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H. Norini1


The Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) was established as a statutory body through a restructuring of the Forest Research Institute (FRI) in 1986. The former director-general of FRIM, Datuk Dr Salleh, envisioned the institute as one that would actively generate innovations rather than simply conducting basic research on standard topics such as plant and wood taxonomy. An issue that dominated the FRI’s attention at the time was the use of rubberwood as an alternative source of timber. Raising the status of rubberwood from a source of woodchips and fuelwood to a highly sought-after species for the production of wooden furniture exemplified Dr Salleh’s corporate vision (personal interview, 2005).

Many interacting factors — both internal and external — can trigger the restructuring or re-invention of an organization or agency (Nair 2006). These include, among others: failure to deliver on time, natural disasters, adaptation to the multiple roles of forestry, expanding information needs, expectations from stakeholders (including the government) and changes in philosophy and donor influence.

A multidisciplinary approach — encompassing economic, social and political domains — sufficiency of funding and production of timely results were central pillars in the establishment of FRIM and its subsequent efforts to carry out effective research and development (Abdul Razak 2003; Abdul Razak et al. 2005). Adjustment and incremental changes did not end once FRIM was established; rather, they became a continuous process enabling FRIM to remain on par with other leading worldwide research institutes.

In most of the world, research faces serious challenges with insufficient funding. With dwindling funds from its largest contributor, the Government of Malaysia (GoM), FRIM has been forced to seek funding from other sources, including the private sector. Funding scarcity often forces research to focus more on priority areas than on basic needs and the days when researchers were free to determine their own areas of interest are long gone. FRIM has come a long way to reach its present position as one of the most rapidly developing centres of excellence in tropical forestry research and development. In this context, we may ask: What were the reasons behind the establishment, restructuring and various incremental changes at FRIM? Has FRIM successfully accomplished its restructuring objectives? What mechanisms have FRIM used to overcome funding constraints? What strategies has FRIM adopted to ensure its relevance?

Successful restructuring and incremental change require comprehensive knowledge of the strategies adopted and the types of mechanisms to be used by a particular institution. Successful planning and policy formulation to support transformation can only be carried out with comprehensive baseline information. The findings from this case study will provide valuable feedback for FRIM and other research institutions; lessons learned will ensure that management can address future issues and challenges in forestry and remain in step with client needs.



In the context of restructuring an organization or an agency, two approaches are commonly employed: The evolutionary or “Big Bang” approach, and the incremental approach (Nair 2006). The former is closely related to the Big Bang theory which attempts to explain how the universe began, specifically, through a short burst of intense activity (BBC 2006). With respect to organizational evolution, the approach aims to make substantial and dramatic change straight away (Nair 2006). In contrast, the incremental method effects change through a sequence of small adjustments.

The metamorphosis of the FRI into FRIM followed the Big Bang approach. Even so, it took almost five years to achieve statutory body status because of bureaucratic hurdles. Subsequent change has been more or less incremental over the following 20 years.

Few records are available on the processes that took place in establishing FRIM. The standard legislative procedure was to prepare a bill and then submit it for further action to the Ministry of Primary Industries (currently known as the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities). From the Ministry of Primary Industries, the proposal had to pass through the drafting section of the attorney general’s office to produce the final version, which was subsequently discussed at length and voted on by parliament before becoming an act. According to the second Chairman of the Malaysian Forestry Research and Development Board and Datuk Dr Salleh the erstwhile Director of FRI, it took great patience, persistence and single-minded zeal to make the FRI a statutory body (Kong-Ong 1995). The bill was finally enacted as Act 319, the Malaysia Forestry Research and Development Board (MFRDB) (Malaysia 1985).

