Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Our SG Conversation: What's next?

Reflections of Our Singapore Conversation

The Reflections of Our Singapore Conversation is now out! From the diverse opinions on issues ranging from housing and job opportunities, to core aspirations and what does it mean to be Singaporean, all have been captured in the Reflections.

First initiated in August 2012, Our Singapore Conversation involved over 47,000 Singaporeans participating in over 660 dialogue sessions island-wide. Through this year-long learning journey, five core aspirations have emerged: Opportunities, Purpose, Assurance, Spirit, and  Trust.

Check out Reflections and visit  Our Singapore Conversation Facebook Page to share your thoughts!

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Observers on Our SG Conversation's next lap

As the Our Singapore Conversation process comes to a close, observers are saying that the community should now take the initiative to start conversations of their own.

The year-long dialogue sought to get a consensus among Singaporeans about the kind of future they want for Singapore.

Those whom Channel NewsAsia spoke to say the process has changed the way the government approaches consultation.

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Common future welcomed: Goh Chok Tong

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong has welcomed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's call for Singaporeans to build a consensus on the country's future.

Speaking at a National Day Dinner in his Marine Parade constituency on Saturday, he hailed the new ministerial committee led by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat that will conduct a broad-based review of the Government's policies and direction. Beyond just coming up with new policies and programmes, the exercise is also about having "a national conversation on our common future", Mr Goh said.

In a nod to the hot-button issues of immigration and social inclusiveness that were also raised in PM Lee's National Day message, Mr Goh said that the Government has to "capture the aspirations of the people, reassure them that Singapore is still a land of opportunity for Singaporeans".

Policy shifts not knee-jerk or populist: Heng Swee Keat

Now that a year-long national conversation involving some 50,000 Singaporeans has drawn to a close, the man in charge wants to dispel a few myths about the mass engagement exercise.

The first is that Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) dialogues were a "major meet-the-people session", with the Government collating a wish list and then giving people what they want, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat in an interview this week.

Not so. The OSC-influenced policy shifts to be unveiled at Sunday's National Day Rally, he emphasised, will not sacrifice strategic thinking for the sake of showing empathy and responsiveness

Heng: OSC not a knee-jerk, populist policy-making exercise

Mr Heng rejected suggestions that the OSC has influenced the Govt to move leftward on the ideological spectrum towards accepting a far bigger role for the State in social assistance and levelling the playing field. He said the PAP Govt has always balanced growth with equity, as the founding leaders were determined to share the fruits of progress, especially through rising property wealth.

In any case, he acknowledged that the State will be bearing a bigger portion of healthcare costs.

He added, “As our society becomes more diverse, it is even more important for us to create that common space.” This space must rest on a thick layer of trust between the Government and the people, and between different groups of citizens, which can endure amid disagreement, he said.

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Govt needed NatCon + survey to find these things out?

The door-to-door survey of 4,000 Singaporeans was conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) between November last year and February. It was carried out to validate the issues brought up in the 660 OSC sessions held over the past year. OSC committee Chairman and Education Minister Heng Swee Keat] noted that overall, the participants at the OSC sessions wanted the assurance that housing, healthcare and public transport will remain affordable.

Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) project comes up with these findings?

What a waste of time, effort and our money so that the govt learns that the people are concerned that housing, healthcare and public transport will remain affordable. And that there are concerns about education. If I wanted to be nasty, I would say that SingCon or NatCon shows out of touch the govt is with the rabble masses. But I won’t, but am surprised the usual suspects that love playing the DRUMS didn’t raise this point. They don’t do original insights, is it?

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Giving People What They Want

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong first announced the idea of a national conversation during his last National Day message, and it started with this blurb: "Welcome to the National Conversation, where we invite all Singaporeans to share about our dreams, views, and thoughts on what we want for our country. Diverse views are welcomed, regardless of race, language, religion or political affiliation." Somewhere along the line, it has morphed into "Our Singapore Conversation" (OSC).

After one year-long of national conversation involving some 47,000 Singaporeans or less than 1% of the population, the man in charge wants to dispel a few myths about the mass engagement exercise, without providing any clue for the name change, and who the "our" refers to.

The first myth to be debunked is that OSC dialogues were a "major meet-the-people session", with the Government collating a wish list and then giving people what they want, explained Education Minister Heng Swee Keat. The disappointment is understandable.

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Heng ah…we’re not in charge of the OSC

Anyone would think that the two aspects are too dangerous to countenance. Yet the conservatives would think that the G has been trying to be more populist in recent time – and even leftist. There are enough examples to point to – letting singles buy new HDB flats or changing the stance on the death penalty. And all those GST rebates, housing subsidies and wage credits, despite being tied to conditions such as house-type and salary levels, is really welfarism in another guise.

