On Saturday (October 27, 2012), I attended a session of “Our SG Conversation” (here) at the National Volunteer Philanthropy Centre (NVPC). Before my participation, I was cognisant of the scepticism surrounding this initiative (here and here), but decided to give it a shot (I had expressed initial interest when the online platform first went up). The session went well, and I thought it would be great if I could share briefly about my experiences, and expound on the positives and negatives that could be considered for future sessions.
The conversations were segmented into two main parts: small-group exchanges and a large-group dialogue. Discussions, as we were consistently reminded, were deliberately crafted to be open-ended. After a round of introductions within a group of seven or eight, we shared little anecdotes on what made us proud (or slightly embarrassed) as Singaporeans, before moving on to a discourse on general socio-economic concerns. These issues were then consolidated. With this assortment of ideas, the group was then asked to present them on three mahjong sheets (preferably in the form of a newspaper, adorned by pictorial accoutrements), under the thematic heading “the Singapore you would like to see in 2022”. The groups then made their respective pitches, and the session was concluded with a follow-up discussion on the floor.
My Little Contribution (and Suggestions)
1. Meeting Singaporeans. The programme aside, it was an intriguing experience interacting with Singaporeans from all walks of life (I am of the opinion that opportunities for such exchanges are far and few between). I was the youngest in the group. The concerns raised were very similar, but we held varying opinions on the potential recommendations. The composition of the group – with individuals from dissimilar backgrounds and professions – made for a very fulfilling morning, and provided constructive diversity.
2. Primary concerns. I sussed out three main themes that were floating around throughout the session: worries over education, social inclusiveness and stratification, as well as the costs of living. Given my past commentaries, I took the opportunity to highlight my opinion that stress and competition in our education system are not entities that are necessarily negative (here), and that there should be more interactions between students from different education institutions in Singapore (here). The second point was well-received by the group.
3. Too broad, too diverse. Which leads me to my next point (I am aware that this has been discussed ad nauseum, and that the committee is moving to more specific discussions in December): the discourse was too broad, and there was too little time to cover all the aspects. People had too much to contribute, which was great. It would be interesting to see how the focus group discussions would be structured, and the themes that would be adopted.
4. Constructive group sharing and discussions. Nevertheless, some of the segments from the session could be adopted in the future exchanges. Instead of a traditional, almost pedantic reliance upon one-way monologues (with the guests doing most of the talking), it was refreshing to hear the group members talk about their stories, their ideals, and their hopes. The small group size meant that everybody had the chance to articulate his or her perspectives, and correspondingly allowed the participants to comprehend the trade-offs involved when making policy decisions.
5. “Floaters”. The team could consider cutting down on the media coverage and members of the organising committee “floating” around. On a few occasions during the small-group discussions, I did feel a little uncomfortable having representatives of the secretariat peering over my shoulder. I was perfectly alright having the points recorded by a note-taker, but a sustained, physical presence just unnerves me a little. Just a little.