Public service delivery pros and cons

Brief history

In 20th century, two World Wars contributed to major government intervention and control of all national resources. Later on, public administrations further extended their protective role by gradually intervening in different economic, social, and cultural areas. The role of the 'Welfare State' reached its peak in the decades that followed World War II.

In 1980s, the administrative machinery of Government had become so huge that its cost led to a progressive and significant indebtedness that forced developed nations to undertake major changed to their public sectors.

These reforms consisted of a progressive disengagement of the state from various sectors of activity, such as natural resources management; it then refocused its mission around key sectors such as health, social security, employment and justice. There are two main reasons why post-war taxpayers welcomed this change in the role of Government.

On the one hand, people were overtaxed and as they saw their capacity to pay decrease, they pressured Government to shrink and to manage public property more efficiently. On the other hand, witnessing the transformation of the world economy due to a significant increase in information and communications technologies (ICTs) and market globalization, taxpayers rapidly became sophisticated consumers and demanded that Government modernize and improve the quality of its own public service delivery methods. In summary, these main factors have created huge pressure on the administrative machine to undertake in-depth reforms, which constitute a real reinvention of government:

  • A significant level of national debt
  • IT growth and ensuing market globalization
  • Better informed and more demanding citizens.
  • Public services largely supported by ITs

Further, these new methods of collaboration are unique not only because of the type of relationship that holds the private sector close to the public sector, but also because of the sectors of activity involved. Public administrations are turning to new means of collaboration for activities that were, until quite recently, their sole domain as they lay at the very heart of the Government's mission. Clearly, within this context of diversification of service delivery methods, governments are moved to rethink their way of doing business; they are seeking out ways of being innovative, effective and efficient to provide better services to their "clientele" within many areas of activity. A research project to be conducted over the next two years will examine these emerging and innovative models of public service delivery and attempt to identify their main critical success factors.


Collaboration for public service delivery refers to the reciprocal and voluntary support that two or more distinct public sector agencies, or public and private administrations, including non-profit organizations (NPOs), provide each other in order to deliver a "public" service, i.e. one that is part of the government mission.

Very often, this support translates into a formal agreement between the parties as to the purpose of their collaboration and the sharing of both tangible and intangible responsibilities, resources, risks, and benefits. As a general rule such formal written agreements are for a specific period of time and most often are presented in contract form.

Public-Public collaboration models include agreements between public agencies and can be classified into two main categories: horizontal and vertical. The first refers to agreements between two agencies or departments at the same level of government, while the second refers to intergovernmental alliances between local, provincial (state), or national administrations.

Public-private collaboration models present a greater diversity. Sub-contracting and out-sourcing are two common types. In these cases, Government retains responsibility for a service that is totally or partially operated by the private sector.

However, public-private partnerships (PPP or P3) are emerging as the models of collaboration that trigger the most debate. They are distinct in that they focus on a sharing of resources, risks, and benefits across sectors. And while the service is public, as a general rule [usually], the funds are private. In certain models of collaboration, reciprocal support might even include the creation of a corporation, as in the case of mixed ownership corporations or regulated private companies. In both cases, Government hands over part of its management responsibilities while retaining enough control to ensure the protection of the public interest. This control is ensured by maintaining a controlling interest or through laws and regulations governing the activities of the corporation.

The diversity of collaboration models reflects the degree to which responsibility is shared, as well as the variety of potential partners from the public, private or non profit sectors. Inter-organizational collaboration for the delivery of public services can be located conceptually on a continuum that ranges from government monopoly (no sharing) to privatisation (total transfer of responsibility).

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