Our Singapore Conversation (OSC)
Ministry of Communications and Information

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
As Singapore matures as a society, there is an increased diversity in the needs, expectation and aspirations of Singaporeans. In addition, with an increasingly active citizenry, different voices have emerged on a myriad of issues, including: housing and healthcare affordability, having a too competitive and stressful education system, a lack of a cohesive national identity, tensions between Singaporean citizens and foreigners living and working in Singapore, among others. Hence it is important for Singaporeans to come together to decide on the future we want to bring for ourselves and our future generations. The Singapore government also needed to enhance the engagement process with the public when it comes to policy making. Importantly, as Singapore continues to progress, many Singaporeans do not necessarily agree on how Singapore should move forward as a country, and what kind of Singapore they would want to live in. While different views may be expressed, often times Singaporeans may not necessarily be aware of what these different views are. A culture of listening to each other respectfully, even if there is disagreement, is thus needed to ensure that social tensions are mitigated and to contribute to the progress of Singapore. There needs to be a balance when addressing these needs, and a need for the Singapore government to communicate policies effectively and ensuring that all different groups have a chance to participate in the policy making process. A successful national conversation is one which will allow Singaporeans get to know one another better, and to understand our collective aspirations and hopes for the future.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
Objective “Our Singapore Conversation” (OSC) was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in August 2012 as a nation-wide conversation exercise aimed at getting Singaporeans to come together to discuss the kind of future we want, and how we could create a home with “hope and heart”. Singapore’s Minister for Education Heng Swee Keat was appointed to head a 26-member committee, comprising people from different backgrounds. Strategy and Structure of Initiative The initiative was conducted in two phases, from September 2012 to September 2013. Conversations about Singapore’s future were encouraged through formalised dialogue sessions organised by a mix of civil servants and volunteer facilitators, through third party interest groups, surveys, as well through various online platforms. The broad range of conversation platforms were encouraged to achieve the following objectives: (a) To enable Singaporeans from all walks of life to broaden their social circles and talk to people whom they might not normally have the chance to interact with. The committee, comprising of people from different backgrounds will act as representatives for different voices and to increase awareness of the initiative in their respective communities. (b) As a way to come to a understanding of the differing views and needs, and identify common goals for the future that might in turn help enhance social cohesion (c) To encourage the spirit of speaking up constructively and to engage in respectful discourse about government policies amongst Singaporeans. To ensure that the conversation was not dominated by any particular topic or group, the exercise was conducted in two phases: First Phase- an open, loosely structured dialogue with broad themes about Singapore’s future Second Phase- Structured dialogues, including those organised by specific Ministries (e.g. housing and health) that were based on the common themes that resonated strongly with Singaporeans during the first phase. Process of Initiative To ensure inclusiveness and facilitate conversations amongst as many Singaporeans as possible, the following modalities were developed: - organisation of dialogues in different languages to overcome cultural and generational barriers (e.g. sessions conducted in dialects to allow for the elderly to express their opinions) - Reaching out to overseas Singaporeans through dialogues beyond the shores of Singapore - Supporting ground-up dialogue efforts from grass roots and interests groups, including women rights’ groups, businesses and trade unions and even animal welfare groups. To ensure that all participants were comfortable in expressing views that might be considered controversial or not in-line with the majority’s views, Chatham House Rules were practiced to allow different views to be expressed and discussed in a safe and conducive environment. Broad summaries of sessions (in blog and video formats) were also provided for on OSC’s online platforms. Videos featuring highlights of each sessions, and interviews with people on the street were also filmed and uploaded on OSC’s YouTube page to encourage Singaporeans to participate in the exercise and to keep Singaporeans updated on key ideas shared. By 2013, a set of core aspirations were identified and published through a “Reflections” magazine, both online and in print. These reflections serve as a tangible guide for Singaporeans and the Singapore government on the best way to bring the country forward. The “spirit” of such conversations- to encourage even an “ordinary” Singapore to make an active effort to engage in open and constructive dialogue- have also permeated policy making. This was highlighted by PM Lee during his National Day Rally Speech 2013, where the views from Singaporeans expressed during OSC had a direct impact on the key policy shifts that were announced during the Rally, especially in areas of housing, healthcare and education.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
One key difference between OSC and previous engagement efforts was that OSC focused on conversations amongst Singaporeans, and not one between the Government and Singaporeans. This allowed Singaporeans to hear from one another with the Government playing a facilitator role. The OSC sessions were held through small group discussions with a facilitator, where participants were better able to have meaningful conversations to understand how their views and needs differed from their own. In addition, rather than a list of final recommendations, contributions to OSC were reflected in as much detail as possible to show variety and as many views as possible. Differing views were not reconciled internally by the Government, but were instead presented to the public, reflecting the different trade-offs that the society needed to consider. Two products were produced: Reflections - http://www.reach.gov.sg/Portals/0/Microsite/osc/OSC.pdf Perspectives accessed through – http://www.oursgconversation.sg Another unique feature of this initiative was the open-ended engagement style adopted. Participants were encouraged to converse and discuss ideas and solutions. Groups were arranged to include participants across demographics and backgrounds which added to the richness and diversity of the conversations. This differs from tradition town-hall sessions where a political office holder usually addresses a crowd followed by questions.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
