PP4G3      Half Unit
Designing and Managing Change in the Public Sector

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Simon Bastow


This course is available on the CEMS Exchange, Double Master of Public Administration (LSE-University of Toronto), Global MSc in Management, Global MSc in Management (CEMS MiM), Global MSc in Management (MBA Exchange), MBA Exchange, MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Columbia), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Hertie), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and NUS), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Sciences Po), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Tokyo), MSc in Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Master of Public Administration and Master of Public Policy. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

The course examines important challenges for governments and public sector organisations in being able to design and manage transformative change in public services.  Two key aspects of change are fundamental:

- the instrumental capacity of government to design and implement policy and programme change in coherent, sustainable and successful ways, and

- the adaptive capacity of government to respond effectively to change in their external environment - perhaps crisis, demographic, digitisation, or public health issues - and avoid problems of obsolescence or 'out-of-touch' policies.

We look at this dual challenge across developed and developing country contexts, and across core areas of government policy and public services.  The course is primarily about government and public sector, however an important element is looking at the capacity of governments to coordinate with private and third sectors in designing and managing transformative change.

From the outset we discuss how governments can develop coherent responses to so-called 'wicked' public policy and management (PPM) problems.  These tend to be complex, multi-faceted and intractable problems that require well-designed and complementary measures.  We look at the interplay of different governance factors such as the impact of politics, bureaucracy, culture, incentives and motivations, administrative capacity, amongst others, and explore the potential for and limitations on transformative change.  The course works through key aspects of holisitic design: including strategy, culture, motivation and coordination, leadership, social-technical systems, resilience, and policy and organizational learning.  There is strong emphasis on transformation through digital change.

The course aims to provide students with practical theory and concepts for designing coherent action in public services and the public sector.  We look at these challenges primarily from the perspective of the senior government or public sector official, working at the interface of high politics, policy making, and operational delivery.  The course will be useful for students who are interested in working in government, or for those who work in other 'social impact' roles that involve working closely with government and public authorities.

The syllabus draws on concepts from public policy, political science, institutional economics, and organizational and system design, and organizational behaviour.  We cover a wide range of sectors and policy areas, particularly core areas of public sector services such as criminal justice, health, welfare, education and defence.  The course emphasises dialogue between concepts and cases, and offers strong applied and practical relevance with experienced pubic sector practitioners involved in lecture slots.


This course is delivered through a combination of lectures and seminars totalling a minimum of 35 hours across Michaelmas Term. This year teaching will be delivered through a combination of online lectures, with seminars taking place in person where possible and where conditions allow.

Formative coursework

Students will receive feedback on group presentations in seminars in the MT.

Students will have the option to submit formative plans for both elements of the written summative assignments during the MT.

Indicative reading

There is no one set text for this course.  Students will be directed to key readings throughout the term.  Some indicative readings include:

  • Bason, Christian (2017), Leading Public Design: Discovering Human-centred Governance, (Policy Press: Bristol) Forthcoming in LSE Library
  • H. Simon (1996), Sciences of the Artificial, 3rd ed. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press)
  • J. Roberts (2004), The Modern Firm (Oxford, Oxford University Press)
  • P. Dunleavy, H. Margetts, S. Bastow and J. Tinkler (2006) New Public Management is Dead: Long live digital-era governance, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 16, pp 467-494
  • H. Mintzberg (1994), The Fall and Rise of Strategic Planning, Harvard Business Review, 72(1), Jan-Feb 1994 pp107-114
  • 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)
  • Heath, C. and N. Staudenmayer (2000), Coordination Neglect: How Lay Theories of Organizing Complicate Coordination in Organizations, Research in Organizational Behaviour 22: 155-193
  • Hood, C. and Margetts, H. (2007), The Tools of Government in the Digital Age (Basingstoke, Palgrave MacMillan)
  • G. Morgan (2006), Images of Organization (Sage)
  • Weick, Karl. E. (1995) Sensemaking in Organizations (London, Sage)


Project (40%) in the LT.
Presentation (20%) and case analysis (40%) in the MT.


  • Case analysis of 2,500 words by week 11 in the MT (40%).
  • Transformation design project (TDP) of 2,500 words in response to a current policy or public sector problem – to be submitted by Week 3 in the Lent Term (40%).
  • Group presentation in seminars and discussant role throughout the MT (20%).

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: School of Public Policy

Total students 2020/21: 56

Average class size 2020/21: 14

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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