Public Private Disruption Impacting Major Projects

Thursday, March 17th, 2016
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With Uber’s impact on the transportation industry, T20 impacting our summer of cricket, and the likes of Airbnb shaking up the traditional accommodation industry, we live in an age of disruption.

(Malcolm Turnbull, first speech on becoming Prime Minister, 14 September 2015)

But when the Prime Minister calls for us all to embrace disruption as our friend, maybe we should ask “How does the private sector disrupt government?”

Essentially, how do we move from the idea of government-initiated public private partnerships to proactive public private disruption?

To disrupt government is to disrupt the largest part of our community and economy. If government were more agile, imagine the positive impacts on all the people who rely on it. Government, however, is the last place innovators think to look.

Government is seen as slow, bureaucratic, siloed and political. It is far easier to change computer code or business models than to remould government.

The fact that it’s so rigid, so large and so important makes disrupting government the great challenge of the next generation of innovators. Government is the next frontier of the current wave of disruption.

Due to the strong forces that fight to preserve the status quo, there are a few tools at our disposal.

The most applicable tool in the current environment is market-led proposals (MLPs). While MLP processes have been set up by governments to attract ‘innovative’ proposals, governments (and specific departments and agencies) are being caught off-guard by out-of-the-box proposals.

MLPs are disrupting government in several ways.

Firstly, they are disrupting the decision-making process. No longer does a government define a problem, identify a solution and then finally seek a private partner to deliver the solution.

MLPs allow the private sector to view government’s needs through a different lens and propose a solution that’s simply never been considered or tried before.

Secondly, they are breaking down the siloed thinking and decision-making within government by taking a whole-of-government approach that focuses on outcomes and the public good. The primary driver promoting this different perspective is the need for private proponents to develop a unique proposal. This forces them to think more broadly. These proponents also attack problems without the biases that can be created by being part of the bureaucracy. The best example of this is a number of recent health proposals that provide solutions that cut across the federal and state systems.

Finally, the need for MLPs to be unique could increasingly force proponents to look to the great innovations happening in the rest of the economy and in other parts of the world. After all, isn’t that the essence of innovation – bringing together disparate ideas in a completely new way?

Technology can be a great source of uniqueness, as can applying the concepts of the sharing economy to many underutilised assets of government.

So MLPs give us an opportunity to disrupt government – albeit a government-invited opportunity. What they haven’t been able to do yet is link the world of your Ubers and Airbnbs, with new public policy solutions.

I believe they could in the very near future.

MLPs could be the process that opens the new frontier of disruption – large-scale disruption of traditional public service delivery.

The only way this can happen though, is through a combination of bold politicians, adaptive bureaucracies and the same brave entrepreneurs that are changing the rest of our world, being willing to apply their ideas to public policy settings.

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