Building on a business network perspective, the aim of this paper is to present a theoretical view for studying service MNEs in ICT (information communication technology) projects centred on the improvement of public services. The four interrelated concepts of cooperation, legitimacy, commitment and knowledge are applied in the analysis of two projects. Defining the projects as object-based services, the study manifests how service MNEs manage three types of actors (business, political and social) having their legitimacy in different systems. The cases illustrate cross-border activities where MNEs from Sweden, Spain and China join forces in Brazil with local business, social and political actors and cooperate to strengthen their competitive market position. The study concludes that successful cooperation is partially explained by the management’s ability to incorporate business resources into the needs of the socio-political actors. Furthermore, in object-based services, which are not similar to long-term business relationships, the three involved parties advance different types of relationships within a loose network structure. A key implication is that extensive public–private relationships are needed even when MNEs enjoy an established position in a foreign market.