Incremental changes that took place after the establishment of FRIM occurred either through directives from the cabinet or as adjustments to fulfill the changing needs of clients. For example, the cabinet instructed FRIM senior management to form the Medicinal Plants Division in January 1995. The formation of such a division was viewed as timely given the increasing importance of herbal and medicinal industries in Malaysia. More major changes took place in 2001 and 2003. Changes in 2001 were related to the formation of FRIM’s Business Centre — a pleasant business environment for clients to jointly develop enterprise opportunities using FRIM’s technologies and services. In 2003 four main divisions under the jurisdiction of the deputy director-general (R&D) were moved while another three divisions were placed under the senior director I, later renamed deputy director-general (operations). Figure 1 shows the steps involved.

Legislation, international conventions and agreements, and stakeholders

The processes involved in the establishment and restructuring of FRIM were influenced most strongly by legislation, international conventions and agreements, and stakeholders. Although legislation might not be viewed as a direct influence, the framework it provides is essential for the process to function. The most crucial federal legislation supporting the move for a statutory body was the National Forest Policy (NFP) 1978 (revised 1992). The main objective of the NFP was to maximize social, economic and environmental benefits for the nation through sustainable forest management (Wong 2001). This objective demanded comprehensive information derived from research and development (R&D).

Figure 1. Sequence for the restructuring via incremental change of FRIM in 2003

Incremental changes and restructuring in a research institution are necessary to keep pace with clients’ ever-increasing demands for R&D. For instance, before the 1980s R&D demands focused mainly on timber products. As a result, R&D was tailored to meet this demand. Forestry entered a new era in 1992 after UNCED in Rio de Janeiro and the focus of R&D was therefore altered correspondingly. The 1992 conference resulted in the “Forest Principles” or Chapter 11 of Agenda 21: Combating Deforestation. This non-legally binding agreement stimulated FRIM to redirect its thrust in R&D (Norini 2004). Besides federal legislation, the Fourth and Fifth Malaysia Plans (1981–1985 and 1986–1990) also influenced the development of FRIM and its growth thereafter (Anonymous 1981; 1986a). Other government documents that significantly influenced the growth of FRIM were the Industrial Master Plan I (1986–1995) and the Industrial Master Plan II (1996– 2005) (Anonymous 1986b; 1996).


Little information is available on stakeholder involvement when FRIM was originally established in 1986. Nonetheless, considering that FRIM was meant to serve not only the Forestry Department Peninsular Malaysia but also the growing needs of its clients, stakeholder involvement or participation must have taken place in some form. The only evidence of stakeholder involvement that can be cited, however, is the process Datuk Dr Salleh undertook to gain support for the establishment of FRIM. Consultation would have taken place when he tried to promote the idea to relevant stakeholders.

Changes in organizational structure, functions, and values

With its establishment as a statutory body in 1986, FRIM underwent organizational changes in converting from the structure adopted within the FRI (Figures 2 and 3). For instance, in 1967 there was no clear differentiation between forestry and forest product research. A small unit called “Wood Technology”, which was supposed to be under forest product research, was listed along with units under forestry research. Above all, there was no appointed committee to guide research conducted by the FRI.

The most crucial event was the formation of a Research Advisory Committee (RAC) directly accountable to MFRDB members and the director-general of FRIM (Figure 3). In fact, the formation of the RAC marked a new era in R&D management in FRIM. Within FRIM’s organizational structure, the director-general answers directly to the MFRDB, which has representatives from both the government and the private sector. Because any approval has to go through the MFRDB, the interests of FRIM’s clients are well-represented in decision-making processes. Such involvement by members of the board can also be considered as direct input from stakeholder and client groups.

The FRI was inaugurated in 1918 with the appointment of a forest research officer in Peninsular Malaysia (formerly known as Malaya). The FRI came into existence almost 18 years after the establishment of the Forestry Department Peninsular Malaysia in 1901 (Forestry Department Peninsular Malaysia 2003). Research conducted by the FRI in those days focused largely on testing various species’ characteristics, such as their physical properties, seasoning qualities, woodworking characteristics, durability and amenability to preservative treatment (Federation of Malaya 1948). Little emphasis was placed on research relating to social aspects of forestry such as the role of communities in forestry or the impacts of forest goods and services supply and the demand on them. Under FRIM’s direction, the scope of research expanded into not only forest management but also environmental science, forest products and their utilization, forest economics, forest biotechnology, medicinal plants and other topics. From a functional perspective, FRIM is not only responsible for conducting R&D but it also acts as a referral centre for all issues related to tropical forests. The process of restructuring placed FRIM in a position of even greater relevance than before. A number of restructuring advantages are listed hereunder.

