A tentative success - PhD thesis on public-private partnerships


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In these turbulent times, how should the government go about achieving major public- policy goals like a better education system, in the face of dramatic technological and social change? That is the question that underlies the thesis of Pieter Moerman that he defended on december 17th at the University of Amsterdam, which considers a large-scale experiment involving vocational education.

The research builds on the more than 300 public-private partnerships developed in the Netherlands. The essence of a public-private partnership is that it involves results that colleges or companies could never hope to achieve alone. The government often stimulates these projects with a financial contribution but makes all kinds of demands on the cooperation. Usually by imposing top-down rules or setting targets. Moerman: "I didn't expect the way in which the government steers to have such an impact on how the collaboration turns out. The government limits us by strict rules', I often heard during my research on the work floor. What is the conclusion of the thesis? Give companies and schools room to improve their own approach and you get better results".

Looking for a pro-active attitude

But how do you get schools and companies to proactively formulate new goals and set up new actions? And actually implement, evaluate and improve them? Moerman researched how combining learning and accountability - experimentalist governance - can offer an alternative. Moerman: "As a government you want to monitor how the collaboration is going. At the moment, there is often an atmosphere of reckoning: 'If we do it wrong, we will be punished and we won't get any money'. By focusing on the learning process with room for making mistakes, you give it a positive twist. 

Moerman analyzed, among other things, 48 collaborations in which new forms of steering by the government were tested. An example is the Centre of vocational innovation Water, that also received funding for the Centres of vocational excellence. Moerman: "What I admire about these new forms of control is that the government shows the guts to impose fewer rules. Although in my dissertation I am also critical of these new forms, I appreciate the fact that the government dares to experiment and I encourage it to persevere with that courage. My results show that in the end that can make the difference for success". 

Summary of the thesis: a tentative success

Thesis: UvA Digital Academic Repository 



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