As issues in policymaking become more complex, public servants need to build up a wider range of skills and nurture their "ground feel" and empathy, Head of Civil Service Peter Ong said yesterday.
Speaking to an audience of administrative service officers (AOs), the cream of the public sector, Mr Ong urged them to "be anchored on values" of integrity, service and excellence.
The issues facing civil servants "are becoming more complex, more conflated and conjoined", he said. "New divides like class, values and political leanings may reduce our policy manoeuvring space." To meet this challenge, its institutions and its people need to stay adaptable while holding fast to its core values, Mr Ong said in his speech at the annual Administrative Service Dinner and Promotion Ceremony.
The Government has consistently reorganised ministries and agencies - such as creating the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth - to meet new realities and priorities, he noted.
Its push to have more top public servants know the ground better is also bearing fruit, he added.
More than half of all its 344 AOs have experienced at least one operational posting, like working with, say, patients in a hospital to improve service.
More are also being sent to the private sector or for unorthodox training programmes.
For example, one AO did an attachment at a design consultancy and later came up with the idea of a football-themed train cabin during the World Cup.
The Land Transport Authority found the cabin made 80 per cent of commuters smile, noted Mr Ong.
He also said that communicating policy well is increasingly important.
In today's hyper-connected age, agencies that excel at connecting with the people "will be those that empower their officers to make decisions without going through layers of clearance''.
The public sector will also open its doors wider for those from non-traditional backgrounds, such as non-degree holders.
Last month, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said the Management Executive Scheme will be extended for non-degree holders with adequate capabilities and potential to go on the same track as degree-holders.
Last night, he said the public service is studying ways to apply this principle to other schemes.