Case Studies

Mapping a Transformation Journey: A Strategy for Malaysia's Future, 2009-2010

Author
Elena Lesley
Focus Area(s)
Critical Tasks
Core Challenge
Country of Reform
Abstract

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.

 

Strengthening Trust and Capacity: Rebuilding Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, 2017–2023

Author
Kate Johnston
Focus Area(s)
Country of Reform
Abstract

When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September 2017, it devastated the island’s already fragile infrastructure. The power grid, old and poorly maintained, collapsed. Communications systems, the water supply, and many roads, schools, and homes also suffered severe damage. The estimated cost of repair was US$98 billion. To coordinate effective recovery and reconstruction efforts and manage federal funding, the Puerto Rican government established a central agency, the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency, later known as COR3. Reconstruction got off to a slow start because of limited capacity, fiscal austerity, and US federal government procedures that assumed local financial liquidity and the ability to come to rapid agreement on the estimated costs of proposed projects. Gradually, as levels of trust between levels of government grew, procedural innovation enabled funds to flow to municipalities and other recipients, which then contracted for repair or rebuilding under COR3’s supervision. By late 2023, six years into the reconstruction effort, roughly 10,600 projects were in progress and Puerto Rico had spent $1.8 billion of the US$23.4 billion the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had awarded. US$11.3 billion awaited FEMA approval before expenditure could begin. Separately, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development had committed over $20 billion in disaster recovery and mitigation grants and disbursed about a quarter of that amount. The first five years of the recovery, 2018-2023 offered important lessons about ways to balance speed, quality, cost, integrity, equity, and alignment with strategic priorities during major postdisaster reconstruction.

Kate Johnston drafted this case study based on interviews conducted with government officials and civic leaders in Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., from July through October 2023.  Matthew Lillehaugen and Alina Dunlap contributed to the research. Alina Dunlap authored the addendum. Case published March 2024.


 

Without a Template: South Africa Confronts COVID-19, 2020–2021

Author
Jennifer Widner & Andile Cele
Focus Area(s)
Critical Tasks
Core Challenge
Country of Reform
Abstract

News of the outbreak of an unknown virus in Wuhan, China, quickly caught the attention of South African disease experts in December 2019. In the event the virus spread globally, those experts understood that the South African government would find itself face to face with two persistent challenges. First, although an upper-middle-income country, South Africa was also the world’s most unequal. Within the country, household access to health care varied dramatically, as did the vulnerability of livelihoods to economic shocks. Second, there were wide disparities in the levels of readiness across the provinces, districts, and cities that would manage the front lines of any response. During mid-March 2020, as the first South African residents fell ill, the government set up a structure for making policy decisions. It vested responsibility for pandemic response coordination in the security services, implemented stringent restrictions on movement, and used the country’s natural disaster management system to try to align policy with the provinces. The Department of Health, already focused on disease surveillance, testing, and other technical functions, cochaired many of the work streams in those institutions. Nonetheless, during the first wave, poorer provinces and districts struggled to respond effectively, and the national government—with external help—surged assistance to those areas. The investment helped contain the spread of infection and return the country to lower alert levels, but disparities in capacity, illness, and deaths persisted in subsequent waves. The country continued to adapt and performed better on several metrics than did a number of similarly situated counterparts. However, the experience pinpointed the difficulties of boosting local preparedness and addressing underlying inequalities amid a crisis.

Jennifer Widner and Andile Cele drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in South Africa during 2021. Tyler McBrien assisted with some of the background research. Case published March 2024.

Enhancing Fairness: Wisconsin Experiments with Nonpartisan Election Administration, 2001 – 2016

Author
Daniel Dennehy
Focus Area(s)
Core Challenge
Country of Reform
Abstract

In the wake of a 2001 scandal over the use of government employees to assist political campaigns, public interest groups in the US state of Wisconsin pushed for reform of the state ethics and elections boards, which had been slow to respond to complaints about misuse of resources and had declined to refer suspected lawbreakers for prosecution. During the 2002 election period, gubernatorial candidates of both main parties joined the call to insulate election administration from partisan pressure. Five years of negotiation came to fruition in 2007, when the state senate and assembly voted to create a consolidated election and ethics agency directed by retired judges. The first nonpartisan election administration authority of its type in the United States, the new agency, called the Government Accountability Board, replaced a system that had vested governance of elections in a commission made up of members of both major parties. But eight years later, political alignments shifted. Arguing that the board had overreached in its handling of certain sensitive cases, state legislators in 2015 voted to shutter the institution and reverted to the pre-2007 system run by representatives of the two major political parties. This case illuminates both the circumstances that can drive politicians to introduce a nonpartisan election management system and the challenges associated with the design, implementation, and sustainability of the approach. (Note that the lead reformer in this case, Michael G. Ellis, died in 2018.)  