The most recent example: Mr Heng’s position on the girls who went bald for charity – and stayed bald for school. He did not back his principal, conservatives would say, in upholding school rules. What would he do if he faces, for instance, insistence by Muslims to have their girls wear the tudung?

The lament: This is not the G that we know.

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Cor, is Mr Heng Swee Keat for real?

That’s what the Cockneys of London, UK, not Canada, would say in response to our Education Minister’s confession published in today’s Straits Times: that there are jobs aspired to by Singapore’s young that the ever-affable Mr Heng has never heard of

Nah, I think Mr Heng is probably being humble and self-deprecating. Or more believable, he was pulling the reporters’ leg in a light moment?

Any other alternative is unimaginable. For someone who was Singapore’s top central banker and then Education Minister to be truly in the dark about the new jobs that have flowered in the last 2 decades is too horrendous to contemplate. It’s like getting into an airborne aeroplane only to find that the pilot isn’t well-versed on the route to get from Airport A to Airport Z.

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The OSC is done, what now?


Worse than pity, it was wrong to have excluded the alternative political parties from participating in the OSC. On such matters the PAP thinks narrowly and selfishly like elsewhere, which is the last thing we need.

Much is lost as a consequence but how much you need imaginative counterfactual thinking to assess which few of us are capable.

Heng Swee Keat's heart is in the right place to focus on values but implementation needs plenty of better work especially when I saw how it was done at my daughter's school. I managed to find this in one of my earlier posts: Most important post to date: Failure of values here. At least the minister could grasp more clearly than most the difference between the technical and the adaptive.

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Singaporean hopes, dreams and fears expressed in ‘Our Singapore Conversation’

In every society, some people would be a late bloomer and they should be given the same opportunity. By doing so, we are giving more possibility to different people and different talents, to excel in their own way.

The flats now easily cost $300,000 to $400,000. Our children may not be able to afford to buy houses in the future. I hope prices of flats can be controlled, so that my children can have their own homes.

Medical costs keep increasing, more than what I can afford. I have money in the MediSave account but there is a cap on how much I can use. I cannot afford to fall sick.

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Government completes 'most comprehensive’ study of Singaporean hopes and dreams

47,000 participants, 660 dialogues. One big national conversation.

These numbers tell the story of the year-long “Our Singapore Conversation” (OSC) – a national initiative announced by PM Lee last August to get citizens to share their vision of the Singapore of the future.

At a Tuesday press conference to announce the Saturday launch of “Reflections” -- a 48-page English-language newsmagazine that documents the findings of the year-long process -- OSC chairman Heng Swee Keat said OSC is the most “representative” and “comprehensive” national dialogue ever undertaken

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In the Singapore Conversation, we trust?

It’s a good report – all 47 pages of it. Why? Because it is about people talking to people, letting it all hang out – in a moderate manner and civilised tone.

That’s an achievement on the part of the people behind the Our Singapore Conversation, which didn’t quite start out on the right footing. Remember the allegations of a “wayang” being performed? All the complaints about having a structured process helmed by the G? The seemingly diffused and even confused start?

It wasn’t prescriptive. Instead it tried to incorporate all views, sans the destructive ones. It was described as a “snapshot of Singaporean voices reflecting a diversity of perspectives.”

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Our Singapore Conversation – Why I found it worthwhile

Here’s what some of my friends said when I tried to persuade them to sign up for at least one session of the Our Singapore Conversation discussion series: “Don’t you know that OSC is just gahmen wayang? They never listen to us one.”

These people were from the hardcore anti-PAP camp and were extremely disillusioned with how the current system had become. And to be honest I neither blamed them for feeling that way, nor held it against them.

There were times when I too doubted the purpose and intentions of this initiative, given especially the population white paper’s disastrous debut. It really felt like the government had regressed back to its old habits, having made initial progress with its efforts to better engage Singaporeans through the OSC.

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Five OSC reflections

1. We are capable of talking to one another (especially without politicians around)
2. Dare to be different; to be negative
3. Pause, and listen
4. That Finnish example
5. So what happens next?

Our Singapore Conversation... In numbers

More than 47,000 participants, in 1,645 hours of dialogues in total -- that is the Singapore Conversation in a nutshell

An estimated 660 dialogues took place, from October 2012 to July 2013. That is 47,000 participants in 75 different locations, using different languages and dialects like Cantonese and Hokkien. 203 volunteers put in time and effort to work as facilitators and note-takers. More than 40 organisations were involved, not including government agencies.

