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Engage Innovators Inside and Outside Government

Public Engagement

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Bring Innovators into Government

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"For effective change in a complex system, you need to find ways to constructively involve everyone who is impacted. This is because in a complex environment if you are impacted, you exert influence."

Seth Kahan, "The Power to Convene and Set Context"

Purpose and Outcomes

Purpose: Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs or P3s) and aligned commitments are important tools for engaging the public to help the government solve societal challenges through formal and informal agreements.

Public-private partnerships are formal joint ventures between the federal government and outside entities in order to address public-sector problems. PPPs effectively address a wide range of challenges such as:

  • creating and improving infrastructure
  • improving public health
  • creating desired economic impacts

They work best when all partners benefit, and incentive structures and expectations are set from an early stage to help mobilize market forces on an issue or in a region that had a market failure.

An aligned commitment is a specific type of collaboration between the federal government and outside entities. Unlike formal PPPs, calls-to-action and convenings (meetings) match executive action to specific commitments from public and private sectors to create societal advancements and target specific issues like creating U.S. jobs and solving the global refugee crisis.

The federal government, particularly the White House, is uniquely positioned to assemble multiple stakeholders, declare inspiring calls to action on issues at significant turning points, and elevate an issue's national profile from talk to action. Through high-level engagement, public officials can match executive action to specific private-sector commitments.


Many agencies use PPPs and aligned commitments to solve challenges:

  • 100Kin10 is solving the challenge of giving children a great education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) by adding more than 100,000 more STEM teachers to America's classrooms by 2021.

  • BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiativeseeks to deepen understanding of the inner workings of the human mind and to improve how we treat, prevent, and cure disorders of the brain. Launched in 2013, the participants include federal government agencies, private industry leaders, philanthropists, nonprofit organizations, foundations, and academic institutions whose research has resulted in finding nearly 100 previously unknown areas of the brain and publishing a new map of the brain.

  • Global Alliance on Clean Cook Stoves (GACC) aims to create a global market for clean and efficient household cooking and fuel solutions. Launched in 2010, GACC has 19 founding partners from the public, private, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) sectors. These partners include five federal agencies, five government partners, four private foundations/companies, and six United Nations (UN) agencies.

  • Global Development Alliances (GDA) models public-private partnerships at the S. Agency for International Development (USAID), helping to improve the social and economic conditions in developing countries and deepen USAID's development impact.


Creating Successful Public-Private Partnerships

PPPs require a common agenda with clear goals and a structure for engagement in order to succeed and sustain themselves. While the partnership may use traditionally binding legal agreements, the partnership itself may not be legally binding. Work must be based on trust, relationships, and the collaborative power of multi-sector participation.

Successful P3s require:

  • Policies, processes and tools that support federal efforts to form and sustain PPPs
  • A legal framework to establish and enforce long-term PPPs agreements
  • Alternative financing mechanisms/innovative procurement to work towards sustainability for partnership, whether within the federal government or independently managed
  • Skills to manage and oversee projects and partnerships.

Call for Actions and Convenings for Aligning Commitments

External organizations respond to the White House's call to action by organically building their own coalitions to make financial and in-kind commitments. These commitments align with national priorities through well-structured convening (or meetings). Benefits of convenings include:

  • Multidisciplinary approaches can help tackle our thorniest problems. Collaborative efforts focus on how to reach scale and scope to solve the problem while individual participants focus on their domain expertise and contributions.

  • Unexpected coalitions can generate innovative solutions. Commitments mobilize stakeholders to align, act, and influence their networks to create new products and services, and develop future directions.

  • High-visibility commitment spurs public engagement and jumpstarts new solutions. Stakeholders respond from a deep sense of civic responsibility; being directly asked to advance the public good appeals powerfully.

  • Meetings complements concurrent efforts in the legislative process. External collaboration enables policymakers to focus on areas where legislation is essential.

  • Galvanize more resources towards shared challenges. A measure of successful collaboration between the public and private sectors is whether the effort delivered more resources for solving a shared challenge by changing private-sector practices.

Actions and Considerations

Steps for Initiating and Deploying P3s

Designing a P3 arrangement is a continual process. Sustained success relies on building in feedback loops from start to finish.

There are seven key steps that the sponsoring agency should undertake when initiating and deploying PPPs.

Step 1: Scoping

Decide and define the issues, needs, goals, and objectives and revise them each time a new partner is approached by any member of the central partnership.

Step 2: Partner Identification: Internal and External Champions

Conduct internal mapping to identify projects that have P3 potential early in the planning process to consider how they may fit into long-term performance objectives and budget constraints. Identify and avoid any conflicts of interest by identifying any existing connections with potential partners. Engage potential external partners through public convenings to create a common understanding of the goals and objectives that all participants can work towards.