Daniel Dennehy and staff drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in the United States from August through November 2022. Case published February 2023.

Defending the Vote: France Acts to Combat Foreign Disinformation, 2021 – 2022

Author
Alexis Bernigaud
Focus Area(s)
Country of Reform
Abstract

After a hack-and-leak operation that targeted a candidate in its 2017 presidential election and a social media campaign against its exports in 2020, France’s government decided to take steps to protect its politics from foreign digital interference. With another national election approaching in April 2022, Lieutenant Colonel Marc-Antoine Brillant began designing a new unit that aimed to detect foreign information manipulation while preserving freedom of speech by separating responsibility for identification of attacks from responsibility for framing and executing a response. After the proposal cleared legal hurdles, Brillant’s team, under the authority of the Secretariat-General for National Defense and Security, set up an interagency governance system, initiated a dialogue with social media platforms, and monitored social media to detect hostile campaigns. During the 2022 campaign, the unit, called Viginum, identified five foreign interference attempts and referred them to other parts of government that could decide whether and how to react. The elections ran smoothly, and the Viginum team started to focus on building stronger public understanding of its mission and activities.  

Alexis Bernigaud drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in France from August through November 2022. Case published January 2023.

Keeping the Taps Running: How Cape Town Averted ‘Day Zero,’ 2017 – 2018

Author
Leon Schreiber
Country of Reform
Internal Notes
originally published 2/21/2019
Abstract

In 2017, Cape Town, South Africa, was on a countdown to disaster. An unprecedented and wholly unforeseen third consecutive year of drought threatened to cut off water to the city’s four million citizens. Faced with the prospect of running dangerously low on potable water, local officials raced against time to avert “Day Zero”—the date on which they would have to shut off drinking water to most businesses and homes in the city. Cape Town’s government responded effectively to the fast-worsening and potentially cataclysmic situation. Key to the effort was a broad, multipronged information campaign that overcame skepticism and enlisted the support of a socially and economically diverse citizenry as well as private companies. Combined with other measures such as improving data management and upgrading technology, the strategy averted disaster. By the time the drought eased in 2018, Capetonians had cut their water usage by nearly 60% from 2015 levels. With each resident using little more than 50 liters per day, Cape Town achieved one of the lowest per capita water consumption rates of any major city in the world. The success set a benchmark for cities around the world that confront the uncertainties of a shifting global climate.

Leon Schreiber drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Cape Town, South Africa, in November 2018. Case published February 2019.

Empowerment Through Reform: Restoring Economic Activity in the West Bank, 2007−2009

Author
Jennifer Widner, Tristan Dreisbach, and Gordon LaForge
Focus Area(s)
Country of Reform
Abstract

Upon assuming office in mid-2007, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad faced an economy in shambles. Devastated by a loss of revenues and international aid in the wake of Hamas’s 2006 electoral victory, which brought to power politicians deemed terrorists by some in the international community, average real gross domestic product per capita in the West Bank and Gaza was about 40% below its 1999 level, and the government was broke. To restart the economy and demonstrate that the Palestinian Authority could manage a socioeconomic crisis in a manner befitting a sovereign state, Fayyad and his colleagues created a detailed development plan that helped secure financial resources from international donors. With that money, the government undertook an ambitious community development program, building thousands of small-scale infrastructure projects across the West Bank. It also negotiated an easing of some of the Israeli-imposed movement restrictions that were stifling both commerce and investment. The West Bank then posted two years of double-digit economic growth and expanded, private-sector activity, but the occupation’s political challenges stymied the Fayyad government’s ultimate goal of Palestinian statehood. 

