Thursday, 29 October 2015

Civil servants must be close to the ground: Tharman

'See issues through eyes of ordinary citizens'
Tharman tells public servants to sense concerns underlying feedback, spot gaps in policy delivery
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2015

When the Tanglin Halt estate was picked for the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) last year, Housing Board officers went from door to door with audio recordings which explained the programme in different languages and dialects, including Hokkien and Cantonese. The recordings were played to residents who were not conversant in the language of the officers.

After gathering their feedback, HDB took a new approach in the SERS project, the largest to date. For instance, it assigned each home owner a "journey manager", who is the single point of contact throughout the home owner's SERS journey.

It also offered elderly home owners concerned about their retirement savings the option of getting a replacement flat on a 30-year lease.



These measures were cited by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday to show how public servants can raise their game when they "develop the habit of looking at issues through the eyes of ordinary citizens".

Speaking at the Public Service Leadership Programme (PSLP) dinner, attended by about 600 public servants, he said: "We must be close to the ground, listening to feedback, sensing the deeper concerns that often underlie that feedback, and spotting the gaps in policy delivery that should not be there."

The PSLP was launched in 2013 to develop public officers into specialists in fields such as security and economics.

Mr Tharman also identified other ways the public service must evolve to meet the increasingly complex needs of citizens. The coordination among different government organisations "must become second nature to public servants" because the best solutions for issues faced by Singaporeans "are often those that bring agencies together and cut across policy disciplines".

He cited the Health Promotion Board and Alexandra Health System working with Comfort DelGro and SMRT to help cabbies stay healthy by screening them at their taxi servicing centres.

The public service should also discuss and debate the country's future with different stakeholders, including the private sector, civil society and individual citizens.

"It is when people get involved...and put in the effort to make things happen, that we build broad ownership over Singapore's future."

The public service also has to develop deeper capabilities, such as data analytics, to meet more complex challenges and serve citizens better, he said.

Mr Tharman also stressed the importance of nurturing "a culture of continuous questioning and refreshing of what we know" in every public agency.

A system needs to be developed for the officers to know that acquiring and sharpening skills can help them in their jobs.

Pointing to service delivery, he said the 6,000 front-line staff "are the face of the public service for most citizens" but each agency has its own front-line service training.

Now, the Public Service Division is working with five government agencies to meld a common framework for officers to systematically become competent in their jobs.

"No one is made the day he or she enters the service, or even a decade or two after they start working."





Making things better, the N95 way
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2015

When Singapore was blanketed by severe haze in June 2013, N95 masks were sold out in many places as the Pollutant Standards Index hit record highs.

But when the haze returned last year - and again last month - there were no such shortages.

Government agencies had reviewed the events of 2013 and identified areas for improvement.

They ensured an ample supply of N95 masks and issued regular health advisories to the public.

One of the public servants involved in the effort was Mr Jonathan Capel, 35, from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). He worked closely with colleagues in the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources to draw up plans and guidelines.

Such close coordination between government agencies is a key goal of the two-year-old Public Service Leadership Programme (PSLP), which Mr Capel, now deputy director in MHA's Joint Operations Group, joined when it started in 2013.

Another 120 officers joined the scheme this year, and there are now 695 public servants on it.

The PSLP aims to develop expertise in the officers' fields and groom them as leaders in sectors such as security, central administration, and economics, which affect multiple agencies.

There are site visits, case studies, and dialogues with senior public servants. Mr Capel also had the chance to work with other organisations in the security sector such as the Ministry of Defence.

"The PSLP has broadened the definition of what a public-sector leader is supposed to be," he said in a press interview.

Mr Capel added that in the past year, a pilot initiative to hone his knowledge and skills - called the sectoral competency framework - has challenged him to better master security issues.

He is passing down the newly acquired expertise to his staff as it "gives them a sense of identity as a security sector officer".

"At the end of the day, it's about building up everybody to be leaders in their own right," he said.

Head of the Civil Service Peter Ong said at the Public Service Leadership Programme dinner last night that feedback was encouraging from the small group of agencies involved in the pilot run of the sectoral competency framework.

Being deeply rooted in specialist communities, he added, will allow officers "to pull together people, knowledge and resources to work collaboratively across (the) Government for the best outcomes".

The framework will be rolled out to all PSLP officers early next year. It will also be applied to guide the development of training programmes across the public service.









Public service wants to crowdsource, consult and co-create
To mark Public Service Month in October, the head of the civil service outlines the direction for the service as Singapore moves from SG50 to SG100.
By Peter Ong, Published The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2015

Today, public officers across the world operate in environments that are more hyper-connected, where issues are multi-dimensional and where technologies are changing our lives in profound ways. Facebook, the world's most popular media owner, creates only a fraction of the content on its platform. Uber, the world's largest transportation network company, owns no taxis. Alibaba, one of the largest retailers, has no inventory. We see new models of businesses and innovation emerge as supply chains get disrupted.

For public officers in Singapore, certain realities remain unchanged - as a small and open economy, we contend with external economic forces and geopolitical uncertainties. We will need to navigate structural changes in our domestic context as our society ages and becomes more diverse and affluent. As we enter a more matured phase of economic development, we need to continue producing good jobs to meet our people's aspirations even as we ensure Singapore's relevance in the world.

Challenges are also opportunities. Our vision of a Smart Nation will improve our quality of life by leveraging on technology. In the past five years, we have also embarked on a Public Sector Transformation movement to design citizen-centric policies and services, serve as One Public Service and build partnerships with the community.

Transformative changes

We have sought to innovate and customise policies to the needs of different segments of Singaporeans. An example is the Pioneer Generation Package where we partnered the community to help explain policies to diverse segments among the elderly.

