Talking about Singapore’s future: LET’S TALK ABOUT...

After the dialogues: The road ahead

A dialogue session taking place at The Marketplace of the Future Of Us exhibition at Gardens By The Bay on Feb 16, 2016.
A dialogue session taking place at The Marketplace of the Future Of Us exhibition at Gardens By The Bay on Feb 16, 2016. ST PHOTO: ST LIM SIN THAI

As conversation ideas become reality, one of the next stages in the process might be to name those who gave these lightbulb moments.

So say political watchers who believe giving credit where credit is due will show the Government's sincerity in listening to its citizens.

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser says that where possible, "the Government will need to feed forward and acknowledge good ideas, perhaps even name names of individuals or organisations".

Associate Professor Tan, who has previously served as research consultant to government feedback unit Reach, adds: "Where it has changed course or adopted an idea as a result of feedback, it should say so, and acknowledge the contribution of those who have a part to play in it where possible.

"Where it has decided not to go with a popular suggestion, it should explain the basis of its decisions and the trade-offs it has considered."

  • Upcoming sessions

  • Rekindling the "kampung spirit", the future of ageing, rethinking our streets as spaces for the people, and jobs of the future.

    These are among the topics of several SGfuture discussions that will take place over the next two weeks at the Marketplace at the Future Of Us exhibition, and other locations around town.

    Those interested in sharing their thoughts can visit www.sg/sgfuture to contribute their ideas, or to sign up for the sessions.

In this Internet era, gathering ideas through sit-down face-to-face conversations may seem less efficient, but there is huge value-add in the human touch.

As Prof Tan observes, it is not only a platform to facilitate discussion, debate and exchange of views and ideas. It also allows "people to give their ideas a reality check, and perhaps more importantly to inculcate some degree of active citizenry in the process".

This should be done in a more extensive way - even after the SGfuture dialogue series ends in the middle of the year, adds political observer Eugene Tan, who teaches law at the Singapore Management University.

The former Nominated Member of Parliament believes firmly that there is "no alternative to more and better engagement".

This should be done at a variety of levels - from local grassroots to nationwide - and with different settings - whether formal business or the informal kopitiam, he says.

Doing so will help win over the doubting Thomases or the broad middle ground of passive citizens who may think such engagement exercises are but one big "wayang" or act of pretence, he adds.

And even "small-tent conversations" can contribute to public buy-in on a policy or the building of a consensus on a contentious topic.

Such sessions serve to throw up different perspectives and foster a spirit of compromise as people will have to agree to disagree in the face of opposing thoughts.

Participants stand to gain too. Beyond the chance to influence policy and share their ideas, it is a platform to network and meet other like-minded people, if not politicians.

SMU's Prof Tan says: "Engendering a newfound respect for citizen engagement can close the gap between Singaporeans' growing acceptance of the norm of political participation amid a low level of actual participation."

Beyond acting as a bridge between the Government and the people, there is also value in such conversations in helping to "normalise citizen discourse with one another", he adds.

"There is tremendous opportunity for a paradigm shift for Singaporeans to develop the habit and virtue of speaking with, rather than to, each other and engaging robustly on key issues of the day."

Walter Sim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 21, 2016, with the headline 'After the dialogues: The road ahead'. Print Edition | Subscribe