Government departments in Ireland and Northern Ireland and The Atlantic Philanthropies

Building capacity for change through the Goal Programme

Leadership & Reform


Seven government departments in Ireland and Northern Ireland used expertise from CES, backed by funding support from The Atlantic Philanthropies, to deliver nine projects to test and build capacity for new ways of working. The evaluation of the programme generated learning and insights into what is needed to introduce and manage change.

The challenge

Government departments are grappling with deep seated, complex problems in areas such as mental health and homelessness. Collaboration, data driven decision making and leadership can help to address them, and require new thinking and ways of working to become routine. In 2016, a significant investment from philanthropy provided opportunities for seven government departments in Ireland and Northern Ireland to engage support from CES to test new approaches to policy challenges, and to understand what it takes to embed them.

What we did

Understand the challenge

Together with an Advisory Group of senior leaders across seven government departments in Ireland and Northern Ireland, we selected a sample of nine projects to test new ways of working using technical support and expertise from CES project specialists. Projects were selected to reflect priorities within the reform agenda and included diverse themes such as leading for outcomes through to collaboration, knowledge management and innovation.

Design the approach

"A lesson from the Goal Programme is that external support of the type provided through the programme can support capacity building within the civil service rather than replace it."

Institute of Public Administration

CES provided specialist skills to teams within participating departments, including data analysis and mapping, programme implementation, research, and evaluation. We conducted evidence reviews, designed and delivered professional development and training and mapped data. We worked together to support the teams and co-produced tools and resources to build capacity.

We created opportunities to share learning across the participating departments, and with a wider audience of public servants involved in delivering change. We held Learning Days which brought together those involved to share experience and learning, reflect on challenges and achievements. We commissioned an independent external evaluation of the Programme, to provide useful learning for policy makers about change and what supports it. We held events in both jurisdictions and invited senior leaders to launch the findings. We produced and shared resources, including briefings, reports, toolkits, videos and digital content.

Supporting progress

Learning from the Goal Programme continues to inform our work with government departments in both jurisdictions. We continue to share findings and the resources produced with senior leaders. Public servants involved in the programme continue to use some of the tools and techniques tested, such as the Pathfinder approach.  

The impact

"There is now a group of public servants thinking and acting differently and working in new ways. This would not have happened without their participation in the Goal Programme."

Institute of Public Administration

An independent evaluation conducted by the Institute of Public Administration (IPA) found evidence of increased collaboration as a result of the Programme. Staff were engaged in new ways of working and identified enhanced capacity and skills in areas such as leadership and evaluation.

The evaluation highlighted six factors which can support change in public service settings, and seven lessons for future reform initiatives.

Further resources and information is available here.

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The Team

The Goal team included a wide range of specialist skills and expertise. These included evaluation, research, evidence synthesis, data mapping and analysis, knowledge and communications. CES drew on associates to provide additional expertise, and worked with Peter Housden, former Head of the Scottish Civil Service, who chaired an Advisory Group of senior public servants across Ireland and Northern Ireland.  

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Facilitation and Problem Solving Policy Development Research and Evaluation Programme and Change Management Implementation


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