Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Affairs

First Advisor's Name

Shaoming Cheng

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee chair

Second Advisor's Name

Hai (David) Guo

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Third Advisor's Name

Travis A. Whetsell

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Xia Jin

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member


public-private partnerships, strategic alliances, resource-based view, social network analysis, risk aversion, fiscal stress, debt burden, causal mediation analysis, policy diffusion, emulation

Date of Defense



Public-private partnerships (PPPs) have experienced tremendous growth worldwide since governments in the UK utilized private financing for public infrastructure in the 1990s. Throughout the past few decades, scholars have researched the concept, development, drivers, and performance of PPPs. However, the extant research stems predominately from the lens of governments and focuses on how governments screen and select private partners. A neglect of the private sector’s preference toward and selection of governmental partners would hinder scholarly understandings of PPP formation. Such overlook may also hinder the utilization and development of PPPs in public service delivery.

This dissertation uses three essays to theoretically and empirically explore the factors that influence the formation of PPPs, from three distinct perspectives, namely, network, organizational, and spatial views. The first essay innovatively develops a network of PPPs and depicts preferences among public and private entities. The second essay, from an organizational angle, centers on private partners’ risk aversion toward fiscally constrained governments. The third essay, at a macro level, explains how PPP formation diffuses and expands over time and across space. All analyses use data from China, where PPPs have seen a rapid and exponential rise since 2014.

The first essay draws on the resource-based theory and uses social network analysis to investigate government preferences for private partners. The data show that private entities with greater access to and control over unique resources are the most influential and powerful partners. The second essay utilizes a causal mediation analysis and finds that a higher level of government fiscal stress may signal higher fiscal risk and thus trigger a higher degree of risk aversion of the private sector. The third essay, based on theories of policy diffusion and advances in spatial econometrics modeling, suggests that the spread of PPPs is a result of policy emulation among geographically, economically, and administratively proximate governments. By utilizing different methods, this dissertation advances scholarly understandings of drivers and barriers to PPP formation from public and private sides. It provides policymakers with practical insights on PPP adoption and how to properly address both public and private actors’ preferences and priorities in the partnerships.





Previously Published In

Xiong, M., Whetsell, T. A., Zhao, Z., & Cheng, S. (2021). Centrally administered state-owned enterprises’ engagement in China’s public-private partnerships: A social network analysis. Area Development and Policy. doi: 10.1080/23792949.2020.1851608.



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