Once upon a time two companies formed a partnership. They jointly invested in planting magic beans, grew some huge beanstalks, dealt with the challenges, jointly reaped the rewards, eventually chopped down the beanstalks and went their separate ways to live happily ever after.

The characteristic of a partnership is that both parties work collaboratively: jointly investing, bearing the risks and reaping the rewards. It is very rare that public and private organisations form partnerships. Even the regularly cited Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) are most often a deferred funding, purchaser-provider relationship.

There is no reason you cannot have good collaborative behaviours in a purchaser provider agreement – but don’t expect partnering behaviours because the interests of the parties are simply not aligned. That’s trying to shoehorn a private commercial approach into the public sector. You will almost certainly be disappointed with the fit.

The key to a successful collaboration is to understand, respect and seek to satisfy each other’s interests. Create an environment of enlightened self-interest: where the other party best achieves their interests by addressing yours – and visa-versa.

As an example, in a public sector procurement one of the public sector interests is better delivery for a better price. The commercial interest is acceptance of delivery at the best margin. These factors are open to collaboration. Increased margin can be achieved by reduced costs. The collaboration requires both parties to work together to drive the costs out. Both parties must move in concert.

A friend of mine uses the high jump as an analogy. If only one side of the high jump can move, the bar can not get very high. If both sides move, then you can lift the bar as high as you can both reach.

Talking about partnership creates a false impression that you are seeking the same outcome. Collaboration faces the reality that you have different outcomes, but that if you collaborate you can both increase the height of the bar – to each of your benefits.

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