Mission Impossible for Effectiveness? Service Quality in Public–Private Partnerships



Departing from the assumption that private sector involvement increases efficiency and effectiveness, many Western governments create public–private partnerships (PPPs) for the delivery of public services and public infrastructure. It is argued, however, that quality might be at stake when, in search of financial optimization, private firms take over responsibility. Although the validity of the quality-shading hypothesis has been explored in the context of privatization and outsourcing, this is not the case in the context of PPPs, and, given the importance of PPPs for public policy, this is surprising. In order to shed light on whether service quality is shaded in PPPs and how this can be explained, this study analyzes project members’ perceptions of service quality in four PPPs. Based on 66 interviews, this study demonstrates which conditions determine quality in PPPs and concludes that quality is neither safeguarded nor a priori better protected.


Effectiveness Service quality Public-private partnerships Public values 


  1. Andaleeb, S. S. (2000). Public and private hospitals in Bangladesh: Service quality and predictors of hospital choice. Health Policy and Planning, 15(1), 95–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ascher, K. (1987). The politics of privatization: Contracting out public services. New York, NY: St Martin’s.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Boeije, H. R. (2005). Analyseren in kwalitatief onderzoek: denken en doen. Meppel, Netherlands: Boom Koninklijke Uitgevers.Google Scholar
  4. Bovaird, T., & Löffler, E. (2003). Evaluating the quality of public governance: Indicators, models and methodologies. International Review of Administrative Sciences, 69(3), 313–328. Scholar
  5. Box, R. C. (1999). Running government like a business: Implications for public administration theory and practice. The American Review of Public Administration, 29(1), 19–43. Scholar
  6. Brown, T. L., Potoski, M., & Van Slyke, D. M. (2007). Trust and contract completeness in the public sector. Local Government Studies, 33(4), 607–623. Scholar
  7. Brown, T. L., Potoski, M., & Van Slyke, D. M. (2009). Contracting for complex products. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 20(suppl_1), i41–i58. Scholar
  8. Bult-Spiering, M., & Dewulf, G. (2006). Strategic issues in public private partnerships. An international perspective. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.Google Scholar
  9. Chakrabarty, S., Whitten, D., & Green, K. (2008). Understanding service quality and relationship quality in IS outsourcing: Client orientation & promotion, project management effectiveness, and the task-technology-structure fit. Journal of Computer information systems, 48(2), 1–15. Scholar
  10. de Bettignies, J.-E., & Ross, T. W. (2009). Public–private partnerships and the privatization of financing: An incomplete contracts approach. International Journal of Industrial Organization, 27(3), 358–368. Scholar
  11. Domberger, S., Hall, C., & Li, E. A. L. (1995). The determinants of price and quality in competitively tendered contracts. The Economic Journal, 1454–1470. Scholar
  12. Domberger, S., & Jensen, P. (1997). Contracting out by the public sector: Theory, evidence, prospects. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 13(4), 67–78. Scholar
  13. Eisenhardt, K. M., & Graebner, M. E. (2007). Theory building from cases: Opportunities and challenges. Academy of Management Journal, 50(1), 25–32. Scholar
  14. Fumagalli, E., Garrone, P., & Grilli, L. (2007). Service quality in the electricity industry: The role of privatization and managerial behavior. Energy Policy, 35(12), 6212–6224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Galiani, S., Gertler, P., & Schargrodsky, E. (2005). Water for life: The impact of the privatization of water services on child mortality. Journal of Political Economy, 113(1), 83–120. http://doi.org10.1086/426041CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hart, O., Shleifer, A., & Vishny, R. W. (1997). The proper scope of government: Theory and an application to prisons. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 112(4), 1127–1161. Scholar
  17. Hartley, K., & Huby, M. (1986). Contracting-out policy: Theory and evidence. In J. Kay, C. Mayer, & D. Thompson (Eds.), Privatisation and regulation: The UK experience (pp. 284–293). Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  18. Hitt, M., Zahra, S., Ireland, D., & Gutierrez, I. (2000). Privatization and entrepreneurial transformation: emerging issues and a future research agenda. Academy of Management Review, 25(3), 509–524.Google Scholar
