The Efficiency Unit was founded in 1992 as a “small think tank” to think strategically and put together a “comprehensive plan of reform”, Salkeld says. Meanwhile, a separate Management Services Agency was founded to provide consultancy on big projects.
Over a decade, there were a number of huge reforms. Some government agencies were being spun-off into profit-making trading funds. Meanwhile, the entire public sector was undergoing computerisation, with efforts led from the very centre.
The think tank merged with the consultants in 2002, combining the strategic vision with practical delivery skills. But change never stops, and now Salkeld is seeing a shift away from “big bang” changes and towards “what we can do quickly, simply and well to build up confidence in larger changes.”
His unit is taking on the role of an innovation lab, he says, but it’s important innovation isn’t confined to central units. “If you put your innovation space wholly outside your delivery services, you get a gap where’s knowledge and then there’s new ideas. Lots can get lost at the interface.”
Salkeld’s unit is changing its approach to drive greater innovation across government. In particular, it’s using data to demonstrate the need for change, and building internal capacity to deliver quickly.
Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, the city was run like a large orchestra playing Romantic symphonies – hefty units would play big roles, conducted with a light touch at the centre.
Now, government needs to become more freestyle. There is improvisation and experimentation – with the Efficiency Unit as the rhythm section banging the drum for change.
Exclusive: Inside Hong Kong's Efficiency Unit | GovInsider
Government communication is a lot like jazz. As Miles Davis said: "It isn't the notes you play, it's the ones you don't". That's the experience of Hong Kong's Efficiency Unit. This team cut citizen complaints by 50% in one year just by taking out jargon and poor communications.