EIPM Readings #2: Leading change in the public sector

There is a lot of literature that talks about change management and leadership in the private sector. Why is there a gap in the literature to address these dimensions within the public sector?

In an effort to cover this gap, colleagues from Politics & Ideas, a think net of researchers and practitioners, shared this paper that I am summarizing for you today, Transforming Whitehall, Leading major change in Whitehall departments, by the Institute for Government. It’s about how Whitehall adapted to one of the major reforms that the civil service had to go through (well, that is before Brexit), which sheds some light into how this sector implements institutional reforms. This paper shares a few lessons and recommendations which can inspire others. It is about the UK  but some ideas can be useful to others.

The private sector has an enormous amount of literature written on change management, but this paper argues that, although there are some lessons to learn from them, the public sector’s context operates under different rules, which affect deeply how things work and how change can be achieved. I couldn’t agree more. Some characteristics of this context are not new to us and are shared across countries and cultures:

  • Dual leadership: A minister’s incentives are not necessarily aligned with those of the department. High-level turnover of ministers makes commitment to change difficult.
  • The mission and value of departments are ambiguous and fluid because they are based on ministers’ policy directions. This causes no single clear direction which makes prioritising for change hard. Change in civil service is triggered more by a major crisis, a change in policy direction or ministerial dissatisfaction with status quo – rather than continuous improvement. The fact that there is no competitive pressure to maintain service quality means departments focus where it is possible to make savings.
  • Working across government: Departments have a lot of autonomy and often act in silos. However, decisions made, for example, in Number 10 or treasury affect everyone. It is difficult for civil servants to work against the grain and invest in working across departments.

Instead of drowning in these challenges and difficulties, I propose to start a conversation that could help public officials navigate their contexts better.

  1. Change is hard. Highlight the positives and set a clear direction
  2. Give back office functions a more strategic role: This means that HR, internal communications and IT play pivotal roles in how a department operates particularly in this day and age when management of information is a key issue. They deserve representation in departments’ boards.
  3. Related to the above, internal communications proved to be a key element for navigating change effectively. It helped address concerns from staff, support leaders to set the context, support them to explain change to staff, etc.
  4. Staff engagement is always crucial but sometimes overlooked and lost in the pile of responsibilities managers have to deal with. However, paying particular attention to staff and maybe making engagement part of the assessment for performance reviews and promotions can work.
  5. Permanent secretaries could be held to account on how they communicate with staff about change, support leaders and managers to motivate their teams.
  6. Senior leaders working together for the department rather than just their own area within it found that having more ‘corporate leadership’ was a critical asset. It was easier to navigate and make big strategic decisions working together than individually. However, they also say that it has been extremely challenging and time consuming and in some cases it required changing personnel on the executive team.
  7. Building in the politics: Political priorities are not always in line with running departments effectively. Since this is unlikely to change civil servants need to focus more on building alignment with ministers through relationships that allow the right conversations.
  8. Leaders must manage relationships across governments with those who support or block change; better cross-departmental working could improve service delivery.

For those interested, the paper goes into a lot more detail. I also encourage you to join the series of webinars that INASP and Politics and Ideas are organizing from October 2016 to March 2017. In these webinars we will discuss some of the policy  issues, bringing in the experience from policymakers working in difficult environments. We hope it can contribute to the analytical framework ‘Context Matters‘ and its practical implications. If you want to participate, get in touch at contact@politicsandideas.org.

The EIPM Readings #1: Scaling up evaluation as a source of learning and improving programming in Mexico was published here last month. Please, do get in touch with me if you have come across something interesting that I should include in this reading list. Special thanks so far for those who have pointed to the useful reading material .

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First ever Research Week in Ugandan Parliament

The first ever Research Week in Uganda took place on the 23rd Aug – 25th Aug. This was organized by the Parliament of Uganda’s Department of Research Services (DRS) and the Uganda National Academy of Sciences (UNAS) under the auspices of INASP led VakaYiko programme. The main aim of the week was to strengthen internal and external networks between the DRS, policymakers and researchers.

