Wednesday, March 30, 2016

How a Public-Private Partnership is Like a Marriage

By Alan Miller
One objective of the CIRDA programme is to encourage public-private partnerships (PPPs) between national hydromet agencies and private weather companies.  Experience has shown that such partnerships can produce multiple benefits including improved weather services and revenue generating opportunities for public agencies.
At the CIRDA Zambia workshop on “The Last Mile – Saving livings, improving livelihoods and increasing resiliency with tailored weather information services for a changing climate” attendees heard an informative presentation by CIRDA consultant Anthony Mills describing an assessment of revenue generating opportunities for hydromet agencies through tailored weather information products.
The assessment shows that private weather companies are already responding to the demand for weather information and that public agencies should collaborate rather than compete to deliver such products (learn more in the complete market study). Such collaboration could produce multiple benefits, including better emergency warnings and free weather services for the public, as well as information that reduces risks and enhances profits for businesses. However, before this can happen Mills said public agencies will need to undergo major changes in mind-sets – “a cultural shift for agencies unaccustomed to outreach and collaboration with private companies.”
This may be a difficult pill to swallow, but the need to shift cultures away from protectionist stances and toward more open institutions that support and embrace innovation will be one key in achieving long-term sustainability for investments in the climate and weather services sector, according to the study. 
“This market assessment also found that NHMSs in countries supported by the CIRDA programme were in varying states of readiness for engaging with the private sector. To maximise future shared revenue streams from the private sector, NHMSs will need to undergo major changes in mind-sets and acquire new skills – a cultural shift for agencies unaccustomed to outreach and collaboration with private companies. This transition will take many years – perhaps even a decade – to achieve, especially if laws need to be changed, new partners and working arrangements identified, and new staff hired. An important next step for NHMSs will be to undertake in-depth national market assessments to identify suitable entry points into their respective commercial weather markets. It is recommended that the NHMSs engage with two different types of companies: firstly, those specialising in the provision of weather data, applications, or services; and secondly those with no specific sectoral experience, but which focus primarily on business development, sales and marketing.”

Other key recommendations were to raise awareness for the socio-economic benefits of a well-functioning NHMS, to engage with the national treasury to provide the economic and political support required for long-term sustainability, and to develop an enabling environment for the private sector.

“The regulations, policies, and legislation governing the operation of private weather companies and their relationship with NHMSs should be rigorously analysed to determine where revisions would be appropriate,” according to the draft market study’s initial conclusions.   

As I listened to Mills and comments by some of the public officials attending the workshop, I was somewhat unexpectedly reminded of insights I recently heard from a minister describing the elements of a successful marriage:

  • A successful marriage is built on good communication. Each partner must openly communicate their needs – and be prepared to listen to their spouse.  The same is true of a successful public-private partnership.
  • A successful marriage requires flexibility. Unexpected developments are inevitable, a willingness to consider your partner’s needs to adjust and adapt is essential.
  • The success of a marriage can only be determined over time – after the honeymoon has ended.  The same is true of PPPs.
  • It’s a good idea to think about what could go wrong and to have a contingency plan.  In the early blissful period, it’s easy to avoid thinking about what could go wrong – but the failure to do so can be very costly later.
  • No two marriages are identical, and success depends on the commitment of each partner to make it work.
The minister did not have to mention that as we know too well many marriages fail – a reality also true of many PPPs.  However, both continue to be well worth pursuing.

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