OSC was developed and implemented through a course of one year. An action plan, as well as significant milestones can be found in the attached. Resultant platforms and products from OSC include: Website - https://www.oursgconversation.sg (full website has since been taken down) Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/OurSGConversation Videos hosted on - http://www.youtube.com/user/OurSGConv Reflections - http://www.reach.gov.sg/Portals/0/Microsite/osc/OSC.pdf

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The OSC is a conversation for Singaporeans. A 26 member committee was formed comprising Ministers, Members of Parliament, students, professors, taxi drivers, theatre practitioners etc to oversee the implementation and ensure inclusiveness and representation across the different segments of society. The private and social sectors were also encouraged to join in and more than 40 third party organisations stepped up and organised their own OSC sessions amongst their employees and stakeholders. Unions, private companies, green groups, animal advocacy groups, youth groups, schools, elderly advocacy groups, elderly care homes and prisons and rehabilitative support groups also organised their own sessions. This variety of different stakeholders allowed the views of many segments of society to be heard. These efforts also encouraged many to organise their own sessions within their smaller families or communities. Singaporeans overseas were also involved in the process with dialogues organised at several major cities including Shanghai, London and San Francisco.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
A secretariat comprising public servants with expertise in different areas (media management, online engagement, policy information) was formed ensure that resources were efficiently deployed and used to maximise the success of outcomes. Government organised dialogues were government funded through a fund set aside to support Whole of Government strategic outcomes, cross-agency collaboration and innovation. More information on funding can be obtained from : http://app.mof.gov.sg/newsroom_details.aspx?type=speech&cmpar_year=2010&news_sid=20100309362196404203 In addition, we also leveraged in-house expertise from various government agencies to limit costs wherever possible. For example, online community management of online platforms were mainly done in house by public servants, while existing partners from 3P (public, private and people) networks were also tapped on for locations and resources. Sessions organised by organisations were mainly self-funded though the OSC secretariat provided some manpower and facilitation support.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
(a) Influence on government agencies’ engagement efforts: One outcome of the OSC was its influence on government agencies and their engagement efforts during and after the initiative. OSC’s open ended constructive style of engagement which encourages conversations between citizens and stakeholders has influenced how government agencies will structure their engagement efforts going forward. Ministries which have dialogue sessions on specific topics with Singaporeans are now taking reference from the format of OSC. Hence OSC has also contributed to a change of attitudes and behaviours, and helped advance the culture of constructive discourse in Singapore. (b) A better sense of the policy directions Singaporeans want: OSC was a way for both experienced and new public servants to get a better sense of what Singaporeans were concerned about and their aspirations. This will help policy formulation leading to overall benefits for Singaporeans. (c) Better understanding of policy-making and the diversity of needs between fellow citizens: Through the discussion, disagreements and the sharing of differing points of view, the public also get a better sense of the trade-offs and considerations facing policy makers. The mix of groups across demographics allowed participants to hear from others who were outside their usual social circles. This helped bridge gaps in understanding of what others needed and aspired towards. (d) Common tangible values and aspirations for Singaporeans to work towards: Opportunities, Purpose, Spirit, Assurance and Trust were the five key values identified by Singaporeans as values and aspirations we want to work towards together. This verbalisation of collective ideals give many Singaporeans a better understanding of what the country needs as a whole and where the population hopes Singapore will move towards. (e) Valuable data that helped change attitudes and helped craft actionable plans: Insights gathered from a nation-wide OSC survey and from the OSC dialogues has helped both government and Singaporeans get a better sense of the areas concerning Singaporeans and how we could help one another within the community. As a result, several social initiatives (eg, blockpooling.sg and ground up mobilisation efforts during a haze situation in Jun 2013) grew out of these dialogues. This is a reflection of how the OSC has helped Singaporeans realise how they, themselves could step up to contribute to society.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
