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Title: Complexity and control: how do they work in PPPs?
Other Titles: A qualitative study of PPS in Flanders: applying a new conceptual framework to case studies
Authors: Van Gestel, Kit ×
Voets, Joris
Verhoest, Koen #
Issue Date: 2009
Conference: IRSPM edition:13 location:Copenhagen date:6-8 April 2009
Abstract: Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are hot in the public sector (Verhoest 2004), and hence a popular topic for public sector scholars to study (Pollitt 2005). The study of PPPs is however complex, as they include a range of forms (Skelcher 2005) and are highly contingent (Pollitt 2003). The type and number of cases studied and reported in the literature is therefore varied, as is the number of theoretical perspectives used (see for instance the work of Considine, Greve, Hodge, Klijn, Koppenjan, Osborne, Skelcher and Teisman).
Some of the main issues in PPP-research include the democratic quality of PPPs (Skelcher et al. 2007), their policy impact (McLaughlin and Osborne 2000), and management issues (Klijn and Teisman 2000). This paper focuses on the way the public partner steers and controls specific PPPs, and how this affects product (or ‘substantive’) performance and process performance of those PPPs. The main research questions dealt with in this paper are the following:
- Which factors - in terms of design, steering and government capacity - influence the performance of PPPs?
- Which theoretical perspectives provide the best explanatory power? Main perspectives include interorganisational cooperation, trust, steering mechanisms (networks, control and markets) and neo-institutional economics.
The paper introduces a conceptual framework to answer these questions, and reports its use in two case studies.
The first section of the paper discusses the conceptual framework developed to study the abovementioned questions. The framework draws on a range of insights in literature on steering and control theories and on PPP, combining and testing them in a novel way.

Each component of the conceptual framework is developed into a number of sub variables.
The paper focuses in particular on the factors of design, steering and government capacity. The interaction between steering mechanisms on the one hand, and between them and government capacity on the other, is influenced by different aspects. Two main antecedent and independent variables are expected to affect the latter: the type of PPP (we distinguish ‘contractual’ and ‘participative’ PPP) and the complexity of the PPP (defined by a set of features, including the perceived risks).
Interaction between these variables is analysed in different stages of a PPP and linked to the control cycle; these interactions are ultimately expected to affect performance (developed here in process performance – linked to relational quality, and product performance). We formulate a set of hypotheses based on different theoretical perspectives: interorganisational cooperation, trust and network theories, Weberian control theories and neo-institutional economics, which emphasise market control mechanisms).
The second part of the paper discusses two case studies with reference to the formulated hypotheses. Both cases involve local sports infrastructure projects, involving local governments and private partners. These case studies are part of a wider set of cases, currently studied in a long range research project. The case studies show the usefulness of the conceptual and theoretical framework, but also suggest some amendments.
The paper concludes with lessons learned, and critical reflections on the use of the framework in future PPP-research.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Public Governance Institute
× corresponding author
# (joint) last author

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