No restriction on R&D

As a small unit, the FRI’s capacity to engage in areas outside those identified for research by larger units under the Department of Forestry Peninsular Malaysia was rather limited. Restrictions related not only to Forestry Department directives on R&D areas but also to human resources, finances, equipment and infrastructure. Possessing only a small number of professionals with specialized training limited the number and extent of R&D projects that could be conducted. Today, the total staff complement at FRIM exceeds 700, almost twice the original number in FRI. This increase in human resources has enabled FRIM to expand considerably and to conduct research and development in a wide range of areas (FRIM 2006).

More proactive participation and involvement in international meetings

As a statutory body, FRIM is directly accountable to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (formerly it was under the Ministry of Primary Industries). The FRI had previously answered to the Forestry Department Peninsular Malaysia. The FRI’s organizational structure had, however, prevented all pertinent issues related to forestry from being successfully channeled into the institute’s programming. This limited the FRI’s influence on decision-making at the national level. With statutory status, FRIM staff can sit on any committee and this has served as an effective way to communicate and disseminate R&D ideas and concepts. The establishment of FRIM as a statutory body also allowed the institute to participate actively on the international stage.

Figure 2. Organization of the Forest Research Institute, Kepong, West Malaysia, on 31 December 1967

Figure 3. Organization of the Forest Research Institute, Malaysia, Kepong, on 31 December 1986

Decisions made more promptly

The former FRI had to refer to the Forestry Department Peninsular Malaysia on almost every decision. As a statutory body, although FRIM is answerable to the MFRDB, internal matters such as administration and technical aspects are within the director-general’s terms of reference (Malaysia 1985). Day-to-day decisions can thereby be made more promptly, and this has improved efficiency in all areas.

Timely communication with clients

Before FRIM became a statutory body, requests regarding services had to pass through the Forestry Department. This was more time-consuming than if communication had occurred directly with clients. Direct communication under FRIM not only saves time but also ensures that the correct information reaches the appropriate clients.

More opportunities for technical training/higher learning

Restricted by the limited number of scholarships available for higher learning, FRIM senior management developed a “split” programme for researchers to pursue M.Sc. or Ph.D. degrees. The programme allows candidates to spend more time in Malaysia conducting research, in addition to fulfilling a one-year residential requirement at their respective universities. This programme has not only been cost effective but has also enabled and encouraged more researchers to pursue higher learning abroad. The changes that were made, especially with regard to advanced education, helped to motivate researchers and increase institutional research capacity. There have also been positive attitudinal changes among research officers with regard to higher learning and the productivity of individual researchers has increased.


Leadership and management philosophies

The former directors of the FRI were not enthusiastic about expansion and development of the institute. Most focused on fulfilling their job requirements and looked forward to promotions to state directors (personal interview, 2005). Because of the directors’ short tenure and lack of interest in developing the institute, the R&D focus remained unchanged. Datuk Dr Salleh realized he could do little for the institute when he reported for duty as director in 1977. He did not receive encouraging feedback on the idea of converting the FRI into a statutory body from Dato’ Mohamad Jabil, who was director-general of the Forestry Department, Peninsular Malaysia at that time. Nevertheless, Datuk Dr Salleh’s perseverance resulted in the successful transformation of the FRI into FRIM and without such strong leadership, FRIM would likely never have been established. Datuk Dr Salleh and Dato’Abdul Razak, the current director-general, have ensured that FRIM has maintained its reputation as a centre of excellence for tropical forestry and forest product research up to the present day.