Both quantitative and qualitative efforts were made to constantly monitor the progress of the initiative. For real time feedback, online monitoring and offline feedback were sought to reflect the views of both Singaporeans who actively participated in dialogues as well as those who did not. Topics brought up by the online audience (especially topics that did not surface during the dialogue sessions) were summarised and brought to the attention of the Our Singapore Committee to give them a more rounded idea of the various topics which the public were interested in talking about. At the dialogues, note takers were on hand and participants were invited to write their views on sticky notes which were later collated. The online content strategy also aimed to give non-participants a constant update of key programmes and discussions taking place and to allow them the chance to join in the discussion by sharing their views on the issue online. A website as well as a FaceBook page was set up to facilitate the process. These comments were similarly collated and considered when sieving through data. Comments on specific areas and policies were also constantly fed back to the relevant Ministries for their immediate information and follow up. A nation-wide survey was also conducted to collect quantitative data as the OSC dialogues were going on. This allowed the organising team to monitor and assess if the views received through dialogues and online channels necessarily reflected the views of the wider population. To maximise reach, the local media were also engaged to keep Singaporeans abreast of the OSC, the views expressed so far as well as how they too could join in and express their views. Media coverage was maintained throughout the OSC process and through their views and reports, the secretariat was also able to evaluate the awareness of the initiative and the impression it was giving to the public.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The initial announcement of a national conversation was met with some scepticism from the public. A large challenge was in convincing Singaporeans to speak up and to challenge pre-conceived notions that all feedback to the authorities went “into a black hole”. Constant online and mainstream media updates as well as the open style of conversation gradually encouraged cynical Singaporeans that they could make a difference through their participation. Concrete changes announced throughout the year which were a result of OSC discussions also helped to reinforce the trust and dispel cynics. By being detailed in publically documenting different views, the public were shown how their views and suggestions were considered and could help in policy making. Video interviews with participants and Singaporeans on the street also added to the diversity of views expressed and presented to the public (videos accessible at: http://www.youtube.com/user/OurSGConv). As a result, many participants came out of dialogue exercises with a positive view of the process and an appreciation of the diversity of views in Singapore. In some cases, open sharing of views at the dialogues helped establish better understanding between Singaporeans and new citizens, who are trying to fit into Singapore society.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
Through the year-long exercise, the key outcomes as mentioned have had long lasting effects in Singapore. Policy making has changed as a result of OSC, in terms of the engagement process from the government, and changes to major policies. More consultative styles are now being adopted, and concrete outcomes have emerged as a result of OSC. For example, following the OSC, the Ministry of Manpower has launched a Fair Consideration Framework (http://mom.gov.sg/newsroom/Pages/PressReleasesDetail.aspx?listid=523) following concerns expressed by Singaporeans over employment. The framework recommends for Singaporeans to be considered fairly for jobs in light of concerns expressed over job securities and how the employment situation could be improved upon. Active efforts have also been made to engage Singaporeans online, and Singaporeans themselves are gradually stepping up to contribute their voice to respectful and constructive dialogue about the country’s future. With heightened interest in government policies as well as in their fellow Singaporeans, this has contributed to shift in attitudes as compared to a previous generation of Singaporeans. Instead of just asking, as one participant puts it, “what can the government do”, some Singaporeans are now more aware of how they can make a difference. In addition, delivery of public service has been improved as public servants develop a deeper level of understanding of the public’s wants and aspirations. These OSC initiatives have helped public servants involved develop a better sense of the ground sentiment which will help in the development and implementation of policies. OSC has also helped the public service develop a new and refreshing engagement style with Singaporeans, apart from the more formal communication styles traditionally adopted by the government. Change in behaviour is never easy to affect, and OSC can be seen as the start of the longer term goal to ensure that different voices are fairly represented and that Singaporeans take charge and effect the change they want to see for their future. Singaporeans have started to step up and feel empowered towards taking concrete action to create the future they want for themselves and their children. More details of how Singaporeans have started to effect change can be found in the OSC reflections as well: http://www.reach.gov.sg/Portals/0/Microsite/osc/OSC.pdf

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
The overall experience with the OSC initiative was a positive and meaningful one, where much was learnt from the various participants in terms of new perspectives and views, and how we might be better able to reconcile our differences. Through engagement on online platforms, the team also learnt the issues of importance to Singaporeans, and the value of continued engagement. While engagement is a long term process and building trust with one another is never easy, the key lies in making the first step in conversing and listening to Singaporeans. The importance of listening was also a valuable takeaway for many public servants who took part in the exercise. Regardless of whether people agreed or disagreed, the key thing was how we could, as a country come together to listen to one another; and how we should look beyond our own needs and priorities, to the concerns and aspirations of fellow Singaporeans. This was definitely a valuable lesson as we continue to serve Singaporeans and help create our country’s future. Many Singaporeans have suggested that this national conversation be continued or revived at a later stage and be made part of a national agenda. This will help refine the government’s engagement efforts with the public.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Ministry of Communications and Information
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Karen Tan
Title:   Senior Director, Public Communications Division  
Telephone/ Fax:   6837 9523
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   karen_tan@mci.gov.sg  
Address:   140 Hill Street, Old Hill Street Police Station
Postal Code:   179369
City:   Singapore
State/Province:   Singapore

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