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Increasing social value with public/technology/private partnerships

‎08-07-2014 01:20 PM - edited ‎09-30-2015 07:06 AM

By: Mario Devargas, Solution Executive, Hewlett Packard Company


Hands over Union Jack - compressed.jpgI have often been asked “what is the difference between working in the public sector and the private sector?” There are many answers to this question, but for me there is really only one main difference – the desire to serve society.


However, it is not just enough to serve, and it is becoming more difficult. There is a greater need to address new and complex challenges: demographic changes, an aging population and increasing demand for public services in the face of austerity. With fewer resources, the public sector will not achieve its mission by simply working harder, it must look to using its service tool-box more effectively, especially technology.


All for one and one for all

The public sector must look at new and innovative approaches to policy development and the re-design and delivery of services via inter-agency collaboration and a shared technology vision.


The collaborative principle must be extended to a truly “ideal social partnership” as a way of mitigating the problems of cost, heterogeneity and providing public value. The basic principles of sustainable delivery of social value within a collaborative/partnership supply model are:

  • Benefit: The definition of benefit must be appropriate to all stakeholders; the receiver of the service must understand the value they are getting whilst the provider needs to justify its modus operandi.
  • Support. The benefits to the partnership delivering the service must be higher than the cost associated with individual delivery. Within this there may be a need to reduce the cost of delivery by channel-shifting the service from face-to-face to electronic access.
  • Acceptability.  Accepting the service is dependent on the situation and can take many forms – from delivery via less traditional providers (e.g. commissioning of mental health reviews), to receiving it differently (via the web) to interacting differently via social electronic tools like Facebook. Both citizens and organisations will need to change their way of working.

I would argue that partnerships can provide superior social value and benefit to a target community and individual citizens, and deliver additional public value to society as a whole.


Where does the private sector fit in?

History has not been kind to joint public/private partnerships, with many examples of “failure” because “the private sector only thinks of profit”. The most common reported symptoms of public/private partnership failure include:

  • High entry or up-front costs to the public sector
(IT, legal, staff)
  • Long time to realise small savings to the public sector and/or low margin profits and return on investment to the private sector
  • Loss of local knowledge/jobs to the public sector
  • Loss of service visibility to the public sector
  • Loss of control and accountability to both sides
  • Worker dissatisfaction and union troubles for both sides
  • Costs of failure pushed onto service users by both sides


The key to good public/private partnerships goes beyond the cost; it ensures that the business case for the partnership is sustainable for both sides. I would argue that both sides have typically been overly bullish in their financial and service predictions, thus failing to deliver against unreasonable expectations.


Austerity, budgetary constraints and fewer resources means that the public sector alone will not achieve its performance targets by simply working harder. It is often assumes that the gaps associated with these constraints will be plugged by the local communities (the third sector) and individual citizens themselves. I do not believe that this is likely.


Come together

Perhaps we need to look at a new way of financing public services and policy development. One approach is to devolve the management and expenditure of budgets down to the lowest denominator – the citizen and/or locality. I would argue that this is unsustainable – local priorities do not always align to national/regional priorities or what is best for a community.


It is essential that radical changes in financing be aligned to sustainability within the context of social value. One way of doing this could be by applying the “social business” model which has been effectively used to set up joint ventures in third world countries. When applied to public/private partnerships, this model can create the right vehicle to help solve the most pressing issues and provide business benefits.


For the private organisation, these tangible business benefits can include:

  • Providing new opportunities for products, services and innovation through the joint skills and expertise of the partnership.
  • Instead of just making one-off donations that are sometimes unstainable, corporate social responsibility can be enhanced via an on-going partnership approach.
  • Providing reusable models of social value creation, thereby further developing the prospective commercial market.
  • Improving partnership employee motivation and retention (greater enthusiasm and pride among involved staff, potential recruits, and all stakeholders).
  • Improving brand recognition as a socially responsible organisation.

