Public/Private Service Partnerships

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Many challenges prevent successful collaborations between public, private and nonprofit organizations–collaborations that can lead to greater efficiencies, better service delivery and higher citizen satisfaction. Arizona State University professor David Swindell has researched the topic and will discuss his Collaborative Service Delivery project.

Ted Simons: Successful collaboration between public, private, and nonprofit organizations can lead to greater efficiencies, better service delivery, and higher citizen satisfaction. ASU professor David Swindell joins us now to discuss how to increase the collaboration possibilities for public services. It's good to have you here. Welcome to the program.

David Swindell: Thank you so much.

Ted Simons: The collaborative service delivery project. What are we talking about here?

David Swindell: Well, governments delivers services. And there are a lot of different ways governments can do that. They can do it in house, or they can work with others to deliver those services. One of the options that many cities are looking at now is to work with other cities to jointly deliver services to all their citizens. Or work with nonprofits, or work with public -- Private sector agencies. So there's a lot of different ways of delivering those services and this is a project we're doing to try and figure out what's the best for given service and a given kind of community.

Ted Simons: And you're -- When you say services, everything from animal control, to economic development, all points in between.

David Swindell: Water services, police, fire, the works.

Ted Simons: So the barriers to collaboration possibilities for these kinds of urban services, what are they?

David Swindell: Well, the barriers are that it's tricky when you have multiple moving parts. When it's in house, the city manager or the mayor, in a strong mayor city, will have direct control over that. When you've got partners, they have their own agendas, they have their own bottom lines they're trying to meet, and so they have their own citizens trying to satisfy. So you've got multiple moving parts and it makes it a little more difficult to coordinate.

Ted Simons: Interesting. So in terms of increasing efficiencies, if that is the goal, give us an example of how that goal can be met.

David Swindell: Well, increasing efficiency is one goal. Effectiveness, equity, those are all goals. But efficiency is when we're trying to produce a service at a lower cost without sacrificing quality. And so one of the ways we dock this is through economies of scale. Certain kinds of services can be provided at a lower cost when they're provided at a larger scale. So take for instance, in police services, a forensics crime lab. That's an expensive piece of capital to have. So instead of a bunch of little suburbs around a central city, having their own crime labs, why not everybody get together working with the central city, have one crime lab they all share the cost and operations of?

Ted Simons: The operative phrase there was why not get everybody together.

David Swindell: That's the trick. You asked what the barriers were, that's one of them.

Ted Simons: Well talk about it. How do you work that dynamic, how do you get everyone together?

David Swindell: They have to see their shared benefit that comes from this. A true collaboration, they have to share costs and benefits. If they're not sharing in those benefits, it's going to be hard to keep them at the table.

Ted Simons: And it's also hard I would imagine, even for something like that, just the governance structure of it all. How does that play into it and again, are we talking about folks that have to maybe shift their mind-set a little bit to see collaboration as opposed to more provincial kind of mind-set?

David Swindell: We're seeing a lot of experimentation in cities across the country right now. Certainly it was accelerated by the recession. You've got a reduction in revenues, you still need to deliver services, how are you going to be able to do that? Let's work with others that are facing the same constraints. That was an impetus to this. So one of the challenges then that you get into is, how can we actually do this? And so identifying what are the benefits, what is everybody's role in this, and holding them accountable. That's what we typically fall down in these collaborations. If one of the parties doesn't meet a benchmark, then what is the penalty for this? And if they can get away with it once, why can't they get away with it twice? And then the collaborations collapses.

Ted Simons: Around Arizona, the Phoenix area in particular, but around Arizona, are you seeing more of a movement in that direction?

David Swindell: There are several collaborations here, in fact we have one that I'm involved with, involving several of the communities within the valley, including Phoenix. We call it the benchmarking group. They're looking at a whole range of different kinds of services ostensibly to measure across different jurisdictions to see how are we all doing? But in the course of doing that, it's a really important first step because if you want to have collaboration on particular services, like shared permitting for instance, then you might need to have a consistent measuring -- A measurement for deciding how you're going to actually do permitting. So this benchmarking project is one in which we've got individuals working together, talking, building the trust, and what comes out of that is going to be much more than just a benchmark.

Ted Simons: I would imagine, and this is just a guess here, but another barrier might be like mismatched procedures for the same services.

David Swindell: Exactly. That is a real challenge. In fact, one of the ways that communities sometimes collaborate is through actually consolidating services. And so in any -- In Indianapolis, for instance, a City-county consolidation, but they didn't consolidate the sheriff and the police until a few years ago. And when they consolidated the sheriff and the police, they realized that, oh there's actually a few different things we don't do the same. And so we had to standardize the cars, we had to standardize the uniforms, we had to standardize communications, all these other things that are costs that we didn't take into account before.

Ted Simons: Now, and again, so we're maybe seeing a little move in this direction, hopefully as far as your research and your project here, maybe more of a push in that direction. Are we seeing other parts of the country where they're really going in that direction?

David Swindell: Oh, yeah there. Are thousands of examples of these kinds of collaborations. As well as other alternative service delivery mechanisms. Contracting out, franchising, whole bunch of things. Collaboration is just one of these options. And so finding communities that are working together, for instance, there's a really good example in Nevada where the county took over animal control services. Two of the communities in the county already had animal control services of their own, in sparks. They decided, we'll sacrifice the service, give it to the county, the county will do this, we'll build a new facility and a nonprofit agency comes in they put in $2 million into the facility, they run the adoption component, the county owns the project -- The shelter itself and operates the shelter component. So it's a true collaboration where everybody has skin in the game.

Ted Simons: Last question here. You mentioned nonprofit. Talk about the impact of nonprofit, the impact of private companies wanting to get in the game.

David Swindell: That's really an interesting challenge cuz you have these different cultures obviously. What motivates them is quite different. So working together you've got to really identify what are the benefits all the parties will gain from a collaboration, and how are you going to be able to actually help everybody share the cost, but also share the benefits?

Ted Simons: People paying attention to this study? Are you getting some folks to look at this thing?

David Swindell: We get a lot of professionals in the game, city manager types that are paying attention, so we want to get that word out and try and encourage as many communities as possible to look at this as a viable tool for them.

Ted Simons: Interesting stuff. Good to have you. Thanks for joining us.

David Swindell: Thanks so much.

David Swindell:Professor, Arizona State University;

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