardman 2011). PPPs have taken center stage as a vitally important mechanism used to finance, build, operate and maintain public infrastructure for many social and economic development projects worldwide (Hodge and Greve 2005, European Commission 2004, Rubin and Stankiewicz 2001, Grossman 2008, Hill 2003). The New Public Management (NPM) movement has played a major role in the upsurge of PPPs through encouragement of private sector involvement in privatization, outsourcing and other market-oriented solutions for issues such as administrative inefficiency and managerial control (Savas 2000). The prevalence of PPPs has resulted in a "hollowing" state (Milward, Provan, and Else 1993) and a reduction in the "publicness" of public organizations (Bozeman 1987). Some believe that the end result of PPPs has been a blurring of the boundaries between the public and the private sectors (Rainey 2009).

While a large body of research on PPPs for capital programs has been conducted (Akintoye, Beck and Hardcastle 2003, Grimsey and Lewis 2007, Vining, Boardman and Poschmann 2005), PPPs in the social and human services areas are understudied. There are only a few comprehensive studies that address both types of PPPs (Rosenau 2000). One may see that the major advantages of using PPPs for public infrastructure are risk transfer and the leverage of private financing. In contrast, PPPs for health and human services are created to take advantage of the expertise of private and nonprofit sectors in producing services and their networks for delivering services. Successful capital program PPP models do not travel well when attempts are made to transplant them in health, human, and social services (Shaoul 2005). Some analysts argue that PPPs are not appropriate for the public sector as these arrangements are beset with a number of problems and often fail to deliver the benefits promised at the outset (Wang 2009, IMF 2006). Others have recognized a full range of problems with PPPs to include "the inapplicability of the partnership model to most commercial transactions between government and business, the risks of uncontrollable circumstances, the impact of local resource constraints, and barriers to transparency in long-term contracts" (Bloomfield 2006). In spite of such deep-seated reservations, these arrangements are as popular as ever; this piqued our curiosity. Why do PPPs continue to be created? What makes them so enduring in so many cases? How do collaboration and networks fit into the equation?


PPPs, Intersectoral Networks and Collaboration

The PPP concept evolved over time (Wettenhall 2005). Generally, PPPs can be regarded as arrangements in which "different parties who see different aspects of a problem can constructively explore their differences and search for solutions that go beyond their own limited vision of what is possible" (Gray 1989: 5). …

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