For the public service organisation the societal benefits can include:

  • The use of the most innovative, forward thinking methods to deliver services personalised for each individual citizen’s need.
  • Creating an infrastructure and ecosystem that lasts well beyond the initial investment.
  • Empowering the end providers with the ability to adapt their services to need, whilst empowering the receivers to have a choice.
  • Improving accountability of the partnership by using business mechanisms and tools (for example, sales management/marketing) to evaluate end customer acceptance and take-up.
  • Leveraging the business mind-set to increase efficiency and management (e.g. improvement in risk management).

Where does technology fit in?

Therefore, this model of joint ventures allows partnerships and organisations to directly use their skills, expertise and business network to address community social problems. For technology companies this is founded on embracing the consumers and business markets such that social value is synonymous in both markets – with technology tools (mobile phones, twitter, web) increasingly used to improve citizen experiences and add to the social value equation.


Take for instance the use of "assistive technology” within social care – social value is substantially improved via telehealth and telecare. Telehealth monitors patients’ physiological status. When combined with personalised health education within a chronic disease management programme, it can significantly improve an individual’s health and quality of life. Telecare will enable citizens (especially the elderly and vulnerable) to live independently and securely in their own home with 24-hour monitoring that ensures immediate action if a life event occurs.


The desire to serve has not gone away – civic duty and principles are a constant which will not disappear. Consequently the question asked of me about the difference in working in the public sector and private sector has merged. Overall the private sector cannot survive without a public conscience and civic duty and the public sector can no longer deliver alone – with technology playing an important role in facilitating this merger, leading to a public/technology/private partnership. It is NOT a marriage of convenience but a true love story that will stand the test of time.


Previous blogs by Mario Devargas:

Related links:

About the Author


Mario Devargas.jpgMario Devargas, Solution Executive, Hewlett Packard Company

Mario is fifty+ year-old Spaniard with English undertones – living in Preston, North West England. He has worked in the Information Technology field for over 30 years, most recently in the Public Sector as IT Director for a Northern UK Metropolitan Council and as CIO for the second largest Police Force in the UK. As a Senior Executive he majors on advising organisations on Corporate IS Strategy, Collaborative Shared IS services and building and leading high-performing IS teams.

About the Author


on ‎08-15-2014 12:41 AM

Thanks Mario.  I think there are lots of very interesting points raised by this piece and some very interesting suggestions for moving forward.  I have seen such partnerships flounder in school/academy settings where everything looks shiny and new at the begining but resentment soon creeps in when the private partner charges the earth for minor alterations and maintenance.  Schools feel that they have sold their soul and the outcome for the private partner is that they have a reputation that they will find difficult to lose - it seems that some organisations forget that schools actually talk to each other!  Your other point that struck a cord with me was about corporate responsibility.  My organisation (a charitable trust that employs around 200 people providing careers and employability services) has benefitted from the corporate and social responsibility activities of a large construction company; but rather than one-off donations of funding we have built an ongoing partnership that means that we can look at the medium term benefits for us both rather than one-off publicity stunts.  From the public side of the "divide" this would be my suggestion as how to make sustainable, mutually-beneficial partnerships.  As to this being a "true love story", well, I'd perhaps badge it as a "serious relationship" as opposed to a "one night stand!"

on ‎08-27-2014 01:39 AM

Thank you for the excellent feedback… I agree with your perspective with regards the resentment that can occur when a private sector partner begin to charge for what is perceived as minor alterations. This occurs often because there is a lack of maturity and clarity on both sides of the “contract” in terms of who is responsible for what and expectations are nebulous. True private/public partnership need to define from the outset what the outcomes of the relationship are – avoiding ambiguities where possible… so those minor alterations that you mention – from a business perspective may seem minor but from a technological perspective may imply a big change in the infrastructure and mode of operation. If this is not understood from the outset – then both sides will resent the consequence.


In terms of social responsibility, I totally agree with your perspective re sustaining funding – one-off donations may fix small holes but will not ensure the longevity of supporting the need; As I mention in my blog… the right vehicle for both sides in a joined up way that provides the private sector with their profit and the public sector with the social value is essential. Plus as you say avoiding the “one-night stand” syndrome.


Thank you.

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