“The recent General Election (GE) has not only forced politicians to admit they need to connect with the people, it is also forcing the Public Service to relook the way in which they formulate policies” (Public Service Must Connect With Those It Serves: DPM Teo, TODAY Report).
Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister in-charge of the Civil Service Teo Chee Hean, hit the nail on its head when he asserted that the public service as a whole has the impetus to review current engagement methodologies, and to introduce relevant strategies to solicit feedback or recommendations for future policies. Such a proposition – highlighted in the news report “Public Service Must Connect With Those It Serves: DPM Teo” (May 14, 2011) – is a well-calculated one after the recently-concluded General Elections (GE), as a well-informed electorate demands greater involvement in policy formulation. These are signs for the Civil Service to go beyond the focuses of effectiveness and efficiency of policies per se, but also to be cognisant of constructive public sentiments and criticism.
For instance, besides engaging with traditional stakeholders from the academic and political fields, the respective ministries or agencies should take more proactive approaches to reach out to individuals in the corporate sector, as well as on-the-ground Singaporeans. These channels can come in the form of issue-specific policy study workgroups, the corresponding reports or findings published by these groups, various quantitative and qualitative studies to gauge the receptivity towards the socio-economic proposals et cetera. Gradually, this will signal a progressive recognition of the aforementioned as valuable stakeholders; and this increased activity could trickle-down to address concerns of apathy or lethargy amongst the general population.
The biggest problems with the status quo – in terms of feedback generation and active discussion of issues – lies in the over-reliance upon the national feedback unit, Reaching Everyone for Active Citizenry @ Home (REACH), and the inability to consolidate the spontaneous views or commentaries published on the Internet. First, given the sheer number of statutory boards and government agencies – taking into account their departments and administrators – REACH has to significant heighten its manpower and resource capacity so as to fulfil its responsibilities more productively. In the meantime, the public service should not hedge all its focuses on REACH; instead, it must strive to independently reach out to societies and its target audience – to constantly hear them out, to address the dissatisfactions, and to credit those who have contributed.
Second, with the proliferation of the Internet and social media, the Civil Service must be more adept with utilising digital platforms to communicate with Singaporeans. Besides using these elements to have dialogues with tech-savvy individuals, it is imperative for some resources to be committed to surfing local blogs and websites – otherwise known as “echo chambers” – to get a feel of general displeasures and unhappiness bubbling.
In essence, conservative reliance upon existing methods will yield no constructive results; and if citizens continue to feel alienated from the policy formation and decision-making processes, it could result in detrimental ramifications politically.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.