Designing and Managing Change in the Public Sector

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Simon Bastow

The course is team taught, with contributions from the Department of Accounting.


This course is compulsory on the MSc in Public Management and Governance. This course is available on the MPhil/ PhD in Employment Relations & Org Behaviour and MPhil/ PhD in Management. This course is not available as an outside option.

Course content

This full-unit, two-term course is organised into three parts covering the Michaelmas and Lent Terms, as follows:

1. Developing the knowledge, methods, and skills to design and implement improvements in public sector services and programmes, with emphasis on the challenges for public managers (MT weeks 1 to 11 – taught by Dr Bastow);

2. Using systematically developed accounting techniques and information outcomes for purposes of managerial control and governance, (LT weeks 1 to 5 – taught by Prof Miller and Dr Kurunmäki);

3. Using case-based materials and insights from practitioner guest speakers to analyse strategic design and management of large-scale change in the public sector (LT weeks 7 to 11 – taught by Dr Bastow).

In the MT, the course focuses on important challenges for governments in both developed and less-developed countries in being able to design and manage transformative change in their public sector systems. Pressures on these governments to tackle complex problems, become more productive, build capacity, be more agile or innovative, or respond to rapidly changing environments make it ever more important that change is designed and managed carefully, and with some degree of success. The course looks at factors explaining governments’ ability to adapt strategically to rapidly changing external environments, and also examines why public sector organisations may succeed or struggle in designing and delivering large-scale programmes of change.

The MT integrates key theory, concepts, and extensive empirical case-based material. It introduces design-based and holistic approaches to change, examines important component aspects, and discusses limitations that constrain governments and public sector organizations in their ability to design and manage change. It looks at these challenges primarily from this perspective of the senior public sector officials involved, working at the interface of high politics, policy making, and operational delivery. It draws on cases from a wide range of sectors and policy areas, and has global reach in terms of country case materials.

The first five weeks of the LT examines the evolution and use of systematically developed accounting techniques and practices, as well as using information about the behaviour of programmes and organisations for monitoring, decision-making, and governance purposes. The module explores financial management and organisational control concepts through recent developments in accounting literature and offers an introduction to methods, tools and techniques aimed at enhancing performance, managerial oversight and accountability in the public sector.

In the second five weeks of the LT, we return to key themes from the MT on strategic design and management of change, and discuss case-based materials and practitioner guest speakers. This is designed to support the writing of summative essays by the end of the LT, and to help prepare students for the final exam in the ST.


15 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the MT. 15 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the LT. 1 hour and 30 minutes of lectures and 1 hour and 30 minutes of seminars in the ST.

Students on this course will have a reading week during Week 6, in line with departmental policy.

Formative coursework

Michaelmas Term: Individual presentations in seminars.

Lent Term: One formative essay to be submitted at the start of LT and 2 class assignments.

Indicative reading

- Kelman, Steven (2005) Unleashing Change: A Study of Organizational Change in Government (Brookings Institution Press: New York)

- Roberts, John. (2004). The Modern Firm. (Oxford, Oxford University Press).

- Simon, Herbert A. (1996) Administrative Behaviour. 4th Edition. (Simon and Schuster)

- Bryson, J. M. (2011). Strategic planning: For Public and Non-Profit Organizations: A Guide to Strengthening and Sustaining Organizational Achievement (San Francisco, Jossey-Bass).

- Hood, Christopher. (1998). The Art of the State: Culture, Rhetoric and Public Management. (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

- Schein, Edgar H. (2010) Organizational culture and leadership (San Francisco, John Wiley & Sons Inc.)

- Brehm, J. and S. Gates (1999). Working, Shirking, and Sabotage: Bureaucratic Response to a Democratic Public. (Michigan, The University of Michigan Press)

- Tate, W. (2009). The search for leadership: An organizational perspective, (Triarchy Press).

- Hood, C. and H. Margetts (2007). The Tools of Government in the Digital Age. (Basingstoke, Palgrave MacMillan).

- Morgan, Gareth (2006) Images of Organization, Chapter 4 (Learning and Self-Organization)

- Weick, Karl. E., (1995) Sensemaking in Organizations (London: Sage)

- Hopwood, A.G., "Accounting and the Pursuit of Efficiency", in A.G. Hopwood and C. Tomkins (eds.), Issues in Public Sector Accounting (Phillip Allan, 1984);

- Chapman, C.S., Cooper, D.J. and Miller, P. "Linking Accounting, Organizations and Institutions", in C.S. Chapman, D.J. Cooper and P. Miller (eds.), Accounting, Organizations and Institutions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009;

- Miller P, The Margins of Accounting (1998);

- Kurunmäki L, & A. Mennicken, Accounting for Failure, (2008).


Exam (50%, duration: 2 hours) in the main exam period.
Essay (30%, 4000 words).
Other (15%) and class participation (5%) in the MT and LT.

15% will be allocated to MT seminar presentation slide pack and written commentary and LT class group assignment (listed as 'other' above).

Teachers' comment

The course survey results are cumulative scores for the past three years.  In response to student feedback, the Department of Management made a number of changes  to the course content for the 2015/16 academic year.

Key facts

Department: Management

Total students 2015/16: 37

Average class size 2015/16: 18

Controlled access 2015/16: Yes

Lecture capture used 2015/16: Yes (MT & LT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills