Basic Info

Please review before submit

Nominee Information

Institutional Information

Member State Singapore
Institution Name Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech)
Institution Type Public Agency
Administrative Level National
Name of initiative TraceTogether National Contact Tracing Programme
Projects Operational Years 2
Website of Institution

Question 1: About the Initiative

Is this a public sector initiative? Yes

Question 2: Categories

Is the initiative relevant to one of the UNPSA categories? Special Category: Institutional Resilience and Innovative Response to Covid-19 Pandemic

Question 3: Sustainable Development Goals

Is the initiative relevant to any of the 17 SDG(s)? Yes
If you answered yes above, please specify which SDG is the most relevant to the initiative. (hold Ctrl to select multiple)
Goal 3: Good Health
Goal 17: Partnerships for the goals
Which target(s) within the SDGs specified above is the initiative relevant to? (hold Ctrl to select multiple)
3.d Strengthen the capacity of all countries, in particular developing countries, for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks
17.6 Enhance North-South, South-South and triangular regional and international cooperation on and access to science, technology and innovation and enhance knowledge-sharing on mutually agreed terms, including through improved coordination among existing mechanisms, in particular at the United Nations level, and through a global technology facilitation mechanism
17.7 Promote the development, transfer, dissemination and diffusion of environmentally sound technologies to developing countries on favourable terms, including on concessional and preferential terms, as mutually agreed

Question 4: Implementation Date

Has the initiative been implemented for two or more years Yes
Please provide date of implemenation (dd/MM/yyyy) 20 Mar 2020

Question 5: Partners

Has the United Nations or any UN agencies been involved in this initiative? No
Which UN agency was involved? (hold Ctrl to select multiple)
Please provide details

Question 6: Previous Participation

1. Has the initiative submitted an application for consideration in the past 3 years (2017-2019)? No

Question 7: UNPSA Awards

Has the initiative already won a UNPS Award? No

Question 8: Other Awards

Has the initiative won other Public Service Awards? Yes
If yes, please specify name, organisation and year. 2021 Gartner Eye on Innovation Award for Government 2020 WITSA Awards IDC SCA 2021

Question 9: How did you learn about UNPSA?

How did you learn about UNPSA? INTERNET

Question 10: Validation Consent

I give consent to contact relevant persons and entities to inquire about the initiative for validation purpose. Yes

Nomination form


Question 1

Please briefly describe the initiative, what issue or challenge it aims to address and specify its objectives (300 words maximum)
The Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) – which drives Singapore’s public sector digital transformation – approached the national public health authority, the Ministry of Health (MOH), to propose a digital contact tracing solution in response to COVID-19. The TraceTogether app was developed in-house and rolled out nationwide in eight weeks. It was developed and published before the announcement of the Google-Apple Exposure Notification (GAEN) interface and was not dependent on the technology. As the first Bluetooth® contact-tracing solution used at nationwide scale, Google and Apple consulted with GovTech in the weeks prior to the initial release of GAEN. COVID-19 exacts a toll on healthcare systems and resources, particularly in relatively densely populated urban environments with a lot of cross-border contact, such as Singapore. Human-led manual contact tracing been a keystone of pandemic control, but the speed and scale of the spread of COVID-19 was large and could overwhelm the available manual contact tracing capacity, allowing a vicious cycle of further disease transmission. The prospect of technology-aided contact tracing was a means to accelerate contact tracing and more quickly arrest the spread of an infectious disease. The challenge was to come up with a technical solution that could assist the contact tracing process. At the same time, it was understood that a common challenge to using new technologies is covering the whole of the population, a critical factor in contact tracing. Fortunately, mobile technology has advanced significantly since the previous major disease outbreaks of SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2015. It was also recognised that not everybody is willing or able to download and use an app on a smartphone. This was particularly important for COVID-19 as the most vulnerable cohort for this disease - the elderly - are also less likely to be frequent users of newer technology.

