Forum: Address information asymmetry in Singapore

People's Action Party election campaign posters for East Coast GRC displayed in Bedok South on July 1, 2020.
People's Action Party election campaign posters for East Coast GRC displayed in Bedok South on July 1, 2020.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Commentators have noted that the People's Action Party's (PAP) reduced vote share in the recently concluded general election reflects younger voters' desire for more diversity of views and less one-sided policymaking (Younger voters make their mark in polls, July 13).

But the Government had recognised the need for collaborative policymaking before this election.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced the Singapore Together movement last year, a bid to actively involve citizens in co-creating solutions for the community.

Yet, many remain sceptical, with critics pointing out the PAP's past paternalistic behaviour.

I believe the Government's intentions are genuine, but to be convincing, it needs to put its money where its mouth is.

Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam once said that he "eats data for breakfast". I would like to do the same thing, but the breakfast buffet seems restricted to civil servants.

One key way leaders can show that they are serious about policy co-creation is by addressing the existing information asymmetry between the Government and the rest of us.

While others have raised this before, the discussion often ends in an unnecessary impasse about a Freedom of Information Act and its drawbacks. But this all-or-nothing scenario is a false one.

I suggest a simple way forward - make all de-identified (removal of personally identifying information) survey data collected or funded by government agencies publicly available for interested parties to analyse.

Survey data held by government agencies is underutilised, despite being expensive to collect.

One example is the Retirement and Health Study, conducted by the Central Provident Fund Board.

Surveys like this one contain a variety of useful information on which meaningful analyses about social and economic well-being can be performed.

Sharing this data would enable citizens to propose solutions based on evidence and improve the quality of engagement with the Government.

In other countries, many doctoral dissertations and school research assignments are written on the basis of analysing equivalent data sets.

Releasing such data could also inspire younger cohorts to examine Singapore society more closely.

Importantly, sharing survey data circumvents any concerns of vexatious data requests and associated costs.

Since survey data does not change once it is collected, releasing such de-identified raw data through a secure online platform is relatively straightforward and requires minimal manpower to maintain.

Sharing data may be politically inconvenient, but it is an effective litmus test of whether we are truly "Singapore Together".

Shannon Ang (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2020, with the headline 'Address information asymmetry in Singapore'. Subscribe