‘Governance for Smartening Public-Private Partnerships’

The concept smart governance in relation to partnerships refers to new and innovative forms of governance. Smart governance then points to new organizational arrangements and ways of managing and guiding which succeed to minimize risks that are connected to PPPs (like opportunism, high transaction costs, rigidity) and enhance aspects like the commitment of partners, flexibility, trust and innovative capacity.

The research question

The overall research question of our program reads as follows: ‘Which innovative governance strategies are developed for various forms of Public-Private Partnerships and what is the effect of these strategies on the quality of the partnership and its outcomes?

Research questions

  1. Which actors are involved in the cooperation of various partnerships and how do they design their relations and role division?
  2. How does the decision-making process in these partnerships evolve? Which tensions and bottlenecks occur in the initiation, design and implementation of partnerships and how do the agreements and role division made by the partners affect these?
  3. Which smart governance strategies are developed in partnerships to cope with the dynamics that emerge during the development and implementation and what is the influence of these smart governance strategies on the outcomes of partnerships?

Research themes (see research projects for more information)

Our research project consists of a number of different, yet closely intertwined, research themes. On the one hand this research program aims at examining the implementation phase of DBFM(O)-projects, in which we look at the form and content of the contract and the way (contract-) management influences the quality of the relation between the partners and the project performance. On the other hand the research project looks at innovative partnerships in which public actors have a more facilitating role (such as the project on energy dikes and the Markerwadden project). Moreover, we look at partnerships as a result of newly established citizens initiatives (like cooperatives on themes such as health and energy). In doing so, we focus on how these citizen initiatives cooperate with public and private actors.

Scientific Advisory Board

Our research project is supported by a scientific advisory board to safeguard the academic quality of the research and the alignment of the project with the international discourse. The board meets once or twice a year to discuss the progress and research ideas of the scholars involved in the project. Each board member has elaborate experience on relevant topics, including public-private partnerships, privatization and regulation. Currently, the board consists of the following members:

  • Professor Graeme Hodge from the Monash University in Melbourne, Australia;
  • Professor Carsten Greve from the Copenhagen Business School (CBS) in Denmark;
  • Professor Koen Verhoest from the University of Antwerp in Belgium.


Public-private partnership has become business as usual in the Dutch and International practice of Public Administration. PPPs are used to engage in long term coopration on the fields of infrastructure, road provision and urban restructuring, but also on fields such as health care or energy.

There are various forms of public private partnerships:

  1. More ‘classical’ PPP projects where governments and private consortia engage in long term contracts and where private consortia provide the financing, maintenance and – sometimes – the operating of the project: the so-called DBFM or DBFMO contracts (Design, Build, Finance Maintenace/Operation contracts).
  2. More institutional partnerships between governments and private actors in which partners create a joint organizational form to realize a policy or service (for instance an urban renewal company to tackle urban restructuring problems).
  3. More loosely coupled network type of cooperation between public, private and societal actors aimed at innovative policies or projects. An example is the Dutch program on energy dykes where an attempt is made to combine public infrastructural works with the creation of energy.
  4. Self organization of citizens and societal organizations (such as energy or health corporations) who work together with private and public actors.

In this research program various forms of public-private (and societal) partnerships are studied. The focus is on innovative role division between the actors and clever new governance mechanisms (smart governance-practices) that are being developed and employed to improve the functioning of the partnerships.

A variety of research methods is used (including surveys, in depth case studies, Q-methodology and Qualitative Comparative Analysis). We aim to provide scientific grounded knowledge about the way partnerships function and to do recommendations for improvement of these partnerships.

The program is financed through the Smart Governance Research Fund of the Dutch Science Foundation (NWO) and has several co-financing organizations (NSOB, RebelGroup, Twynstra Gudde, ResetManagement and Deltares). The program runs from 2015 till 2020.