12 guiding principles for private-public partnerships will help advance food, nutrition research

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

12 guiding principles for private-public partnerships
Food and nutrition stakeholders unveiled June 16 a framework for creating public-private partnerships that can pool increasingly limited resources to address mounting public health questions related to nutrition, health, food-science and food-safety. 

“We are very rapidly moving away from scientific enterprise as a siloed, linear enterprise to one in which resources are becoming scarce,”​ and collaboration across government, science, industry and the professional sectors is increasingly necessary to maximize those limited resources for the public good, said Michael McGinnis, executive director of the Institute of Medicine’s Roundtable on Value and Science-Driven Health Care.

While each sector brings a different set of perspectives that can speed the progress of research when combined, they also bring different motives and progress is not possible unless there is a commonality among the principles that guide the activities of all involved, he added.

Indeed, a “mutuality of interest”​ is a prerequisite for beginning a public-private partnership, as is transparency into what is each partner’s specific stake and interest served by the partnership, said Sylvia Rowe, president of SR Strategy and former president and chief executive officer of the International Food Information Council.

In addition, she said, before a partnership can be sanctioned, there also must be trust that each partner has a vested interest in the common, public-benefit goal as well as their own individual goals.

Once this is established, the partners must be able to justify, in writing, that the partnership is “truly necessary and ascertain whether the contemplated partnership is workable” ​ and feasible, according to the second and third principles outlined in the new framework, Rowe said.

Along with establishing the partnership objectives, baseline and benchmarks for progress, these two principles include requirements for outlining “deal breakers”​ and clear exit strategy that allows a partner to leave the arrangement without undue disruption, according to the framework, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition​. 

Striking a balance

Principles four, five and six focus on establishing balance among the partners “so there is equal position of power and people benefit equally, have equal say and equal responsibility,”​ Rowe said, adding “that is what true collaboration is.”

Specifically, the fourth principle is to ensure all members possess appropriate levels of bargaining power. The fifth is to minimize conflicts by recruiting enough partners that no single member has too much influence; and the sixth is to engage partners who agree on specific, fundable research questions.

Sustainable commitment is critical to the success of a partnership, according to the seventh principle, which is essential because the partnership will challenge members at times, Rowe said.

To help ensure sustainability, the partnership should have diverse players and objective, measurable goals that can keep the group focused during trying times, according to the eighth and ninth principles.

The last three principles focus on transparency and clear communication of the research questions, methods and competitive interests so that conflict can be minimized, Rowe said.

These principles also call for flexibility and guide partners to “be prepared to change direction mid-course”​ if necessary, Rowe said.

Open access

The principles are “ground breaking”​ in part because they are now in the public domain, unlike most other public-private partnership agreements, Rowe said. She added by making the principles public, more groups will be able to use them and, hopefully, create viable partnerships.

“Principles can make a difference if they don’t sit on a shelf. I urge you to read them, share them, research them and use them,”​ Rowe said. She also noted that the principles are a “dynamic document”​ open to revision as needed by more partnerships are created and additional requirements are identified.

Next steps

While the principles are necessary, they are not sufficient, said McGinnis. He explained all sectors must now establish common priorities around which to create partnerships and advance research.

Specifically, he recommended that each of the four sectors – industry, government, science and professional organizations – “have a rotating responsibility to bring folks together on a periodic basis to take an inventory of what are our priorities and what are our activities and how do the activities match against the principles involved.”

He also cautioned that for the principles and partnerships to work, stakeholders must “suspend our disbelief that collaborative action can work … suspend our complacencies around the notion that we all need to work in our domains, and suspend our ownership and mentality.”

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