Complex Contracting: Management Challenges and Solutions

Trevor L. Brown, Matthew Potoski, David M. Van Slyke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Governments at all levels buy mission-critical goods and services whose attributes and performance requirements are hard to define and produce. Many governments—and the public managers who lead them—lack experience and knowledge about how to contract for complex products. The contract management counsel provided to public managers is thin. Missing is a conceptual managerial framework to guide purchasing the complex products that are often so critical to public organizations' core missions. Drawing on perspectives from across the social sciences, the framework presented in this article provides guidance on how managers can harness the upsides of complex contracting while avoiding its pitfalls. The framework helps identify conditions that increase the likelihood of positive outcomes for the purchasing government and the vendor—the win-win. To illustrate the framework, the article provides examples of successful and failed acquisitions for complex products such as transportation projects, social service systems, and information technology systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)739-747
Number of pages9
JournalPublic Administration Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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