Step 3: Engagement

Establish a coalition of collaborators interested in solving a problem, some of whom may be brought in early to help with implementing and understanding the framework. Collaboration begins after the legal parameters are understood and the agency has determined the level of domain of interest in employing the P3. Set priorities for engagement with a call to action by a high-level government official highlighting the urgency of solving a specific public issue. Bring together stakeholders to set common agenda, define measurable goals and timelines, and begin allocating workflow to partners based on expertise.

Step 4: Definition and Formation

Understand the statutory and policy framework that the government entity (federal, state, or local) is operating under determines the P3 arrangements allowed for project selection, funding, management, and other policies. Agencies may also establish specific policies to guide P3 project development and involve general counsel and contracting experts in developing the initial partnership framework.

Conduct procurement for P3s by allowing greater flexibility to allow for innovation by the bidders and provide more room to negotiate with multiple stakeholders. Government officials should work directly with contracting and procurement officials to ensure the P3 framework supports the partnership's goals. The agency may want experienced financial, legal and technical advisors to help assess the financial quality of the bid, determine the technical expertise of the bidders, and negotiate with the private partner.

Step 5: Implementation

Build a robust strategy. It should improve visibility of the public-private partnership. It should also enhance the networks of partners, media, and peers into the plan and increase the sponsoring agency's participation. The agency must manage relationships and conduct continuous monitoring and oversight to ensure that it achieves the performance standards established in the partnership agreement.

Step 6: Performance Measurement

Include metrics to measure both tangible and intangible outcomes. Metrics for intangibles may have to be contextual, such as proxy indicators, anecdotal evidence, and storytelling. Properly define objectives and intended results to develop meaningful performance measures.

Step 7: Renewal and Closure

Capture overall success of the partnership through a two-fold approach: measuring the process and measuring the impact over time. Test the partnership's reliability and viability to determine if it creates impact for the beneficiaries and whether the project should be renewed.

Steps for Announcing and Gathering Public and Private Commitments

Agencies must inform external organizations about the opportunity to make commitments by:

  • Issue a call for action: Issue through a speech or op-ed by senior leadership. Use blog posts that highlight how organizations can get involved and where they should submit their commitments through online platforms or e-mail addresses.

  • Organize a workshop: Use brainstorming sessions to generate ideas for specific commitments. Invite senior administration officials to convey serious intent.

  • Leverage associations or professional societies: Inform and mobilize association and professional society members, particularly if they have entrepreneurial and highly motivated staff.

  • Schedule an event: Create a sense of urgency through a deadline.
  • Amplify momentum: Identify a few organizations that are willing to act in order to create momentum.
  • Highlight past commitments: Show people and organizations relevant examples of past commitments.

Structure the convening process to keep the meetings focused on the defined outcomes and processes.

  • Select the problem by clearly defining concrete pieces of high-priority challenges. Use backwards mapping to identify and segment dimensions of the policy challenge.
  • Be open to co-creating the solution context. Achieve a clear purpose centered on outcome-driven goals, but empower partners to adapt and co-create the collective mission and specific responses.
  • Structure convenings around action. Convey an explicit expectation that participants will produce deliverables or commitments for their specific follow-on actions and investments.
  • Build trust.
  • Focus on realizing the shared outcome.
  • Include the public. Create a platform where citizens can also contribute new ideas. Get input through digital engagement tools


P3 Legislation

  • American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
    • Act authorized $126 billion for infrastructure projects, some of which have evolved into public-partnerships by using funding to encourage private-sector investment and involvement.
  • Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act of 2009
    • Act reauthorized and expanded national service programs administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), establishing new parameters of engagement with nonprofits, community-based organizations, and foundations.

P3 Policy Guidance

  • Alissa Ardito, "Public-Private Partnerships Draft Report," Administrative Conference of the United States, September 7, 2016.
    • Established best practices for agencies including creating offices for strategic partnerships and suggested that the administration issue an Executive Order regarding Public-Private Partnerships.
  • U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on State Department and USAID Management, International Operations, and Bilateral International Development, "Public-Private Partnerships in Foreign Aid: Leveraging Taxpayer Dollars for Greater Impact and Relevance," July 12, 2016
    • Testimony of Daniel F. Runde, Chair and Director, Project on Prosperity and Development, CSIS) communicating the United States' role in development and the dynamic atmosphere of international development.
  • U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, "Public Private Partnerships: Balancing the needs of the public and private sector to finance the nation's infrastructure," September 14, 2017.
    • Panel on Public-Private Partnerships established in January 2014 to examine the current state of public-private partnerships (P3s) across all modes of transportation, economic development, public buildings, water, and maritime infrastructure and equipment, and make recommendations for how to balance the needs of the public and private sectors when considering, developing, and implementing P3 projects to finance the nation's infrastructure.

Aligned commitments are not bound by the same legal considerations required by more formal public-private partnerships because they are not formalized partnerships. However, they are consistent with recent efforts to expand public and civil society participation and to create more open, participatory, and collaborative government.

Three action plans from the Open Government Partnership promote transparency and accountability in the federal government:

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