Some Thoughts Logo

From “Value for Money” to “Capacity Over Time”

Toronto is a city bursting at the seams with potential. Just two years ago, we had the opportunity to reflect on this potential in the Toronto Global bid for Amazon’s HQ2, detailing our diverse, highly educated, and comparatively cheap labour force.

Toronto is also a city full of dreams. We dream of faster, cheaper, more enjoyable, and more equitable ways of experiencing the city. We must also dream about who will be entrusted to implement the new products, services, and infrastructure to enable these experiences.

Public-private partnerships (P3s) are a potential delivery method for these development and infrastructure projects. Historically, a key argument for P3s has been that they offer an increase in efficiency by allowing the public sector access to private industry knowledge and experience in successfully managing and delivering these projects. The value of these partnerships can be measured by comparing total project cost between different delivery models, a Value for Money assessment. This purely economic perspective is based on the assumption that the primary value of these partnerships is monetary.

As the public sector now pursues P3s for unprecedented, untested products and services—innovation projects—the efficiencies of industry experience are less justifiable. While a private organization might have more experience with innovation processes (or more experience selling the term “innovation”), this may not translate into an economic benefit in implementation. As public organizations write proposals for partners with “invention in their culture,” we must understand that the value add of these partnerships is hardly economic—it’s one of culture.

In our Amazon bid, Toronto Global emphasized that “we are progressive, we are diverse, we are inclusive, and we are stable,” but we’re hardly a monolithic city. For these innovation projects, public organisations should be considering how partnerships within and across the city could capture and build on our existing potential.

We shouldn’t be looking to global corporations to bring their culture to Toronto, we should be reaching out to, and enabling, the people and organizations that know this city. This might look like smaller innovation RFPs, proposals from partnered Toronto firms, or another kind of partnership altogether.

It’s time to view public investment on a longer timeframe—we can no longer simply invest in infrastructure and development, we must invest in the reputation, knowledge, and capacity of the people of Toronto.