Report: Change Management in the Public Sector Workshop, August 10-13, 2015, Sri Lanka

Group photo of participants

Group photo of participants

Despite the proliferation of change initiatives (reforms) in the public sector, success has been less than hoped partly because the difficulty of managing change in this sector has been underestimated. The workshop aimed to provide participants insights into how to lead and manage complex change in public sector organizations.


1. To discuss the complex issues and challenges as well as theoretical framework and practical approaches in leading change initiatives in the public sector;
2. To learn from actual cases of change management in the public sector; and,
3. To examine how change management can help public-sector organizations enhance their effectiveness, efficiency, and innovation.


To get better understanding of how to initiate change and transformation in the public sector which could be applied to government-owned corporations. To acquire practical tools that I can use in my work.


There was one other Filipino participant, Mr. Art Florentin, Executive Director of the Civil Service Institute. He recently joined the institute after working in the private sector. There were 20 or so participants from outside Sri Lanka and perhaps an equal number of participants from Sri Lanka. According to workshop organizers, unlike previous workshops, this time they asked that participants come from middle to senior management of the respective organizations.


The workshop used the case study methodology of business schools. The main resource persons were JB of Babson College in the US and Dev former Vice President of the World Bank. Dev shared his experience in leading change in the World Bank. The change initiative involved the Financial and Private Sector Development network of the WB which was tasked to pilot the improvement of the functioning of the matrix (a complex form of organization structure). Dr. Dev led the initiative and he shared lessons learned from that experience.

Prof. JB led the discussion on several case studies, with each study highlighting different aspects of change leadership. He also provided the overview for the workshop topic of change management. Among the cases taken up were: Bernd Sterzel at the IVth Medizinische Klinik which illustrated the difficulties of replicating institutions across different cultural settings, hence the need to listen to locals and to conduct stakeholder analysis; The TPG-WFP Partnership which gave a preview of the rising trend of public-private partnership and the importance of deep understanding of the partner’s interests and strengths as well as one’s own needs for a partnership to work; The Nestle Globe program which illustrated techniques and pointers in leading change in a context of widespread resistance. All these examples, it should be noted, came from the private sector notwithstanding the workshop focus on the public sector.

A site visit to the Sri Lankan Pension Office was held. The Pension Office is a live example of successful change in the public sector. The Office manages the pension system of government employees. In a relatively short period of time, the current leadership was able to speed up the processing of claims, reconstruct the office building, attract the private sector to provide business products to pensioners, streamline the organization, and regain public confidence. Many of the ideas discussed in the workshop can be gleaned in the experience of the Pension Office of Sri Lanka.

The workshop did not require participant to prepare country papers. During the workshop, participants were divided into groups and each participant was asked to describe a change initiative in his or her area of work. Each group then selected one project to work on and present to the plenary. I shared some of the relevant work of the GCG such as introducing performance measurement, instituting governance processes, approval of reorganization of GOCCs. Our group, however, decided to work on the project of Dr Nghi of Vietnam, which is to transform the institute to an academy.


The workshop exposed the participants to experiences in the private sector, a quasi public sector organization (WB) and one example of successful change in the public sector. I believe many of the insights stressed during the workshop can be applied with great care in the public sector notwithstanding rather fundamental differences between the private and the public sector. Change management is a complex art. One of the lessons shared is that you cannot replicate change, hence it is critical to get a good understanding of the starting point and the context of change. This exposure is very useful in widening perspectives, acquiring new tools for leading change, and learning from real life experiences.

I believe the workshop met my expectations and more. The resources were experts in their fields and have firsthand experience and knowledge of change management. The case study methodology was effective and a new experience for me. The site visit was reassuring—the classroom discussions can be applied in the real world.


One recommendation at the end of the workshop was to follow up in the future on the projects chosen by the groups although it was not clear what form this will take. Another suggestion was to set up a Facebook account for the group to continue sharing experiences and knowledge.

My only recommendation is for APO to blend into the workshop module case studies in the public sector. I cannot name potential resource persons (I realize this is the difficult part in organizing workshops). All I know is that there is a vast literature on public sector management and there must be enough material focusing on change management.

The most I can do is to share the materials used during the workshop with my group and apply the lessons learned during the workshop in my work. I believe there is ample opportunity to do this considering the GCG’s strategic objective of transforming the GOCC sector. Currently, for example, our group is involved in the reorganization of two major GOCCs. The major initiatives of the GCG involve change in the public sector – installing governance systems, institutionalizing performance management and measurement, standardizing position classification systems, restructuring non-performing GOCCs, etc.


Director IV
Governance Commission for GOCCs


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