Question 2

Please explain how the initiative is linked to the selected category (100 words maximum)
Education and awareness programmes drove adoption. Frontline workers are encouraged to adopt the solution as part of work safety measures. To expand utility, the SafeEntry QR code scanning function was integrated. SafeEntry, which complements TraceTogether to expand and enhance coverage of digital contact tracing, is Singapore’s national digital check-in system to log places visited to expeditiously identify potential Covid-19 clusters. The TraceTogether application was also made open source for other countries. This improves transparency around the functionality of the app and improved trust in the solution. It also allowed other countries to quickly adapt the pioneering solution to their own situation.

Question 3

a. Please specify which SDGs and target(s) the initiative supports and describe concretely how the initiative has contributed to their implementation (200 words maximum)
Goal 3: Good Health and Wellbeing(3D.) Development of TraceTogether and the release of opensource codes inspired and enabled other Governments to potentially adopt the solution for their country. The opensource codes meant faster time to market, and cost savings, in turn would more quickly help with mitigation of health risks. Goal 17: Partnerships for The Goals (17.6 and 17.7) Given the pandemic, TraceTogether further promoted bilateral relationships and multi-stakeholder partnerships. This was necessary to ensure that not only our own nation, but neighbouring countries and international countries could share knowledge and initiatives to collectively tackle COVID-19. TraceTogether is a project that would not have succeeded as well if it was purely driven without public-private and societal partnerships. While we had an in-house Agile team, we also collaborated with radio experts, cryptographic experts, privacy and data protection personnel, loan of headsets from major tech companies amongst many others. We also engaged and developed the product together with the community, via on-ground feedback and suggestions.
b. Please describe what makes the initiative sustainable in social, economic and environmental terms (100 words maximum)
Long-term measures in motion allow for the Singapore Government as a whole, to strive for a more seamless and less disruptive process. And this has been the fruition of collaboration with other agencies as well as bringing the agile methodology to the forefront in receiving real-time feedback and delivering continuous improvements. Building expertise internally, as well as knowledge sharing both internally and externally, promote safeguards in processes and allow teams to focus on delivery and as opposed to frivolous matters. These, in turn, pave the way for posterity and blueprint for future applicable scenarios where contact tracing is necessary.

Question 4

a. Please explain how the initiative has addressed a significant shortfall in governance, public administration or public service within the context of a given country or region. (200 words maximum)
Contact tracing has been imperative to reducing the spread of infectious diseases but contact tracing processes have remained largely unchanged for years. The pervasive carriage of mobile devices and use of digital technology presents an opportunity to transform how contact tracing is done. Singapore has the ready digital infrastructure and engineering manpower within the government to develop effective digital contact tracing tools to supplement and support manual contact tracing, to drive better and faster contact tracing outcomes.
b. Please describe how your initiative addresses gender inequality in the country context. (100 words maximum)
c. Please describe who the target group(s) were, and explain how the initiative improved outcomes for these target groups. (200 words maximum)
The combination of the TraceTogether app and the token represents approx. 99% coverage of the population or more than 5.6 million users as of September 2021. Effective contact tracing is seen by many governments as a key tool to minimising or avoiding widespread lockdowns. Automated tracing does not replace, but instead supplements manual contact tracing efforts by the MOH. Validation undertaken by the Singapore contact tracing teams and GovTech report a high degree of precision and corroboration between close contacts identified by TraceTogether and by manual contact tracing. The high adoption of TraceTogether has helped to mitigate possible concerns around the scalability of contact tracing in Singapore. Manual contact tracing took an average of four days in the early months of the pandemic. With the support of the TraceTogether solution, combined with other data sources and contact tracing systems, this can now be performed under 1.5 days. This allows the government to take quicker action to isolate close contacts and curb the spread of the virus. Since TraceTogether’s launch, over 60 countries or cities have also indicated interest in adopting a similar solution or learning from the team, with Australia, Canada, and Poland adapting the open-sourced version of TraceTogether.

Question 5

a. Please describe how the initiative was implemented including key developments and steps, monitoring and evaluation activities, and the chronology. (300 words)
The TraceTogether app uses Bluetooth® signals to record encounters between users in an anonymised fashion, to quickly identify users who have close contact with a COVID-19 case and establish links between clusters. TraceTogether does not rely on the users’ memory and works with unacquainted contacts who are also TraceTogether programme participants. It attempts to plug the gap of identifying close contacts with unacquainted contacts, by recording who a user has been in contact with, but not where. The privacy-by-design approach led to a hybrid model - decentralised proximity logging with a limited data retention period, with a central authority in place. Data is provided to the public health authority only if a user is diagnosed with COVID-19 who may then voluntarily submit the data. This balances operational effectiveness and user privacy. GovTech leveraged contemporary practices, the importance of engaging stakeholders, and developing a deep knowledge of their processes and motivations. The team used recommended Agile practices such as Human Centred Design (HCD), shadowing contact tracers to empathise with their challenges. TraceTogether is an on-going effort that taps on the iterative process, captures user feedback for constant improvements, tackles earlier limitations, and enables better user experiences. Understanding adoption barriers led to the inclusion of a standalone physical token (TraceTogether Token). With the physical token, the separate tracing function from phones is separated. With over a million tokens already distributed, this physical dimension improved the reach of the digital contact tracing programme, and enabled a more inclusive approach including less tech-savvy demographics such as seniors, or those with financial constraints or no access to smartphones that support the app. Amidst all activities, critical measure in place was also ensuring decisive implementation, and seamless integration with pre-existing systems and workflows to minimise disruption to on-going processes. This included the development of a central data intermediary for data-pre-processing, fusion and downstream consumption.
b. Please clearly explain the obstacles encountered and how they were overcome. (100 words)
No such system had been deployed anywhere in the world in such scale. The design centred around weighing privacy and utility, as well as optimal use of Bluetooth, forming the basis of the product and its evolution. This was addressed through knowledge exchanges with experts. In the initial phases when community cases remained low it was a challenge to push for adoption numbers, which were bolstered by publicity, marketing and community engagement. This also was flanked by the introduction of the Tokens for inclusivity purposes when not everyone has access to a smartphone.

Question 6

a. Please explain in what ways the initiative is innovative in the context of your country or region. (100 words maximum)
The TraceTogether App was the first digital tool developed to support the national contact tracing programme in Singapore, and the first of its kind in the world. It promotes the novel use of pervasive (Bluetooth) technology to support public health ops.
b. Please describe, if relevant, how the initiative drew inspiration from successful initiatives in other regions, countries and localities. (100 words maximum)
Part of the inspiration comes from understanding researcher Katayoun Farrahi’s article published in 2014, and then student Rohan Suri’s work in a international science and engineering fair in 2015.
c. If emerging and frontier technologies were used, please state how those were integrated into the initiative and/or how the initiative embraced digital government. (100 words maximum)

Question 7

a. Has the initiative been transferred and/or adapted to other contexts (e.g. other cities, countries or regions) to your organization’s knowledge? If yes, please explain where and how. (200 words maximum)
Since TraceTogether’s launch, over 60 countries or cities have also indicated interest in adopting a similar solution or learning from the team, with Australia, Canada, and Poland adapting the open-sourced version of TraceTogether.
b. If not yet transferred/adapted to other contexts, please describe the potential for transferability. (200 words maximum)
Refer to Section 7a.

