The process of building public-private partnerships: an organizational identity perspective

  • Gary T Burke

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy



Governments around the world are increasingly turning to public-private partnerships (PPP) to transform public services (HM Treasury, 2008). These initiatives lock organizations, that have traditionally operated in separate institutional spheres, into long-term co-dependent relationships. Previous research on PPPs has focused on critiquing the political rationale underpinning these schemes and on examining the economic implications for public sector organizations, i.e. transaction costs, affordability issues and imposed rigidities. However, prevailing research has paid very little attention to how actors engaged in these partnerships actually bridge their institutional differences and construct positive partnering relationships.

Using an in-depth case study design, this thesis examines how a business organization adapted to the public sector environment and developed partnerships with multiple healthcare and education institutions. Drawing on organizational identity theory (Albert & Whetten, 1985) and institutional perspectives (Selznick, 1957), the emergent findings shed new light
on the challenges business firms face in these environments and illuminate the complex cultural dynamics that underlie, and shape, cross-sector relationships. Combining historical and real-time data, this thesis makes three key theoretical contributions. First, the thesis shows how organizational identities, and the logics and practices associated with those self conceptions, can both enable and constrain relational quality inside a cross-sector partnership. Second, the findings extend theory on organizational identity change (Corley & Gioia, 2004; Ravasi & Schultz, 2006) by showing how the change process unfolds differently in more pluralistic institutional contexts. Finally, the research advances theory on the management of multiple organizational identities by showing how becoming dependent on, and embedded in large numbers of cross-sector partnerships can trigger significant tensions and vacillation inside a private firm as it confronts identity pluralism; both internally (Pratt & Foreman, 2000) and externally (Kraatz & Block, 2008).
Date of Award2010
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorSamuel N Aryee (Supervisor) & Stuart M Cooper (Supervisor)


  • partnering
  • identity change
  • pluralism
  • culture
  • institutionalization

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