The Malaysian Agriculture Research Development Institute (MARDI) as a role model

The acquisition of statutory status for an institute was not an entirely new concept for FRIM. Before FRIM was established, the Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia (RRIM) and MARDI were already statutory bodies under Act 1966 and Act 1969, respectively (Malaysia 1966; 1969), and served as models that FRI could emulate. Arguably, FRIM should have been established much earlier, even as early as when RRIM and MARDI were formed, considering the importance of timber and timber products for the nation’s export earnings. A lack of political and sector interest prevented this from happening.

Back-up from all levels of staff — creating the critical mass

It was important for senior management to convince staff of the advantages and disadvantages of the intended mission, in addition to maintaining the transparency of processes involved. The level of support for statutory status was evidenced by the high percentage of staff that were willing to join the MFRDB. Approximately 87 percent of FRI staff decided to stand alongside the board, clearly surpassing the critical mass for establishing and restructuring the FRI.

Political support

Political support was crucial. Fortunately, the prime minister supported the move to make FRIM a statutory body. Thus leadership support at both political and operational levels was central to ensuring the establishment and restructuring of FRIM (personal interview, 2005).

Availability of resources

Qualified staff were essential for FRIM’s success. When FRIM was inaugurated in 1986, there were 67 Category A officers (Anonymous 1987) but only five decided to opt for government service. With so many research officers, FRIM senior management had every reason to fight for statutory status. That the researchers could be further trained and were valuable assets in supporting the institute to become a centre of excellence stimulated senior management to pursue its goal. Before the establishment of FRIM, most funding for R&D came from the government but with statutory status, FRIM could apply for Intensification of Research in Priority Areas (IRPA) grants.

National and international networking

The role of international institutions might not have been perceived as directly relevant until FRIM was formed. Nonetheless, the network of organizations with which FRI was involved is believed to have had influence on the achievement of statutory status. In addition, Datuk Dr Salleh’s appointment to the board of IUFRO in the early 1980s and appointment as President of the Malayan Nature Society (MNS) in 1978 carried some weight in supporting his mission to make the FRI a statutory body.


Obstacles to the establishment of FRIM as a statutory body are elaborated hereunder.

Opposition from the Forestry Department

The greatest challenge faced by FRI senior management was the unwillingness of the former Director-General of the Forestry Department Peninsular Malaysia to support the goal of becoming a statutory body. As such, all official communications between the Ministry of Primary Industry and the Forestry Department Peninsular Malaysia about FRIM were channeled through the former Deputy Director-General of the Forestry Department who was responsible for R&D (Personal interview, 2005). Dr Francis Ng, the former Deputy Director-General of FRIM confirmed this opposition to the establishment of FRIM as well as associated sabotage attempts in a personal communication to the author. Dr Ng expressed astonishment that the government permitted the (former) Director-General of the Forestry Department to continue in his post until retirement.

The newly introduced split programme

As mentioned earlier, the split programme for Ph.D. candidates was established immediately after the formation of FRIM. Because a programme of this type was to Malaysia, there were challenges encountered in relation to the ability of candidates to complete the programme with the minimal levels of supervision available.


There were three main objectives in establishing FRIM:


To carry out research for the development of appropriate technology related to the forestry sector in Malaysia;


to establish FRIM as a Centre of Excellence for Tropical Forestry and Forest Products Research; and


to develop FRIM as the national centre for technical information on forestry and forest products

Hindsight has shown that FRIM not only achieved these objectives but surpassed them.

Research leading to the development of appropriate technology

FRIM has made remarkable achievements in the development of appropriate technology for the forestry sector. Accomplishments include assessing the suitability of new clones of Hevea brasiliensis as a plantation species for wood production; rubberwood treatment; in vitro culture of Calamus mannan; and the development of a forest site-mapping manual - all carried out in 1986. Further information on annual development of appropriate technology can be found in FRIM’s Annual Reports.

Centres of excellence for tropical forestry and forest products research

Altogether FRIM has successfully established seven centres of excellence:

FRIM has also provided facilities for testing services. To date, 18 laboratories provide research facilities for a range of clients.