Question 8

a. What specific resources (i.e. financial, human or others) were used to implement the initiative? (100 words maximum)
GovTech assembled a cross-functional agile team, based off initial volunteers, from a pool of internal specialists, combined with augmented support from private collaboration. The initial team grew up to 40 strong to cater for tracks in product management, development, design, testing and support operations. To cater for various facets of domain expertise and technical front, GovTech tapped into the knowledge of subject matter experts, such as cryptography, and privacy and data. There was also engagement with Apple and Google.
b. Please explain what makes the initiative sustainable over time, in financial and institutional terms. (100 words maximum)
In the past, product development was commonly outsourced to vendors. Even though documentation was made, knowledge gaps still existed during the handover of projects. Building a cross-functional team from a pool of internal specialists, combined with augmented consultants from a vendor pool, means that the know-how stays within the organisation and can be maintained over time, while still facilitating knowledge transfer from the private sector to the government sector. This is a more sustainable solution, both in financial and institutional terms, than fully outsourcing the development of the product. The arrangement results in a more efficient use of time and resources, while concurrently developing internal expertise.

Question 9

a. Was the initiative formally evaluated either internally or externally?
b. Please describe how it was evaluated and by whom? (100 words maximum)
TraceTogether was evaluated by the Ministry of Communications and National Centre for Infectious Diseases. Another evaluation was on risk of COVID-19 transmission, and the effectiveness of Bluetooth contact tracing that was conducted onboard a cruise ship. A total of 42 close contacts were identified of which 11 were identified through manual contact tracing and 31 via Bluetooth-based contact tracing. Please see appended evaluation report for more details.
c. Please describe the indicators and tools used (100 words maximum)
The Ministry of Communications and National Centre for Infectious Diseases looked at the sentiments received, based on a public satisfaction survey which showed that in August 2020 (about 5 months into the TraceTogether programme) that the awareness of the initiative was high and promising.
d. What were the main findings of the evaluation (e.g. adequacy of resources mobilized for the initiative, quality of implementation and challenges faced, main outcomes, sustainability of the initiative, impacts) and how this information is being used to inform the initiative’s implementation. (200 words maximum)
The recommendation from the Ministry of Communications and National Centre for Infectious Diseases was to continue providing assurance on privacy concerns as well as frame the marketing to the younger audience.

Question 10

Please describe how the initiative is inscribed in the relevant institutional landscape (for example, how it was situated with respect to relevant government agencies, and how the institutional relationships with those have been operating). (200 words maximum)
TraceTogether aligns closely to the MOH’s goal of overseeing healthcare and reduction of health risks. GovTech harnesses technology to enable and support digital transformation to various sectors, including health, in making life safer and more convenient for society. Within MOH, the IT, business and policy team work closely together with the TraceTogether team to meet the crucial needs of contact tracing and reduction in transmissional risks. Within GovTech, the development team works closely with other divisions, including data-driven teams as well as the behavioural insights experts to improve the extrapolation of available analysis.

Question 11

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development puts emphasis on collaboration, engagement, partnerships, and inclusion. Please describe which stakeholders were engaged in designing, implementing and evaluating the initiative and how this engagement took place. (200 words maximum)
TraceTogether is a collaboration between GovTech and the Ministry of Health, and multiple government agencies and private entities as collaborators, to ensure a more robust cog in the bigger healthcare wheel in the fight against COVID-19. These included cryptographic and radio experts, data and privacy, behavioural specialists, healthcare workers amongst many others.

Question 12

Please describe the key lessons learned, and how your organization plans to improve the initiative. (200 words maximum)
This was a novel use of pervasive technology as never done before. It required on the go learning and application of the Agile methodology to get a Minimal Viable Product going quickly, and in retrospect contributing to technical and design debts. Furthermore, given the short span of eight weeks from brainstorming to conceptualisation to development, approval, and launch, it was difficult to have foreseen potential hiccups or roadblocks. This experience has been crucial towards the importance that technology plays in times of pandemic. What this means is that everything that we’re facing now, the adjustments we’re making in the way we apply technology, the blind spots we discovered in our systems – this is really a dress rehearsal and we need to learn from these lessons so that we will be better prepared when another epidemic takes place.

Return to list

Please wait...