What Successful Public-Private Partnerships Do

Despite spending $2.5 trillion a year on roads, railways, ports, water, and other public infrastructure projects, countries around the world are still falling far short of what they need to invest, according to one estimate. Thus, it’s no surprise that there is renewed interest in public-private partnership (P3) projects, where businesses supplement public investment in return for reaping rewards such as tolls and fees. But many P3 projects go off the rails. For example, a European Union review of nine such projects launched between 2000 and 2014 found seven were late and over budget. A U.S. interstate highway project near Indianapolis was found to be 51% over budget and two years past the proposed completion date. These highly publicized travails not only make P3 projects a public nuisance (or more), they create big political hurdles to overcome the next time a much-needed infrastructure project requires outside funding. 

But over the last three years, we conducted research interviews with 72 leaders from organizations that design, build, finance, provide legal advice, manage projects and advise North American P3 projects.  when we examined what led to productive working relationship over the life of these projects, we found they had three things in common: a commitment to a strong partnership beyond the terms of the contract; built-in mechanisms to share perspectives about the project (especially problems and concerns); and effective ways to rebound from failures to deliver.

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