FRIM as the national centre for technical information on forestry and forest products

As a centre for technical information, FRIM has generated several outputs. For instance, FRIM published its first issue of the Journal of tropical forest science in September 1988, FRIM in focus in 1996 and Current research information system (CRIS) in 1996. FRIM also organizes at least 30 major events annually comprising seminars, conferences and workshops at national and international levels. All of these activities are venues for the timely dissemination of R&D findings to clients.


For FRIM, the cost of maintaining the status quo is considered higher than that of embracing change. Whereas most organizations or agencies incur considerable social and economic costs from job losses or budget cuts, the establishment of FRIM encouraged economic growth, especially in local forest-based industries, and no positions became were cut; those who did not side with the board were absorbed by the Forestry Department.

In this context, the cost of not changing largely relates to the potential loss of export earnings from the wooden furniture industry in Malaysia. The use of rubberwood as a new source of material enhanced the growing importance of the wooden furniture industry in Malaysian exports, i.e., from a mere RM58.8 million in 19882, to more than RM3.9 billion in 1999 and RM5.4 billion in 2004 (Malaysian Timber Council 2006). There were 93 wooden furniture mills in Peninsular Malaysia in 1988, compared to 1,724 in 2003 (Anonymous 1990; 2003a). The boom in wooden furniture exports also supported the national economy by creating a substantial number of jobs.


To maintain relevance, senior management at FRIM continuously endeavor to improve research approaches and methods. Thus a number of incremental changes have been made in the organizations structure and functioning since the establishment of FRIM. This continuous and iterative process has enabled the institute to maintain relevance to clients.

Expansion of the R&D programme

Over the course of time, FRIM’s objectives have been expanded to increasingly encompass forestry and forest products research. To date, FRIM has nine new programs:

Collaborative R&D with national and international institutions

FRIM’s researchers have collaborated with a large number of organizations including the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Danish International Development Authority (DANIDA), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), and other prestigious institutes as well as the private sector in the pursuit of forestry research with an international dimension (Table 1).

Table 1. Selected research projects conducted by FRIM


Title of project

Funded by



A model for cost analysis to achieve sustainable forest management


Compliance with Malaysian Criteria and Indicators (MC&I) increased the overall cost of harvesting by 62.6% (RM2 473.84/ha) and a rise of 69.6% (RM81.49/m3) over conventional practices. This, in addition, imposed an incremental cost on the host country.


Environmental Cooperation for Tropical Forest Restoration and Biodiversity Conservation in S.E. Asia


The first phase of the project started in 2002 and ended in 2004. Phase 2 started in 2005. The project has been successfully implemented in almost all ASEAN countries.


Genetic mapping of selected tropical timber species to study genetic variation in the populations for conservation


The project started in 2002 and is still ongoing with funding support from IPGRI. Three species of timber have been intensively studied to date.


Multipurpose Forestry in a Changing Society

DANIDA Ongoing.

Conservation and Sustainable Use of Tropical Peat Swamp Forest and Associated Wetland Ecosystems


The project started in early 2003 to document and develop conservation plans and sustainable use of peat swamps and associated wetland ecosystems. Duration (2003-2007).


Managing a Drug Discovery Programme (Private)/ FRIM

Life Science Academy

Systematic study has been initiated to document and to discover active compounds from plants.


Drugs from Microbes

NGS (Private) Japan/FRIM

The search for active antibiotics from soil microbes has been initiated.


Conservation of Biological Diversity through Improved Planning Tools

GEF, GoM, ITTO, universities, and Perak Integrated Timber Complex (PITC)

Expected to begin soon.(PITC)

Source: Abdul Razak et al. (2005).

FRIM’s 2003 Annual Report revealed that 105 Memoranda of Understanding and Memoranda of Agreement were signed with external agencies during 2003 covering all aspects of R&D, including training for higher learning. Besides obtaining some funding through collaborative research, FRIM also receives regular financial support from the government on an annual basis. Financial records indicate that the contributions from the government were worth US$5.4 million in 1992, compared to RM10.8 million in 2003 (Anonymous 1993; 2004).

