A partnership is not a purchase order

Whilst this article from the Harvard Business Review by Ben Gomes-Casseres is about private sector businesses it is nonetheless relevant to the public sector. Indeed with all the government talk of partnership in the last ten years or so perhaps it is more relevant to the public sector in the UK than than the private sector. I think that it is important for public managers to know the difference between partners and vendors. Having been involved in setting up strategic partnership arrangements for local authorities I know that one of the reasons for doing so is that they were looking for an arrangement that could be more flexible and dynamic than a standard contractor. 

If an organisation simply wants a certain product or service reproducing over and over again then a purchaser-vendor relationship would be fine. If the organisation wishes the product or service to adapt as the level of funding changes, or public expectations change, or politicians introduce new policies then a collaborative partnership is more appropriate. Both parties have to recognise and accept that change will happen over the term of the relationship and make a commitment to work together to adapt to the changes. Such working together requires, I think, the supplier to understand that the public sector organisation is interested in the quality and volume of outputs and outcomes; and the public sector organisation to accept that the partner is entitled to make a reasonable profit in return for its efforts. If both parties in a partnership are achieving their respective objectives then the chances of them working together to deal with unexpected events have got to be much higher than if they were not.