Charged with creating change

LISA HARKER, deputy director of the Institute for Public Policy Research

Now is the time to dust down your textbooks on organisational psychology.

As ministers struggle to sort out our public services, the question around the corridors of Whitehall is no longer "what needs to change?

but "how do you achieve change?"

Turning policy into practice is proving the major stumbling block for the Government. A plethora of initiatives has created the illusion of progress, but five years of policy development has yet to leave an indelible mark on services.

The scale of the task is huge. Take Job Centre Plus, for instance. Tony Blair's recent welfare speech drew attention to the massive cultural shift taking place among those providing support to the unemployed. Such organisational and cultural transformations require astute understanding of managing change and plenty of time, two things that the Government would be the first to admit it lacks in spades.

Policy directors should take note. We have entered a phase where new policy development is taking second place to implementation. Since turning ideas into practice is the bread and butter of much of the voluntary sector, this offers new opportunities to shape practice.

So far the Government has favoured largely prescriptive and technocratic methods to promote reform in public services such as performance indicators and public service agreements. But there are signs that it recognises the limitations of the command-control approach and understands that too often it has meant going against the grain of behavioural change. To this end, the Government has become increasingly vocal about the importance of forming partnerships with those responsible for delivering change.

Hence the need to reach for psychology textbooks. Understanding the processes by which cultural and organisation change comes about is now key to the success of the Government. Perhaps Labour should sign up Bananarama for the next general election. After all, the Government is beginning to understand that it ain't what you do it's the way that you do it that gets results.

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