Research coordination and management

Formerly, R&D implementation was supervised by the Research Advisory Committee (RAC). The name of the committee was changed to the Program Advisory Committee (PAC) in 1995. Further assistance is provided at the programme level by the Technical Advisory Panel (TAP).

Continuous dialogue with the government and the private sector

Besides the PAC and TAP, input from working groups and continuous dialogue with clients, both the government and the private sector, also gave direction to FRIM’s R&D activities. The formation of PAC and TAP, as well as continuous dialogue with clients, were among the innovative ways in which FRIM sought stakeholder input.

Project assessment and monitoring

To further ensure that research is properly monitored, project monitoring is implemented at both ministry and institute levels. The Research Management Division regularly conducts assessments of project outputs. Progress in project achievements is also closely monitored by the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MOSTI).

Consultancy and technical services’ opportunities

The establishment of FRIM has opened doors for researchers to engage in consultancy and the provision of technical services. The 60: 40 division of consultancy income between researcher and institute is viewed as an attractive offer and constitutes another innovative approach introduced by FRIM to reward its researchers. In addition to consultancy, FRIM also contracts out technical services to clients. Income collected from such services goes directly into FRIM’s account. Official records indicate that income from technical services provided to clients ranged from a low of RM316 000 (US$84 000) in 1992 to a high of RM2.3 million (over US$600 000) in 2002 (Anonymous 1993; 2003b).


The term commercialization of R&D findings is a buzz phrase for research institutions. FRIM, like other research institutions, is promoting the idea and wants all research to have commercial value. The GoM, in its own way, has created a variety of incentives and different types of financial assistance to encourage commercially valuable R&D activities.

R&D incentives

Examples of incentives for companies carrying out R&D include:


Pioneer Status (PS) with tax exemption of 100 percent on statutory income for five years, or Investment Tax Allowance (ITA) of 100 percent on qualifying capital expenditures incurred within ten years, which can be offset against 70 percent of statutory income in the year of assessment;


A second round of PS for another five years, or an ITA for an additional ten years where applicable (Malaysian Industrial Development Authority 2005).

Financial assistance

Aside from the aforesaid incentives, the government provides additional forms of financial assistance for R&D companies. Examples of these incentives are, inter alia:

Through these different types of financial assistance mechanisms, FRIM has secured funding of some US$9.7 million, and another US$110 000 and US$150 000 under the Division for Research and Graduate Studies (DRGS) and the Demonstrator Application Grant Scheme (DAGS) respectively (Krishnapillay et al. 2002).

Royalties for researchers

Another incentive for researchers concerns royalties on commercialized research. The arrangement to divide consultancy fees 60: 40 between the researcher and the institute, as described above, was not approved by the MFRDB. Therefore FRIM’s senior management decided to follow the arrangement set out by the government whereby royalties are divided 50: 50 between the institute and the researcher. Based on sales, a researcher may receive royalties amounting to US$8 000 per month or US$96 000 per year. A total of US$133 000 in royalties may be collected if it is on a one-off basis, as outlined in the government circular on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) No. 5 (1999).


A strategic plan keeps an organization on track in meeting its objectives. FRIM’s Strategic Plan I (SPI) was prepared in line with aspirations re-iterated in all major national long-term plans, such as Vision 2020, the Second Perspective Plan, the National Development Policy and the Sixth Malaysia Plan (1991–1995) (Forest Research Institute Malaysia 1990), even though no direct reference was made to any of the aforementioned plans. For FRIM, contribution to national plans is in the form of R&D activities conducted under the umbrella of science and technology. Because science and technology are regarded as areas that can contribute tremendously to national development, the senior management of FRIM took every opportunity to provide support.

