Curent Status of Collaboration in Selected Countries
This section provides an overview of some innovative collaborations in the delivery of public services. A survey of 700 senior public managers from 12 countries produced a highly useful synopsis of the current situation and the future potential of public- private collaboration initiatives (The Economist Intelligence Unit and Andersen Consulting, 1999).
In the early 1980s, Australia went through a change of government that led to policies that promote new ways of doing business in the public sector. This movement intensified during the 90s with the privatisation of Telstra, the national telecommunications carrier. This was followed by a reform that encouraged decentralisation, the transfer of power from the State to the ministries, thus fostering greater autonomy among ministries and other public agencies. Government organisations were encouraged to take charge of their affairs and compare their performance with those of the private sector. They quickly adopted strategic management principles and charters to define the services delivered to citizens, whom they now perceived as "clients.". The government now plans to introduce the concept of accountability when it comes to evaluating public servants, which will help promote the efficiency of projects generated by the public sector.
In response to these changes, both levels of government, national and local, were forced to review their missions and began assigning to private enterprises those sectors of activity where the latter could outperform them. As the saying goes in Australia, if a similar service is featured in the Yellow Pages, this service is not part of the government's mission. A general belief that IT generates significant cost savings explains why the ICT sector was the most affected by this policy even though this sector is not the focus of the government's basic mission. IT use enables the creation and growth of enterprises of all sizes, small and medium as well as large.
The initial objective of public agencies in undertaking projects of this type was to reduce costs. The success of the Defense Ministry in achieving this goal (reduction of costs by 35%) has triggered the development of other similar projects. However, the motivations behind the projects also include the search for efficiency, productivity, and service improvement.
The finest example of public-public collaboration in Australia is indisputably the 1997 creation of Centrelink
3, a unique network that originally provided social and employment services. Today, over 70 services and products are available through its offices and there are even agreements that give local administrations the opportunity to offer their own services to the community
The government also adopted the Develop Australia Bonds program and issued tax- shielding bonds to support the infrastructure projects undertaken by the private sector. Thus, between 1992 and 1996, these projects accounted for a total of 29 billion Australian dollars which is a clear indication of the private sector's interest in such a collaboration strategy. In its search for solutions designed to reduce the size of public administration, the Australian government has also resorted to outsourcing. However, it cannot move faster than public opinion will allow and it must take into account the management capacity of its public employees to oversee such a dynamic set of relationships.
The Australian government is now experimenting with slightly more sophisticated forms of collaboration, mainly partnerships where suppliers are increasingly involved in the definition stage of projects, and it has adopted a strategic partnership formula encouraging suppliers to participate in the decision-making process. Since the partnership features a degree of flexibility, it is used for projects where performance criteria cannot be defined immediately, as the project outcome is not yet known. Efforts aimed at diversifying public service delivery in Australia are therefore numerous and place this country among the innovators in this area.