In total, there were 1,645 hours of conversations, equal to watching all eight Harry Potter movies 82 times. In terms of people's online contributions, there were 1,331 email threads and 4,050 Facebook wall posts.

Our SG Conversation: participants from diverse backgrounds

Organisers say the 47,000 people who were engaged in the one-year effort to discuss the country's future come from diverse backgrounds. The youngest is in upper primary and the oldest being 84 years old. Some participants are hopeful that the ideas discussed will leave an impact.

About 20,000 people who took part in the Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) were engaged through sessions organised by the Ministry of Education. Grassroots organisations roped in another 19,000, while 4,000 more were through efforts by community partners and voluntary welfare organisations like the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association.

The rest were engaged by other ministries.

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Milestones of Our Singapore Conversation dialogue

It has been one year since Our Singapore Conversation started. The national project to get Singaporeans thinking and talking to one another about the future of the country has involved more than 46,000 people.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had set the stage for a national conversation in August 2012.
By September, a committee led by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat was formed to start the process.

Committee members included cabinet ministers, academics and other Singaporeans.

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“Our Singapore Conversation” insults Singaporeans’ intellect

I refer to CNA’s “PM Lee to address healthcare, education and housing issues at National Day Rally

The headline indicates the government has prioritised health care and education over housing. This is wrong. Where CNA had wrongly prioritised Singaporeans’ concerns, fortunately, Yahoo Singapore got them right. (link)

Housing has always been the main issue because high property prices have enslaved Singaporeans to banks for 30 years for public housing. It has also resulted in all goods and services being more expensive i.e. drinks and food at coffee shops, tuition fees, doctor fees, salaries, etc. because businesses pass on their costs to consumers and it continues in a vicious circle. As the biggest landlord in Singapore, the PAP government will never be in favour of lowering land prices.

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A Messier National Conversation In The Future
  • Before the year 2011, a group of 20-odd elderly men in Potong Pasir used to gather daily around a void deck, rather spontaneously. A haphazard collection of flowerpots by the side marked their cosy conversation space, and for years they came together to chit-chat, to eat fruits, and to muse about issues within the constituency and beyond.
  • Then, the General Elections happened. Town Council flyers were stuck systematically onto the flowerpots, and they were then moved to a fenced-up “Community Garden” overnight. The group of old men never came together thereafter.
This anecdote was shared during an Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) mini-dialogue a few weeks ago, which focused on the way forward of the OSC exercise (the formal publication or newsmagazine is available here). The stated intent of this specific article was to look at “how the conversation amongst Singaporeans could continue into the future”. It sounded reasonable.

I remain opposed to the notion of an “aide memorie” or “memory aid” (here), and made is quite clear that any document which focuses on facts and figures (popularly known as key performance indicators) – instead of the exploration of ideas – will have little significance.

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Ask ‘Why?’

I spent three days with Japanese junior high school students this week. We were bussed to a remote government-owned campsite three hours away from Tokyo presumably to teach them English.

We were told to create “an English-only environment”. Yet the organisers insisted on translating everything we said into Japanese. They clearly didn’t believe that Japanese children could learn English in English. Perhaps they didn’t want the children to feel lost.

Still, apart from giving them the impression that it is alright to need translations into Japanese all the time, the organisers, whether deliberately or not, gave the impression that only foreigners ought to speak good English. But this post is not about how they are depriving their children of a real opportunity to learn English. Something disturbed me more: None of the children ever asked ‘Why?’ to anything I said.

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Our Singapore Conversation

This has been enriching. Many Ministries have used some form of this in our engagement before, but with the OSC, we have taken it further and more extensively. These are your thoughts. These are our 'Reflections'. Do have a read. Yahoo! wrote a piece on our top concerns. Take a look

Ngee Ann Poly students captured these concerns in a meaningful little video. Worth watching. Good effort guys!

The process will continue. I'm not sure if we'd still use the OSC banner, but in terms of approach to gathering perspectives and conversing, it has been most helpful. Not just for us, but for Singaporeans to listen to each other.

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OSC reveals 5 core aspirations

After about 1,645 hours of dialogues involving some 47,000 participants in Our Singapore Conversation (OSC), 5 core aspirations of Singaporeans have been identified.

In terms of citizens’ online contributions, there were 1,331 email threads and 4,050 Facebook wall posts

The 5 core aspirations the OSC Committee have identified are as follows:
  • Opportunity
  • Purpose
  • Assurance
  • Spirit
  • Trust
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Our SG Conversation 2
Our SG Conversation 1