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Using change management theory in security and justice programmes

Time (GMT +00) 17:00 19:00


Arthur Mellors - Practice Lead for Organisational Change and Governance, Aktis

Khaled Salim - Staff Consultant, Aktis

Simon Vickers - Regional Programme Manager, Aktis 


Melanie Franklin - Chair, Change Management Institute UK

Arthur Mellors (Practice Lead for Organisational Change and Governance at Aktis) kicked off by introducing the room to the world of change management. He suggested there is much to be learned from this world for development thinking and practice. His presentation focused on 3 areas:

  • Complexity: he argued there are similar degrees of complexity in the major organisational change management initiatives, and security and justice programmes. He suggested, in line with complexity theory, that many development problems are complex (as opposed to simple, complicated or chaotic). For Arthur, this reality means we need to let go of the expert mind-set that often carries preconceived notions and assumptions for how the world works that biases how we attempt to solve complex development problems.
  • Agility: Change management emphasises hypothesis-led approaches that iterate towards the solution, where interventions become more of a multistep process that consists of many small steps. He pointed to a range of literature which demonstrated how to be ‘agile’ in change management, suggesting we can learn from their efforts. A central theme of many of these approaches is the central role of people in helping to solve complex human problems, recognising that these problems are often better solved by those embedded in the complexity, allow practitioners to draw on their distributed intelligence. 
  • People: People are important to help us solve complex problems. But with agile approaches, it is also about co-creating change with people, not for people. Often we are ultimately trying to change the behaviour of people, with success depending on persuading hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals to change the way they work. This makes change tough because these people come with fear, aspirations, and a variety of individual motivations – which is partly what makes it so complex. Thinking in the change management world shows that when we choose to change ourselves, we are far more committed to the outcome. People need to write their own story, or at least co-create, where we design and deliver change with those most affect by it, rather than design and deliver change as if they were passive recipients.

Khaled Salim (Staff Consultant with Aktis) and Simon Vickers’ (Aktis Regional Programme Manager) presentation focused on how this thinking has been applied in practice in Tunisia. The overall objective of the projects is to contribute to the creation of a more efficient, effective and responsive security sector in Tunisia. They argued the Tunisian environment is particularly complex because of a lack of stability, confidentiality in SSR, legacies of secrecy and suspicion and a high degree of personal and clan interest in SSR.

There were three ways in which the programme has integrated change management thinking in this project:

  • Iterative and agile: A programmatic approach that seeks to test out various approaches. The team agreed to formally review and adapt the workplan on a quarterly basis and hold weekly meetings to update and share views on project specific and contextual issues with donors.
  • Focus on methodologies and tools: avoiding transplanting solutions; problem rather than solution focused. The team introduced tools to the Ministry which allowed them to self-diagnose problems and identify locally workable solutions, with the team support the Ministry to implement those solutions.
  • Participatory approach: Taking a huge amount of time with local partners in a participatory approach. This takes into account the behavioural/people aspects of change – the need to appeal to hearts as well as minds, it uses local knowledge, and it builds the support base for the project.


There was a great deal of interest in the presentations. Questions were on a number of themes:

  • Working with the state: The extent to which the Tunisian state was predatory, and the role of international organisations in encouraging change. There was a debate over whether there was an alternative to engaging.
  • Relationship building: How to do it with state officials and other key partners? A starting point, it is argued, is to treat your counterparts as professionals.
  • Coordination: How to coordinate with all the other donor programmes in the area? Aktis mentioned that this is a difficulty in this sector.
  • Monitoring: How to monitor the impact of a programme that is iterative? There was a suggestion of using outcome mapping and developing sensible proxy indicators for what is trying to be achieved.
  • During a crisis: How does a programme adapt when everything changes? Will the people organisations work with revert back to old ways of thinking?
  • How to iterate: It was suggested that there is a need for clarity over goals and respective roles in the programme. If there is that then iteration becomes easier.


There is an increasing focus in the development industry on how organisations manage complex change processes. That has led to a focus on new approaches, such as problem-driven iterative adaptation (PDIA).

In this seminar (part of the ODI's ongoing security and justice seminar series), we heard from three practitioners from Aktis Strategy, who have been using change management strategies in their FCO programme to improve the effectiveness of the Tunisian Ministry of Interior.

Their presentation explored how Aktis are using change management theory to build human capacity and develop cross-organisational structures that allow senior officials to analyse Tunisia’s security threats and to apply new thinking on counter-terrorism and community engagement.  

We also heard from Melanie Franklin, Chair of the Change Management Institute UK, who discussed her experiences of using change management strategies.