Managing the increase of large-scale change in the public sector

There’s always been plenty of change for public sector organisations to deal with. Through the natural political cycle and traditional public sector processes such as spending reviews and budgets, central government departments and public sector bodies have had to continually respond to political developments and change accordingly.  


Yet, the last 18-24 months has seen the demand for change increase exponentially across the sector. Much of this has been related to the pandemic with the introduction of emergency healthcare measures and financial support mechanisms for businesses such as the furlough and emergency loan schemes. However, alongside this, the seismic nature of other issues such as Brexit and Net Zero Carbon, have also contributed to the volume of change needed. 


So, how do public sector organisations navigate this ‘spike’ in change demand and ensure they deliver what is required and don’t become overwhelmed by it all. In our experience, four steps are key to this. 



Understanding the complete ‘demand’ picture  


With demand for change coming into public sector organisations from all directions, it is important to establish a ‘single version of the truth’ and build a consolidated view of all the change that is required. Three factors are key for this:


  1. Establishing a central place to ‘own’ the demand picture. Some public sector organisations have a dedicated change function where this would naturally sit; in others, change may sit within the IT or strategy team. This specific placement is less important than having a single point of accountability
  2. Gathering all the change demand from across all sources. This will include policy-related change, strategic projects, business projects and IT change
  3. Reviewing and confirming the list of change demand to remove duplicate items, consolidate items where appropriate and clarify items that are unclear.



Helping decision-makers to prioritise 


With a complete picture of the demand in place, it is essential that public sector leaders can agree an informed view of priorities so that decisions can be made on which programmes will proceed given the available time, budget and resources. A triage-process should be adopted to drive this prioritisation and feed the decision-making process, including:  


  • Confirming an assessment and ranking framework to review change demand against key agreed criteria e.g. risk, benefit, strategy alignment and ease of delivery  
  • Assessing change demand against the framework  
  • Sharing the assessment with decision-making forum(s) and seek agreement and/or refinement including any inflight programmes and any additional or new priorities  
  • Sequencing agreed priorities to accommodate resource and dependency constraints  
  • Developing business cases for agreed priorities and seek confirmation of funding to move into delivery.  


Public sector organisations need to institutionalise this triage-process as prioritisation is iterative. Managing ongoing activity to accommodate new demand, changes in priorities and continually assess the validity of the change portfolio is critical. 



Aligning governance forums to manage demand 


To ensure this continual focus on managing the large-scale volume of change is maintained, it is important that it is aligned into the public sector governance framework. This will enable public sector leaders to make the decisions on which change will be prioritised and why, and to continue to monitor progress moving forward. The existing governance mechanisms should be reviewed and revised to ensure they can effectively review and prioritise the pipeline, make appropriate investment decisions, govern the portfolio, and oversee the change roadmap and benefit realisation.  



Focusing on delivery excellence 


Once programmes and projects have been approved, it is essential they are mobilised and delivered effectively. This will ensure that precious time, budget, and resource are not wasted on redundant effort or re-work which in turn will enable more change demand to be prioritised and addressed. Public sector organisations will need to look at how they engage partners to deal with the ‘spikes’ in demand alongside recruiting and developing internal capability. 



Do you need change expertise? 


At Project One, we help and support our public sector customers to assess their change demand, prioritise their portfolio and deliver their most critical change programmes. Our team of change experts have years of experience and work with senior leaders to provide independent change support through every step of their change journey. If you would like to discuss your specific challenges and our public sector experience to see how we can help, please get in touch.

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