Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to examine the quality of collaboration towards Sustainable Energy Innovation (SEI) in Private Finance Initiative (PFI) projects. While the capacity of PFI to encourage collaboration towards innovation is largely advocated by its proponents; however, it remains to be supported by empirical evidence. Design/methodology/approach – Adopting the Complex Product System (CoPS) innovation management model, the authors assess the quality of collaboration at the interface between the innovation superstructure of public sector clients and users, and the innovation infrastructure of private sector designers, contractors and operators. Two interactional elements are examined upon which the quality of collaboration is assessed: openness of communication and alignment of objectives. The authors apply the model to four new-built PFI school projects within the context of the UK government Building Schools for the Future Programme. Semi-structured interviews with total of 50 key stakeholders were used as the primary data collection method. Findings – PFI has introduced a number of problematic issues weakening collaborative efforts towards innovation in the project environment. Particularly, the study underlines the restricting internal contractual relationships within the integrated Project Company and the misalignment of Design-Construction-Operation sustainability objectives. It also highlights ineffective communication with public sector clients and users brought in by the restricted nature of PFI engagement processes as well as the misalignment of public sector-private sector sustainability objectives. Research limitations/implications – The qualitative nature of the chosen research methodology limits the ability to generalise. The research findings need to be confirmed or rejected by means of quantitative research as representative of all PFI projects. Practical implications – The study emphasizes the public authority’s role in relation to providing the necessary conditions for the creation of a collaborative environment conducive to SEI in PFI projects. Originality/value – The study was able to expand the understanding of innovation and collaboration management processes in PFI projects in three respects: First, addressing the limited attention to innovation in PFI research, the study is the first to examine the quality of collaboration in PFI projects towards the implementation SEI. Second, examining the quality of collaboration in PFI projects through the lens of CoPS provides a new understanding of sustainability innovation and strongly indicates that the CoPS model should be expanded to account for the dynamics of innovation processes in the procurement of sustainable CoPS. Third, the explorative nature of the study was useful in generating research hypotheses that can form the basis for future research on SEI in PFI projects.
International Journal of Managing Projects in Business – Emerald Publishing
Published: Jun 1, 2015