Public private partnerships are an effective instrument in problem-solving, but uneasiness between the parties can compromise impact. How do two parties, with very different missions, build trust?

A group at Yale has been researching this question.

Yale Insights describes the research:

The researchers interviewed public and private employees involved in Project Last Mile in South Africa, Mozambique, and Eswatini (the former Swaziland). They used software to sift through the reams of transcripts in search of insights into methods for instilling and maintaining trust.

“Partnerships are ubiquitous but how they perform and endure is less well understood,” says Christie, the study’s lead author.

The researchers found four variables central to trust, which together can make the difference between a successful partnership and one that falls apart.

First among them the fact that people matter; these partnerships need advocates who not only support the work and possess technical expertise, but who express a nuanced understanding of diplomacy and who can fluidly navigate different stakeholder demands.

Second, the researchers found that tangible results are essential to laying a foundation of trust. “The value of these partnerships can’t be hypothetical, and results have to happen early on,” Chahine says. “This contains an important message for anyone working in partnerships like these: you should structure them in a way to create short-term wins throughout the arrangement.”

A third key consideration when crafting public-private partnerships is the context in which the work takes place. Chahine noted that different countries possess different ideas about private-sector intentions, or about the relative venality of government agencies. This context must inform efforts to build trust between partners.

Finally, bonds of trust remained contingent on a careful alignment of incentives and expectations. “This is probably the trickiest part,” Chahine says. In the case of Project Last Mile, Coca-Cola needs to see genuine value in strengthening government institutions and expanding individuals’ access to medications. And the same is true on the government side: agencies and representatives must have genuine interest in the partnership. “Trust will collapse if it appears that either side is simply doing this for a check or a pretty photo campaign,” Chahine says. “Champions on each side play an important role in this process of aligning goals.”

Finally, across all four of these dimensions, Chahine described clear and consistent communication as a “crosscutting factor” in the establishment of trust.