Panel Paper: Public Engagement in Public-Private Partnerships: Re-Defining the Public in Ppps

Friday, November 8, 2013 : 9:45 AM
Washington (Ritz Carlton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Eric Boyer, Georgia Institute of Technology and David Van Slyke, Syracuse University
This study investigates an emerging policy problem in public and nonprofit management: the roles and impacts of public engagement processes in the development of public-private partnerships (PPP) for infrastructure.  Decreases in federal funding for transportation projects, structural deterioration of infrastructure and increasingly competitive national and subnational infrastructure markets, are leading many U.S. state and local governments to seek out innovative approaches to financing and developing transportation facilities through the use of policy tools like PPPs. There are often public concerns with the design of PPPs, however, particularly when fee-for-service designs alter citizen expectations about access to services based on issues such as usage costs. A relevant question to reducing partnership uncertainty as a result of project complexity is the manner in which government agencies incorporate citizen input into the financial and technical designs as well as the implementation of transportation projects developed through PPPs.

This study draws from interview and survey data collected from public and private sector professionals with direct experience working on transportation infrastructure PPPs. Using a semi-structured interview protocol, we consult subject matter experts and PPP professionals to better understand the degree to which they utilize public and citizen engagement processes. Upon coding and analysis of the interview data, survey items related to citizen-engagement practices will be developed and implemented using an electronic mode of access (i.e., Survey Monkey). The survey data will be used not only to triangulate our interview data, but to identify wider trends in citizen engagement at the sub-national and inter-jurisdictional levels where so much public-private activity occurs. This will enable us to explore patterns of variation and how said practices reduce uncertainty and risk in the partnership planning process.

Much is known about successful strategies for public engagement within some areas of government programs (i.e., community economic development, see Thomas 2012). The process involves a host of activities where "members of a society (those not holding office or administrative positions in government) share power with public officials in making substantive decisions.” Potential strategies include: 1) communicating with the public, 2) sharing-authority in decision-making, 3) creating participatory mechanisms, 4) developing informational materials, 5) selecting stakeholders and local participants, 6) recruiting people, and 7) sustaining local input (Nabatchi 2012). Findings from this study identify the conditions are under which these strategies are enacted and the extent to which public and private officials employ them in the development and implementation of transport infrastructure projects in the U.S. when using PPPs.

Implications for Research/Policy:
Results from the study provide theoretical and practical contributions to understanding when, under what conditions, and to what extent certain public engagement strategies for involving the public can facilitate information exchange and reduce uncertainty and risks in the planning process of designing large-scale infrastructure projects using PPPs. Findings also contribute to theory on citizen engagement, by identifying processes adopted within PPP development.  Findings can also inform PPP practices in other parts of the world.