  19. Hodge, G. A. (2010). Reviewing public-private partnerships: Some thoughts on evolution. In G. A. Hodge, C. Greve, & A. Boardman (Eds.), International handbook on public–private partnerships (pp. 81–112). Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hodge, G. A., & Greve, C. (2007). Public–private partnerships: An international performance review. Public Administration Review, 67(3), 545–558. Scholar
  21. Holmstrom, B., & Milgrom, P. (1991). Multitask principal-agent analyses: Incentive contracts, asset ownership, and job design. Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization, 7, 24–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Howie, J., Heaney, D., & Maxwell, M. (2004). Quality, core values and the general practice consultation: Issues of definition, measurement and delivery. Family Practice, 21(4), 458–468. Scholar
  23. Jensen, P. H., & Stonecash, R. E. (2005). Incentives and the efficiency of public sector-outsourcing contracts. Journal of Economic Surveys, 19(5), 767–787. Scholar
  24. King, S., & Pitchford, R. (1998). Privatisation in Australia: Understanding the incentives in public and private firms. Australian Economic Review, 31(4), 313–328. Scholar
  25. Klijn, E.-H., & Teisman, G. R. (2000). Governing public-private partnerships: Analysing and managing the processes and institutional characteristics of public-private partnerships. In S. P. Osborne (Ed.), Public private partnerships. Theory and practice in international perspective (Routledge Advances in Management and Business Studies) (Vol. 19, pp. 84–102). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  26. Maynes, E. S. (1976). The concept and measurement of product quality. In Household production and consumption (pp. 529–584). Washington, DC: NBER.Google Scholar
  27. Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  28. Osborne, D., & Gaebler, T. (1992). Reinventing government: How the entrepreneurial spirit is transforming government. Reading, MA: Adison Wesley.Google Scholar
  29. Osborne, D., & Plastrik, P. (1997). Banishing bureaucracy: The five strategies for reinventing government. Reading, MA: Wesley.Google Scholar
  30. Peat, B., & Costley, D. L. (2001). Effective contracting of social services. Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 12(1), 55–74. Scholar
  31. Pollitt, C. (2002). The new public management in international perspective. In K. McLaughlin, E. Ferlie, & S. P. Osborne (Eds.), New public management: Current trends and future prospects (pp. 274–292). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  32. Reynaers, A. M. (2014a). Public values in public–private partnerships. Public Administration Review, 74(1), 41–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Reynaers, A. M. (2014b). It takes two to tangle: Public Private Partnerships and their impact on Public values. Doctoral thesis, VU University Amsterdam. ISBN 978 90 90280912.Google Scholar
  34. Reynaers, A. M., & Grimmelikhuijsen, S. (2015). Transparency in public–private partnerships: Not so bad after all? Public Administration, 93(3), 609–626.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Reynaers, A. M., & Parrado, S. (2017). Responsive regulation in public-private partnerships: Between deterrence and persuasion. Regulation & Governance, 11(3), 269–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Savas, E. S. (2000). Privatization and public-private partnerships. New York, NY: Chatham House.Google Scholar
  37. Sullivan, H., & Skelcher, C. (2003). Working across boundaries: Collaboration in public services. Health & Social Care in the Community, 11(2), 185–185. Scholar
  38. Van Slyke, D. M. (2003). The mythology of privatization in contracting for social services. Public Administration Review, 63(3), 296–315. Scholar
  39. Van Slyke, D. M., & Hammonds, C. A. (2003). The privatization decision: Do public managers make a difference? The American Review of Public Administration, 33(2), 146–163. Scholar
  40. Weihe, G. (2008). Public-private partnerships and public-private value trade-offs. Public Money and Management, 28(3), 153–158. Scholar
  41. Zeithaml, V. A. (1988). Consumer perceptions of price, quality, and value: A means-end model and synthesis of evidence. The Journal of marketing, 52(3), 2–22. Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Autonomous University MadridMadridSpain

Personalised recommendations