Jennifer Widner, Tristan Dreisbach, and Gordon LaForge drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Ramallah, Nablus, and Jericho in June and July 2019 and in other locations during 2019 and 2020. The case is part of a series on state building in Palestine, 2002–05 and 2007–11. Case published June 2022.

Restoring Order in the West Bank, 2007−2009

Author
Jennifer Widner, Tristan Dreisbach, and Gordon LaForge
Focus Area(s)
Country of Reform
Abstract

“Security was the toughest part of the job,” Salam Fayyad said, reflecting on his first two years as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. The second intifada, a five-year uprising against Israeli occupation, had just wound down, leaving in its wake an epidemic of crime and lawlessness in the West Bank. To restore order and to demonstrate that authority could fulfill this most primary function of a state, Fayyad worked with security chiefs to revive the mission of the Palestinian Security Services and enhance their professionalism, to deploy the civil police, and to get gunmen off the streets. Those steps required strategies for both introducing reform in opaque systems and persuading people that better policing was not tantamount to supporting an occupying state. By the end of 2007, six months after he assumed office, crime rates were down and public perceptions of safety had started to improve. Still, continued Israeli interference in the West Bank’s internal security plus other persistent challenges undermined efforts to maintain a functional and sovereign security apparatus.

Jennifer Widner, Tristan Dreisbach, and Gordon LaForge drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Ramallah, Nablus, and Jericho in June and July 2019 and in Princeton, New Jersey, and other locations during 2019 and 2020. The case is part of a series on state building in Palestine, 2002–05 and 2007–11. Case published June 2022.

Rebuilding Financial Management in the Palestinian Authority, 2007-2012

Author
Tristan Dreisbach and ISS Staff
Focus Area(s)
Country of Reform
Abstract

In 2007, Salam Fayyad accepted the dual post of finance minister and prime minister in the Palestinian Authority (PA). The financial management practices he implemented during his first period as finance minister, from 2002 to 2004, had deteriorated. During the preceding two years, from November 2005 to March 2007, the government had resumed dealing largely in cash, had kept poor records of government financial transactions, and had added more employees to an already bloated public payroll. To reinstitute good practices and implement new reforms, Fayyad and his finance ministry colleagues also had to overcome challenges related to the division of the Palestinian territories into two separate areas governed by competing political parties. Fayyad relied heavily on a small group of trusted staff, delegated important responsibilities so he could also take on the demanding job of prime minister, and set clear guidelines to maximize the long-term benefits from any external technical assistance the ministry hired.  Under his guidance, the ministry rehabilitated financial records and quickly created a new financial information system by adapting existing, locally built software; reformed the way the PA used commercial bank accounts to conduct its financial transactions; and filled gaps in capacity.  

Tristan Dreisbach and staff drafted this case study based on multiple conversations with Salam Fayyad in Princeton, New Jersey, during 2019, as well as other interviews conducted in Ramallah, Nablus, Jericho, and Washington, D.C. the same year.  The case is part of a series on state building in Palestine in 2002–05 and 2007–11. Case published June 2022.

Communication Breakdown: Lessons from Tunisia’s Second Wave of COVID-19, 2020

Author
Mariam Ghanem and ISS Staff
Focus Area(s)
Critical Tasks
Core Challenge
Country of Reform
Abstract

In mid-2020, Tunisia stood out as a star within its region. The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic had taken a high toll in the Middle East and North Africa. But by the end of the second week of August, as the first wave ebbed, Tunisia had recorded 149 cumulative cases per million people—compared with more than 800 per million in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and most of the rest of the region. Tunisia’s epidemic curve was almost flat. However, the good news was short-lived. By mid-August, the number of COVID-19 cases had started to rise, and by October the number of cases per million in Tunisia matched that of other countries in the area. A year later, Tunisia was a regional hot spot. This case study profiles the difficulty of containing the spread of disease when local governments are new and have limited capacity, when public health guidance from a national government modulates or weakens, and when political distrust runs high.

Mariam Ghanem and ISS staff researched and wrote this case based on research conducted during May, June, and July 2021. Case published January 2022. This case study was supported by the United Nations Development Programme Crisis Bureau as part of a series on center-of-government coordination of the pandemic response.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the United Nations, including UNDP, or the UN Member States.