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Five Hunches About The Future Of Public Policy Design

Bernise Ang, Principal and Methodology Lead at Zeroth Labs explores hunches about the future of public sector innovation in Singapore.

Five Hunches about the Future of Public Policy Design


In the past five years, there have been a number of developments across the world in the public sector space, particularly with regard to innovation. In Singapore, public policy-making and services have traditionally been the domain of a small number of elite technocrats. As with many other countries, the greater the strategic import, the smaller that number of technocrats involved. However, as digital and social media become ubiquitous in Singapore, the nature of information treatment — in particular the consumption, creation, and dissemination of information — inadvertently creates a shift in the social contract as we know it.


With a small group of like-minded colleagues, I have been working in the area of public sector innovation, related to the urbanisation process in developing countries as well as public sector issues in the urban context. This experience has been a varied one: from re-imagining municipal public service models in Bangladesh and informing Bhutan’s employment policy, to healthcare and hospital design in Singapore. Along the way, we have learnt many lessons about public policy, public services and the nature of public sector innovation. One of these is the challenge of silos among government bodies; the tension between politics and administration as well as conservative cultures that may not support the change and accompanying risk-taking needed to meet stated objectives; and the trade-offs between desired outcomes and the resources allocated for them.


As we look to the future, the interesting developments and trends that are emerging lead us to a number of hunches about the future of public sector innovation in Singapore. These hunches are also implicitly questions about the future of cities and populations, the potential of technology, and the nature of the human condition.


Hunch #1: Behavioural Insights will be Increasingly Important in Designing Policy for Citizens

As populations become more varied and textured, it becomes more difficult to create policy in a number of domains that are premised on generalisations or assumptions we might have of the various groups these policies seek to serve. This, of course, applies more to policy for targeted groups, or groups on the margins, rather than policy for the mainstream population. 


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