When Prime Minister Najib Razak took office in April 2009, he aimed to set Malaysia on a new course. The nation’s economy was stagnating in the wake of the global financial crisis, and citizen discontent with government performance had led to the worst election results for the ruling coalition since independence from the United Kingdom in 1957. To turn the country in a new direction, Najib created a new post in the Cabinet—Minister for National Unity and Performance Management—and appointed Koh Tsu Koon, president of a party in the ruling coalition, to the position. Koh assembled a team and proposed a series of Cabinet workshops to determine leadership priorities. The team reached out to an economic council tasked with piloting the country to higher levels of economic growth and engaged diverse members of Malaysian society in substantive discussions. During a two-year period, the team’s findings evolved into a national transformation strategy. Strong leadership from the top combined with data- and research-driven approaches helped streamline priorities and generate buy-in. The strategy helped improve government performance and increase private investment. Nonetheless, public reaction was mixed, and critics charged that the entire undertaking was too narrow in scope. This case offers insights about how to design a consultative strategy development process in a country with a diverse population.
Elena Lesley drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Kuala Lumpur in March 2014. For more information about the delivery unit charged with implementing Malaysia’s national transformation strategy, see the Innovations for Successful Societies companion case study "Tying Performance Management to Service Delivery: Public Sector Reform in Malaysia, 2009–2011.” This case study was funded by the Bertelsmann Stiftung Reform Compass. Case published in August 2014.