Equalities in Public Private Partnerships (EQUIPPPS)

Lead Research Organisation: Birkbeck College
Department Name: Geography


This proposal seeks funding for a Strategic Network to identify research gaps and formulate a research agenda on Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in developing countries across four sectors: education, health, housing and water. PPPs increasingly play a significant role in the financing and delivery of public services. They are deemed to offer potential for addressing inequalities in provision and access to public services across the Global South. As such, they are promoted as an important development financing mechanism in support of the Sustainable Development Goals (see SDG 17.3 and the Addis Ababa Declaration of the Third United Nations Financing for Development Summit, July 2015).
The occurrence of PPPs, however, is not new. They first emerged in the Global North in the 1980s as part of a wider strategy of infrastructure development. PPPs were presented as a means to raise finance without increasing public sector debt. They were also heralded as a way to avoid perceived public sector inadequacies through greater involvement of private sector agents with alleged efficiency and cost effectiveness advantages. By the late 1990s, PPPs were being promoted across the Global South by a number of bilateral and multilateral agencies as the solution to growing demands for public services and the advocacy efforts in favour of PPPs have strengthened in the last few years.
Yet, there remains an acute lack of scholarly work on the effects of PPPs within and across sectors in the developing world. Critics have argued that there is insufficient evidence to support many of the claims and assumptions surrounding the presumed benefits of PPPs and their wider ability to contribute to poverty reduction or to address inequalities. Another concern in drawing conclusions regarding the effectiveness of PPPs is that PPP research has tended to remain in sector-specific silos and has failed to address cross-sectoral linkages, challenges or insights. This constrains evaluations of PPPs in general as a means to overcome inadequacies in the public sector. Further, PPP is a loose term that covers a wide range of arrangements across different sectors and it is open to a diverse range of interpretations (IOB, 2013; Languille, 2016; Romero, 2015). This needs unpicking in an attempt to draw lessons regarding PPP outcomes in the developing world. Finally, both the current promotion of and opposition to PPPs largely fail to address some fundamental questions regarding the nature and history of both the public and private sectors in particular regions and countries. The complexities of what constitutes the public and private sectors (types of actors), the nature of PPP partnerships (types of relationships), and their outcomes including with regard to equity (types of impacts) remain to be investigated.
This network seeks to address the need to understand PPP processes across sectors, how PPPs are implemented in practice and what the nature of their effects are in terms of dynamics of inequalities. The network will bring together academics, policy makers, development practitioners and other stakeholders to build capacity to interrogate PPPs as a solution to development challenges. In particular, it seeks to foster cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary fertilization by drawing on academic and non-academic expertise of varying disciplinary and sectoral origin.
The network will be organised around two hubs located in India and South Africa, with the co-ordination of network activities located in the UK. It will engage in scoping exercises, hold various consultative meetings and a final full network meeting. It embodies an early-careers and capacity building element through a doctoral student mentoring component and will engage in an active communication strategy both within the network and beyond through a website, intranet, other forms of social media, and provision of web-links to network activities.

Planned Impact

We are seeking to integrate impact from the start of the project through the design of the network activities. This will be operationalized by involving through interviews and invitation to the consultative meetings a wide range of PPP stakeholders, including policymakers, advocacy organisations, development practitioners, and by allowing feedback from each consecutive phase in the network's activities to inform subsequent phases. This should allow for new research agenda and policy issues to become identified as the network activities unfold as well as to benefit from progressive feedback through the different activity phases. Our non-academic co-Investigator from Education International will assist in broadening the appeal of the network's activities from the start. The local hubs will also work closely with various local non-academic stakeholders. Finally, members of the Steering Committee straddle academic and non-academic environments and will provide guidance on how to broaden the beneficiaries of the networks' activities beyond academic circles.

The network activities (outlined in the case for support) are designed to promote learning across the hubs and information sharing in all directions (South-South, South-North and North-South). Moreover, network meetings will be livestreamed to enable maximum user engagement and regular social media updates will ensure that stakeholders remain fully informed of network findings and activities.

It is envisaged that the network will benefit a wide range of stakeholders through on-going discussions of cross-sectoral and cross-country PPP policies and outcomes. At the same time, the network will connect researchers with policy makers and civil society representatives to promote a cross fertilization of dialogue on PPPs. The activities of the network will also strengthen our engagement with various civil society organisations that engage with PPP realities, including Eurodad, Global Justice Now, the Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Right to Education, Public Services International, and other.

One key element of the impact of the Strategic Network will be the development of a new analytical and policy frame through which we can understand PPPs across sectors, countries and regions. This will enable future research and provide empirical evidence to guide policy making that will promote sustainable development. The success of the network will be evident in the development of a collaborative research proposal to take this work forward as well as cross-country, cross-sector information sharing that will inform future debates around PPPs and will be made widely accessible via our social media outputs. Contact will be maintained via the network's website and this will be used, alongside the network meetings to promote user engagement and disseminate findings to stakeholders working in this area.


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Bayliss K (2017) Unpacking the Public Private Partnership Revival in The Journal of Development Studies

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Gideon J (2020) Public-private partnerships in sexual and reproductive healthcare provision: establishing a gender analysis in Journal of International and Comparative Social Policy

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Gideon, J. (2017) Exploring public private partnerships in health and education: a critique in Journal of International and Comparative Social Policy

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Languille, S. (2017) Public Private partnerships in education and health in the global South: a literature review in Journal of International and Comparative Social Policy

Description Although this is a Network rather than a Research Grant we have identified a set of research themes questions for future consideration. These have emerged out of a series of literature reviews that were undertaken by network members.