Research Week was well positioned right outside the Parliament of Uganda, ensuring those passing by could visit the exhibition and attend open seminars. The Week was a joint initiative of the Parliament Department of Research Services (DRS) and the Uganda National Academy of Sciences (UNAS), under the VakaYiko programme. Timed to fall at the end of the orientation period for new MPs in the 10th Parliament, it aimed to increase the visibility of the Department within Parliament and highlight the role of research and evidence in Parliaments. http://www.inasp.info/en/work/vakayiko/

The Research Week was well positioned right outside the Parliament of Uganda, ensuring those passing by could visit the exhibition and attend open seminars. Timed to fall at the end of the orientation period for new MPs in the 10th Parliament, it aimed to increase the visibility of the Department within Parliament and highlight the role of research and evidence in Parliaments.

p1000033The week was officially opened by the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon. Jacob L’Okori Oulanyah. He stated the importance of research in evidence in his opening speech: “If you are formulating policy, you ask questions like; what is the problem? Is the solution the right one? Were there alternatives? That is what Parliament should ask, rather than basing on instincts…”. research week POU                                                            A press briefing took place to promote the week.

pou_press_clipThis led to a lot of media coverage, including an article in the Ugandan Newspaper New Vision.

pou re

The Research Week was timed to coincide with the orientation period for the 10th Parliament. The Department of Research Services were out in full force to make their presence and services known to the new MPs. They provided bags containing their research reports and policy briefs as well as new infographics they had produced as a result of training workshops under the VakaYiko programme.

research week pou

Emily Hayter (pictured above), INASP’s Evidence-Informed Policy Making Programme Manager and Faaria Hussain Programme Assistant attended the week and hosted a display stall about INASP’s work. They distributed a copy of the VakaYiko EIPM Toolkit  to all the researchers in the Department of Research Services. Also in attendance were partners from the Research Departments from the Parliament of Ghana and Zimbabwe, as well as INASP’s new partner the African Centre for Parliamentary Affairs (ACEPA) who will be leading a learning exchange initiative between the three parliaments over the next six months.


Three side seminars took place during the week. These included two presentations by researchers—one on biosafety and biosecurity and another on bailouts– as well as a presentation from John Bagonza, Head of the Department of Research Services (pictured, top left) on why Evidence-Informed Policy Making is important in Parliament. A number of MPS, parliamentary staff and researchers attended, creating a space for discussion on current research and policies.


242 Members of Parliament (MPs), 107 parliament staff and 44 participants from the general public attended the Research Week.One highlight of the week was the attendance of Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda. Here he is speaking to INASP VakaYiko partner, the Uganda National Academy of Sciences (UNAS).


The first ever The Research Week was a great success. It brought together researchers and policymakers providing a space for discussion on topical issues, and the Department of Research Services definitely met their aim of increasing their visibility within Parliament. The DRS usually aims to get 50 research requests per month, but during the Research Week alone they received 68 new requests plus 55 requests for their publications! We congratulate everyone for their hard work for pulling off a fantastic event, especially the DRS and UNAS.
Watch out for the next EIPM spotlight which will be an interview with Medard Turyamureba, a Research Officer for DRS who was involved in planning and organizing Research Week.

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We won’t achieve the Sustainable Development Goals if developing country researchers can’t play their part


We have a problem. We desperately need to bring research and knowledge to bear on the world’s most pressing problems. But researchers in the countries where much of that knowledge is needed are often the least able to respond. Research will only offer new solutions if it is generated in the countries that need it most, by researchers best placed to understand local contexts, and by collaborative efforts between researchers, policymakers and practitioners. Tackling global challenges From entrenched poverty and hunger, to poor health and education systems, to a steadily warming planet, our world faces some huge challenges. We need to find new sources of clean and affordable energy, and connect the 1.1 billion who still don’t have electricity. We need to take better care of our oceans and forests — vital parts of the earth’s complex ecosystem and the source of livelihoods for billions of people. And we need to tackle … Continue reading

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Re-imagining higher education in Sierra Leone

‘The worst of times and the best of opportunities’ This piece was previously published on Jon Harle’s Medium blog site, republished here with his permission. We hear many stories about the decline of African universities so it was great to hear a story of regeneration and renewal last Friday. And it was particularly inspiring that this story came from a county better known in recent years for crisis and tragedy — Sierra Leone. Miriam Conteh-Morgan, from the University of Sierra Leone’s Institute of Public Administration and Management spoke to the African Studies Association of the UK conference last Friday. It was unfortunate that more people didn’t hear her presentation live, so hopefully this goes some way to spreading that story further. There’s no doubt that the university — and the country’s higher education system — faces many challenges. There are crowded classrooms, dilapidated buildings, too few qualified staff, and insufficient IT and library facilities. But there is … Continue reading

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Evidence Spotlight: The Use of Evidence in Public Health Policy Making in Zimbabwe

Onesimo Maguwu tells that there need to be some way of making the ‘messages’ more relevant to the policymakers for evidence-based policy in health care. Continue reading

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Introducing INASP’s new five-year strategy

Strengthening the production, sharing and use of research and knowledge for development underlies INASP’s priorities for the next five years, writes Julie Brittain. Continue reading

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