Public-Private Collaborations

As public-private collaborations become more prevalent, there is a need to clarify the liabilities and duties of private companies working in a public capacity because there are different legal and incentive frameworks between private and public organizations (i.e. is the contractor company legally bound to serve the public?, are decisions based on public care or private profit?). While these collaborations open new possibilities for inclusion, networking, information exchange, knowledge transfer and resource mobilization, they also bring forth a range of ethical, legal and social issues which warrant careful consideration. It is important that the CIS is set up in ways that supports and encourages reflection on such issues by making more visible the ethical and legal implications of outsourcing, subcontracting, and privatisation in general.

Guiding Questions

What are the responsibilities, liabilities and duties of the private stakeholder in the CIS? Are they known and agreed in advance, and do they align or come in conflict with those of public stakeholders?
What sort of issues arise when combining public service motives with profit or efficiency motives reflected in activities within the CIS?
Who is the private stakeholder accountable to? Do public and private stakeholders share responsibility/accountability when they collaborate?
Does the participation of a private stakeholder affect human rights or other ethical principles, such as informational self-determination?

Further Information

In 2005, the Hyogo Framework for Action by the United Nations recommended the establishment of Public Private Partnerships to enable communities to reduce the risk factors that contribute to disasters. This commitment has been renewed in the 2015 Sendai Framework. Within the EU the involvement of the private sector in response efforts varies on the basis of countries’ cultural and historical traditions. So, for example, the Nordic and Central European states are more likely to mandate that companies must store goods or provide services in case of an emergency. In terms of private-public partnerships, Baltic countries assigned particular importance to the role of the private sector at all levels of preparedness and response. In Croatia and Poland, civil security tasks such as responding to oil spills or providing shelters are outsourced to private companies. In the UK, while not mandated, public agencies do engage the private sector for specific tasks but on an ad-hoc and voluntary basis.

Now, countries around the world are adopting policy frameworks that emphasize the importance of partnerships for disaster resilience. Such a new and growing spectrum of disaster management partnerships opens up new possibilities for inclusion, networking, information exchange, knowledge transfer and resource mobilization. However, it also highlights the importance of ensuring alignment and coordination among partners.


In their review of international public-private partnerships, Chen et al. (2013) identify eight different types of collaborations across different phases of disaster risk management:

Public Private Collaborations

In public-private contractual partnerships for critical infrastructure, to give just one example, challenges arise because high degrees of uncertainty and discretion provided to project implementers in these cases mean that contracts are often incomplete and potentially involve frequent renegotiations, posing challenges for the disclosure of information within CISs. Such contracts create high risks of opportunism and transaction costs (e.g., monitoring, enforcement and conflict resolution). Joint ventures with incomplete contracts require high levels of trust, where information sharing may sometimes need to be very carefully calibrated and may require long-term relationship building and incentive structures that align the interests of public and private collaborators. Government-civil society partnerships often rely on Memoranda of Agreement (MOA) or long-term arrangements. Less effective are ad-hoc coordination attempts. Relations may be complicated further when different communities and publics are part of the CIS, such as in Chen et al.’s third public partnership category, many-to-many network partnerships, which also aims to bridge distances between different parties. Apart from official agencies and NGOs it also enrols more ephemeral mobile publics, where communities temporarily converge around issues of concern, often via digital and mobile technologies used everyday.


Bossong, R., and Hegemann, H. (2015). Cooperation under Diversity? Exploring cultural and institutional diversity in European Civil Security Governance. In R. Bossong & H. Hegemann (Eds.), European Civil Security Governance, Diversity and Cooperation. London: Palgrave MacMillan.
Chen, J., Chen, T. H. Y., Vertinsky, I., Yumagulova, L., and Park, C. (2013). Public-Private Partnerships for the Development of Disaster Resilient Communities. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 21(3): 130–143 [DOI
UNISDR (2005). Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) - UNISDR [Link]
UNISDR (2015). Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction [Link]

Related Key Terms