SPI and SPII are and will be in effect from 1991 to 2000 and from 2004 to 2013, respectively (Forest Research Institute Malaysia 1990; 2003). SPI was the first document to guide FRIM in implementing research activities in priority areas, as well as in establishing operational objectives. In preparing SPII, issues such as the environment, biodiversity, sustainable forest management, utilization of lesser known timbers, furniture design and the new and emerging role of biotechnology in forestry were also taken into account. The seven strategies, together with plans of action, are:

Of the seven strategies, “striving towards 30% self-sustenance by 2008” is identified as a crucial and innovative strategy to cope with ever-increasing demands from clients.


To ensure that planned activities are accomplished, ongoing evaluations of performance in relation to targets are conducted under each R&D programme. Appraisal is based on research projects, research impact, technology transfer and income. These four main areas are further divided into subcategories in the context of conducting in-depth evaluations of each R&D programme. For instance, research impacts are disaggregated into processes/products developed, processes/products commercialized, patents submitted, awards received and so forth. The compilation of all R&D programme appraisals helps to determine FRIM’s performance during any one-year period.


Key lessons identified in this case study are presented in this section. These lessons might be used by other governmental agencies or organizations interested in pursuing statutory status and striving to meet clients’ needs.

Leadership and management philosophies

Once a statutory body is established, the process does not end. From time to time, incremental change is needed to ensure that clients’ needs continue to be addressed. Because the field of forestry is dynamic, restructuring at some point in an organization’s life is unavoidable. Restructuring is therefore viewed as a necessity, whereas incremental changes are continual and integral processes for any well-functioning organization.

Both initial establishment and subsequent incremental changes, require strong leaders. Strong leadership is required in ensuring continuity in creating and sustaining organizational vision. Leadership alone cannot carry an institution far in achieving goals if it is not accompanied by strong and practical management philosophies. To accommodate new demands, management philosophies must therefore be changed accordingly. In other words, strong leadership and strong management philosophies are mutually supportive and are crucial in ensuring success.

Back-up from all levels of staff — the need for a critical mass

As stressed earlier, support from staff at all levels is essential in any effort to re-invent or restructure a forestry agency. To secure support, the initiator together with senior management must convince staff at all levels of the necessity for the proposed plan. All processes must be transparent and clearly articulated to staff. Care must always be taken to ensure that staff interests are carefully considered and that they do not suffer as a result of restructuring.

Political support

Achieving status as a statutory body benefited greatly from the support of various political leaders, including the prime minister. Strong support from political leaders in addition to operations’ leaders makes any mission much easier to accomplish.

Availability of resources

Availability of well-trained human resources, funding, facilities and other assets is also a prerequisite to the success of a mission. Such resources not only help to justify a mission but also support its accomplishment. Before promoting the idea of establishing a statutory body, senior management must, however, be prepared to face realities that may arise such as staffing or funding constraints.

National and international networking

This particular factor might not initially be considered critical to re-invention or restructuring, but the FRIM experience suggests that strong networking at national and international levels has a direct and important influence. In fact, the role of networking becomes even more prominent when a statutory body is born. Good networking assists in securing funding for research, not to mention the sharing of knowledge and experience in developing an excellent research institution.

Availability of a role model

Having a model to emulate was an advantage for the FRI. In fact, the establishment of MARDI, or even the earlier RRIM, paved the way for FRIM. The establishment of FRIM should arguably have taken place much earlier, considering its multiple national contributions.

Challenges faced

In the context of change, challenges are unavoidable. These may include opposition by individuals or groups who resist change or the processes involved in transitioning from one status to another. Being able to anticipate these challenges is very useful for decision-makers.

Costs of change and maintaining the status quo

Transformation usually involves costs, be they social, economic, or political. In the case of FRIM, no jobs were lost. To handle costs efficiently, assessments to identify and quantify costs should be carried out with regard to the three different aforesaid areas. Quantification of social costs, for instance, will allow for mitigation of adverse impacts on affected persons. Similar assessments should also be carried out in relation to costs associated with not changing the institutional structure.

