Organizational Change Management in Emerging Economy Governments

My previous posts described the change management challenges in large IT projects and in government. Change management was a dominant theme for questions at the Inter-American Development Bank workshop, The Cutting Edge on Information Technology on Public Financial Management last month. This series of entries provides more context to the change management situation experienced in emerging economy governments, like those in Latin America and the Caribbean.
It is often assumed that the most important contributing factor to success or failure of large IT projects in emerging economy governments is “capacity.” This “capacity” idea is a bit amorphous by containing all sorts of concepts like skills, training and maturity. We often see major efforts in Public Financial Management (PFM) training, over many years, funded by donors. This often precedes any design or implementation of Government Resource Planning (GRP) solutions. One analysis concludes: “capacity-building tailored to different users is essential from the start and throughout IFMIS.” Another report suggests: “PFM reform initiatives depend on the partner government’s interest and ability to take ownership of the reforms, build a strategy, and invest in human and institutional capacity development.” While another identified “inadequate capacity/training of project teams” as the leading contributor to failure of government Integrated Financial Management Information Systems (IFMIS).
We believe that capacity and change management are tighly linked. Efforts for one, without the other, is doomed. Some common problems:

  • Focus on core group: increases capacity among a small group of public servants creating a struggle between the untrained and the elite
  • Focus on best practices, not correct practices:  creates delays and complications through the implementation of so-called “best practices” rather than good practices that make sense in context
  • Focus on training: develops theoretic knowledge rather than practical knowledge leaving public servants unable to abstract learning into practice, especially when the training is focused on PFM without project management, change management and technology in the curriculum

Organizational change management can be successful in difficult circumstances in emerging economies. Matt Andrews study shows how Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) can succeed. The change management lessons coming from practical experience include:

  • Stories combined with statistics provides compelling persuasion while stories without statistics or statistics without stories are pointless
  • Leadership in successful projects is exercised by many people who act as change agents, the notion of a hero leader is a myth – the primary role of senior leadership is to give authority to change agents
  • High capacity in reform design and low capacity in reform implementation is a recipe for disaster
  • Change needs to be planned, organized and executed – not as a ceremony – it must be a robust engagement strategy
  • More effective learning comes from doing, rather than training
  • Making time for learning is part of organizational change management where learning sustains change and change provides more opportunity for learning


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