What do PPPs tell us about neoliberalism? Are PPPs part of a 'third phase' of neoliberalism and what kind of reconfigurations of state and private finance do they draw upon?
PPPs take on different meanings in different contexts (sectoral/ geographical) so how can we usefully theorise about the PPPs and their relationship to neoliberalism and financialisation?
Contestation and processes of struggle around the different meanings of PPP - what do these tell us about inequalities and inequities? Do PPPs draw attention to new forms of inequalities (as the chain between the individual's access to a particular public service, on the one hand, and the ultimate financier of the provision of the service, on the other, possibly becomes longer and more opaque).
What are the origins of PPPs across sectors and do different 'stories of origin' have different implications for inequalities? How do the origins of PPPs link to the stories of neoliberalism and financial crisis in different geographical settings?
What discursive forms do debates around PPPs take and where are the silences? Which actors have a voice and where are the knowledge gaps? Who is silenced in these debates?
Exploitation Route We would hope that research groups are able to build on our preliminary literature reviews to identify further knowledge gaps and produce new and detailed empirical evidence so we can clearly understand the impact of PPPs on inequalities and inequities in different country contexts.
Sectors Education,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Other

URL https://www.equippps.net/working-papers/
Description Prof Unterhalter and Ms Robinson have been invited to contribute to discussion and writing a report for Action Aid on the Abijan Principles which draw on human rights law to regulate private provision. they are working with Action Aid to develop a colloquium with lawyers and political theorists to explore the application of the Principles in more depth. Dr Gideon is currently developing a new collaboration with colleagues at New York University, Oxfam and UN Women which will focus on the role of the private sector in the implementation of gender policy with particular reference to the role of PPPs. There will be a preliminary workshop in New York in September 2020 which will tie in with events around the implementation of UN gender legislation, specifically celebrating Beijing + 25. All of the members of the EQUIPPPS network are currently developing book chapters for an edited collection on PPPs (Ed. Jasmine Gideon & Elaine Unterhalter) and will be published by Routlege in 2020. The book is primarily aimed at policy makers. Given the impact of COVID-19 during 2020 the previously anticipated plans did not happen. We were however able to successfully organise an online event in February 2021 to coincide with the publication of the edited collection. Prof. Philip Alston, the ex-UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights spoke at the launch event about the work in our book and the long term implications of using PPPs in the 'build back better' agenda for rebuilding societies after COVID. The launch was hosted by the London International Development Centre and over 80 people joined the event and were a mixture of academics and policy makers and practitioners working in development.
Sector Education,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

Description Academic workshop, London ' Privatisation through time and space' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact This interdisciplinary workshop ' Privatisation through time and space' was directed at postgraduate students and other interested parties to generate wider debate and understanding on how process of privatisation and the role of PPPs have shifted over time and across geographical spaces. Around 40 people attended the event and a lively discussion took place throughout the day as questions followed each presentation and participants asked for additional reading material.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://iippe.org/privatisation-through-time-and-space/
Description Conference paper: International Initiative for Promoting Political Economy 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Conference paper at the International Initiative for Promoting Political Economy held in Berlin in Sept 2017. EQUIPPPS members presented work on privatisation, PPPs and water. The presentation generated discussion and questions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://iippe.org/8th-annual-conference-in-political-economy/
Description London International Development Centre/ The Guardian debate: How Effective Are Public-Private Partnerships? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Two members of the EQUIPPPS network. Dr. Elisa Van Waeyenberge (Lecturer in Economics and Research Tutor at SOAS) and Prof Elaine Unterhalter (Professor of Education and International Development at UCL's Institute of Education), took place in this public debate alongside two other panel members - Neil Jeffery (Chief Executive Officer at WSUP - Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor, a non-profit partnership between the private sector, NGOs and research institutions) and Dr. Matti Kohonen (Principal Adviser (Private Sector) of Christian Aid, leading Christian Aid's advocacy efforts towards the private sector in the Public Policy Department). This was a public debate that focused on the expansion of PPPs in different sectors of the economy and considered the benefits and disadvantages of working through PPPs. There was a lively discussion with lots of question and comments from the audience. A Youtube recording of the event has been watched over 450 times.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.lidc.org.uk/lidc-and-guardian-development-debates
Description Public Private Schooling Symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A symposium, Public Private Schooling Symposium was held in Cape Town, South Africa in October 2017 and included EQUIPPPS network members speaking on PPPs and education. The intention of the symposium is to provide an opportunity to better understand and contrast views and positions on the role of public-private partnerships in securing quality public education. An overarching question examined is in what ways the globalizing agenda of PPPs (including in its local variations) influence the state's ability to provide public goods that promote greater equality and equity. Around 50 people attended the event including the Minister for Education.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Website and twitter feed 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact We have established an EQUIPPPS website and twitter feed which has attracted a significant number of hits and followers. Between the establishment of the website on 1st June 2017 and 9th March 2018 the website has attracted 1,225 visits and 3,320 pageviews; we have 135 Twitter Followers and are Following 441 others.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.equippps.net/