Other relevant factors

Factors such as legislation and stakeholder participation are equally vital in processes of change. Without legislation in place, gaining support for the establishment of a statutory body is likely to be considerably more difficult. The establishment of FRIM as a statutory body did not, however, necessitate any changes with regard to existing legislation. Incorporating all interests from the beginning of decision-making processes will strengthen support from the organization’s own staff as well as external stakeholders.


The story does not end with the establishment of a statutory body. In fact, challenges can be expected to emerge when shifts take place among institutional structures. To continually improve on organizational outputs and to stay relevant are almost overwhelming tasks for senior management in any organization. To sustain progress and become more successful, every possibility must be explored. In this context, the following recommendations are made for further consideration.

Commercialization of R&D findings

To date, FRIM has made a major shift from limiting itself to conducting pure research to commercializing its R&D findings. With encouragement from substantial R&D findings to date that have potential for commercialization, such as forest biotechnology and the discovery of natural products, efforts to commercialize other R&D areas need to be stepped up. Thus, FRIM needs to develop a concrete and updated business plan to keep pace with demand.

The commercialization of R&D products usually leads to higher research costs and this is a factor that senior management at FRIM should bear in mind. As such, profit-making should not be the sole objective in commercializing R&D. The overall development of the overall economy should be of equal importance in decisions to commercialize R&D outputs.

Further development in R&D

To stay relevant, there is a need for concurrent development in all aspects of FRIM’s R&D, both upstream or downstream. A promising area for current R&D is in relation to non-timber attributes of forests, such as environmental services and carbon sequestration. The Clean Development Mechanism in relation to climate change is a topic that merits attention.

Striving for self-sustenance

There are multiple means for FRIM to generate income. Before efforts are made, however, other relevant issues require attention. For instance, in order to ascertain that income generated from technical services can indeed be doubled or tripled, regular quantitative assessments of all service centres should be carried out. Such assessments improve efficiency and transparency, which ultimately generate more income for FRIM. Quantitative assessments should also cover the seven centres of excellence. In short, all ways to improve self-sustenance must be continuously reviewed.

Periodic review of FRIM’s strategic plan

To date, FRIM’s R&D activities have been guided by a long-term strategic plan. To ensure that programmes established under each strategy do not become obsolete and continue to meet the demands of clients, it is recommended that the strategic plan be reviewed as, and when, needed.

Establish a Federal Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FFRIM)

At first glance, the creation of FFRIM might seem impossible due to the differences in legislation, acts and other state matters that exist between West and East Malaysia. Nonetheless, more advantages than disadvantages are expected to be generated should the dream of such a federal institute become a reality.

Other interesting but challenging recommendations

Member of the National Forestry Committee (NFC)

Its current organizational structure has enabled FRIM to participate actively in the formulation and implementation of forest policies, as compared to the former structure under the Forestry Department. Membership in the NFC would further strengthen FRIM’s role as a major think-tank in all matters pertaining to forestry at national and international levels.

Application of Act 319 to all states

Looking closely at MFRDB Act 319, there is a possibility of extending the application of this act to both Sabah and Sarawak. The formation of FFRIM would be made possible with the acceptance of the act nationwide.


Abdul Razak. M.A. 2003. The role of forestry research and development (R&D) institution in policy formulation and implementation: a Malaysian perspective. Keynote paper presented at the International IUFRO Workshop on The Forest Science/Policy Interface in Europe, Africa and Middle East, 23–27 June 2003.

Abdul Razak, M.A, Norini H. & Krishnapillay, B. 2005. Forestry research and education in Malaysia. Paper presented at the Seminar on Forestry Research & Education, Seoul, 12 October, 2005.

Anonymous. 1981. Fourth Malaysia Plan (1981–1985). Kuala Lumpur, National Printing Department. 414 pp.

Anonymous. 1986a. Fifth Malaysia Plan (1986–1990). Kuala Lumpur, National Printing Department. 567 pp.

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1 Head of International Affairs Unit and Senior Research Officer, FRIM, Kepong 52109 Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia. Email:

2 US$1.00 = RM3.69 (October 2006).

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