A study on organisational development

Jessica Mackenzie and Rebecca Gordon


People often do not understand what organisational development is and yet, if they work in international development, it is very likely that they must have been involved in it. There is a wealth of information on Organisational Development (OD) and so, planning which approach a programme takes from the outset is important. This paper synthesises global literature – particularly frameworks and best practice –  and addresses what it means for practitioners.

The review focuses primarily on English language publications, with an emphasis on recent material. including: articles, books, working papers, reviews, reports, strategic plans, documented speeches, blogs and project documentation. This was complemented by a series of interviews with Knowledge Sector Initiative (KSI) staff. The report is structured to address the different stages and components of the organisational change process.

OD is a complex phenomenon, dating back in 1950s and defined in a variety of ways. Broadly, it is a deliberately planned, organisation-wide effort to increase an organisation’s effectiveness and/or to enable an organisation to achieve its strategic goals. To date donor support has largely been fragmented, project-based and unsustainable. As a result, inputs rarely lead to (in this case) better knowledge sector outcomes.

The paper address each step of the OD cycle:

  1. Mapping organisational context. Understanding the organisational context means understanding that the changes you seek will not necessarily be orderly or linear, and will often be unpredictable and ‘emergent’. Mapping should account for this unpredictability. It is crucial to map the organisational context within which you are hoping to catalyse change. The increasing recognition that social change requires collaboration between institutions and individuals means that OD needs to include work at both the organisational and individual level.
  2. Theories and good practice examples of facilitating change. Ownership and responsibility of OD strategies are key to effective OD. This requires: delivering long-term and flexible support; considering different funding modalities; assessing recipients’ readiness to learn or change; and encouraging high levels of rigour. To be effective, organisational development needs to include work at both the institutional and individual level.
  3. Managing the change process. There are many models for how to manage the change process. Kotter’s Eight-Step Process, the Institute for Government framework and WBI’s guidance notes are among the most helpful. The IfG framework forms a particularly comprehensive analysis; it integrates different approaches,  including Kotter’s framework and McKinsey’s diagnostic tools, and emphasises the importance of recognising OD as a political process.
  4. Measuring OD. There are many monitoring and evaluation techniques for OD including outcome mapping (for measuring behavioural change), action learning (to enable learning from experience), and ‘most significant change’ (to collect stories demonstrative of achievements).

Specifically, in the case of the Knowledge Sector Initiative (KSI): OD involves both traditional OD work, supporting research and advocacy institutions, and much more nuanced and unchartered areas, such as government departments and intermediary institutions. Several approaches have been applied to research institutes in Indonesia: (i) donor support for in-country research projects (including international collaborations, funding for joint research projects between Indonesian and foreign researchers); (ii) secondment of personnel; and (iii) donor support for local research infrastructure.


Mackenzie, J., and Gordon, R. (2016). A study on organisational development. Working Paper 6. Jakarta: Knowledge Sector Initiative.