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The successful delivery of change within the public sector: getting it right

This research report was commissioned by the Enabling Change SIG Public Sector practitioner group in conjunction with APM Research to promote further dialogue and enhance knowledge about change in public-sector organisations. 

Who is the intended audience?

This study is targeted towards individuals and organisations involved in or with an interest in the delivery of change within the public sector.

Why is it important?

One of the ways the APM Enabling Change SIG fosters discussion and dialogue with change leaders and managers is through a network of practitioner groups, including the Public Services Change Practitioner Group, established in April 2015. The Practitioner Group aims to develop change capability by exploring change methods, standards, case studies and good practices. This report was commissioned by this group to promote further dialogue and enhance knowledge about change in public-sector organisations.

This research project considers criteria that contribute to the successful delivery of change in the public sector. The study is designed around two key concepts: organisational capability and accountability, and how these will help your organisation to get it right.

Who took part in the research?

The Public Services Change Practitioner Group, which has acted as a steering group during the research and the report’s development, would like to acknowledge the work of the research team and the important contributions of the participating organisations.  The research team comprised of:

Catherine Murphy (British Council), Myra Langdon (HMRC), Dr Andrew Schuster (PwC), Enabling Change SIG members (Martin Taylor and David Packham and APM staff (Julian Smith and Daniel Nicholls).

Participating organisations included:

  • Animal and Plant Health Agency
  • Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
  • Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs
  • London Borough of Hackney
  • Ministry of Justice
  • Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service
  • Independent consultants experienced in working across public-sector organisations
What did we discover?

The study identified four dimensions of organisational capability to be developed by public-sector organisations when delivering change:

  • Maintaining strong and consistent leadership.
  • Communicating a coherent vision and clear goals.
  • Embracing a culture of disciplined planning and realistic timelines.
  • Establishing sufficient investment for end-to-end change.

The study identified two dimensions of accountability that impact the delivery of change in public-sector organisations:

  • Engaging stakeholders early and throughout the change.
  • Ensuring sustainability beyond the life of the change project.

This study found that the presence of these six criteria is critical to improving the delivery of public-sector change. If one or more of the identified criteria were absent, the change largely resulted in failure. Although some of the criteria might appear familiar, each was found to have a distinctive meaning in a public-sector context.

What were the main challenges?
  • Identifying what change criteria to focus on
  • Obtaining participating organisations that provided a good cross section of the UK public sector
  • Knowledge and resource sharing – multiple IT systems meant this slowed down production with no common system for public services to collaborate on research project activity.

Download the report

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