We have also organised ourselves differently to serve the public better. To integrate work on early childhood, improve municipal services delivery and oversee the emerging issue of cyber security, we set up the Early Childhood Development Agency, the Municipal Services Office and the Cyber Security Agency respectively.

We applied new approaches such as behavioural economics and insights, and design thinking to improve our policies and schemes. Three to five per cent more employers paid their foreign domestic worker levies on time when they received pink reminder letters indicating that 96 per cent other employerspaid the levy on time. By offering free or cheaper rides at selected times and destinations, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) saw a 7 per cent to 8 per cent shift in the morning peak-hour travel load and thereby eased congestion.

We are learning new ways of reaching out, listening and involving the community as partners. Our Singapore Conversation built mutual understanding among Singaporeans, and helped the public service appreciate the myriad of aspirations and concerns among different segments. Subsequent public engagements like MediShield Life and Central Provident Fund consultations have built on these approaches of small group dialogues.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has laid out the priorities for the next five years: keeping our nation safe and secure; ensuring growth, jobs and opportunities; taking care of Singaporeans; and transforming and greening our home. All these are underpinned by good governance, which the public service will seek to deliver while focusing on three broad areas.

PARTNERING SINGAPOREANS

The first is to partner Singaporeans and harness their energies and ideas for the good of Singapore. No one has the monopoly on ideas and the public service may not always have the answer, or be the answer. We are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to crowdsource, consult and co-create - both within the service and with Singaporeans - as we shape our future together.

The upcoming Jurong Lake Gardens will be a people's garden developed based on ideas from the public. Over 17,700 suggestions were received through a public engagement exercise. Next month, the Future Of Us exhibition will be another opportunity for Singaporeans to discuss how we can realise our dreams and aspirations for our country collectively.

DIGITAL GOVERNMENT

The second is to move towards a digital government, which involves two key aspects.

One is "digitising the Government" for which the public service will leverage more on technology and data. We want to use mobile platforms to improve our service delivery, especially as Singapore has one of the highest smartphone penetration rates in the world. By early next year, we will introduce the new "MyInfo" feature on our eCitizen portal, where citizens need only provide personal data once to the Government, instead of repeatedly doing so for every electronic transaction with us. We will start with e-services such as applications for HDB flats and the Baby Bonus Scheme, and progressively extend this feature to more e-services over time.

We also want to ride the wave of big data to make better policy and planning decisions. Beeline is a "live experiment" by the Infocomm Development Authority and LTA that crowdsources suggestions and uses big data to find more direct and viable bus routes. Results are provided to private transport companies and they can list bus routes on the app which commuters can then use to reserve seats.

The other aspect is "governing the digital", which means putting in place the platforms, processes and policies to foster invention and co-creation. We want to provide access to and improve the quality of open data so that new insights and solutions can be derived by a wider community of researchers, data scientists and developers. This year, we released additional transport data sets and revamped our government open data portal to make it more user-friendly. Concurrently, we will take steps to mitigate the risks of new technology, particularly in cyber security and personal data protection, ensuring no one is left behind.

INTEGRATING THE PUBLIC SERVICE

The third is to be an integrated and nimble public service. We call this "Whole-of-Government" (WOG). We have put in place processes such as the No Wrong Door policy and First Responder Protocol, and set up the Strategy Group under the Prime Minister's Office to improve WOG coordination.

Beyond hard structural changes, we must internalise systems thinking and collaboration as part of our shared culture so that it will be second nature for all of us to work across agency boundaries and tackle issues of priority. We will then be able to tap the wisdom of crowds as well as innovate and adapt as we work at delivering higher public value.

People must be at the heart of this transformation we seek for the public service. We are committed to supporting officers in acquiring future-relevant skills that will allow them to advance to their next job, by mapping out career pathways and competencies required. Our Public Service Leadership Programme has been launched to systematically provide development opportunities for close to 700 sectoral and specialist leaders all across the public service as we recognise the importance of deep skills and capabilities to govern in a complex world. When our people are empowered and equipped, we can achieve transformational results for Singapore and Singaporeans.

2015 has been a year of reflection and celebration, as we marked our 50th birthday as a nation. The public service came together to support the nation in its grief, when we honoured our founding father Lee Kuan Yew, and celebrated as one for the 28th SEA Games.

For the public service, it is a very special year for all of us to reaffirm our values and beliefs - of integrity, service and excellence - and to recommit ourselves to our mission of keeping Singapore special for many more decades to come.

We are starting a new chapter that will bring us closer to SG100. How our Singapore story will unfold will depend on bold ideas, a whole-of-nation effort and the gumption to make it happen. In partnership with Singaporeans, public officers have an opportunity to be tomorrow's pioneers through the journeys we take today.





The power of 'new public passion'
By Max Everest-Phillips, Published The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2015

Almost everywhere, except in Singapore, public service is in crisis. Morale and motivation in the public sector have collapsed in many countries across both the developed and developing worlds. A recent Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report indicates this to be a systemic problem, not just reflecting fiscal austerity, for while 58 per cent of OECD countries undertaking strict austerity measures reported a decrease in workplace commitment, so, too, did 36 per cent of "non-austerity" countries.

This crisis within public administrations of many countries represents a major obstacle to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030) recently agreed on by the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Declining job commitment, professional satisfaction and the ethical climate in the public service put at risk fairness and impartiality.

In the long term, this threatens citizens' trust and state legitimacy. Impartial and effective public administration builds trust between the state and citizenry, and stimulates markets. Impartiality of government institutions is linked to higher levels of well-being and promotion of interpersonal trust and economic growth, according to the Quality of Government Institute.

Corruption systematically breaches impartiality and, so, lowers trust in government institutions. In Zimbabwe, for instance, gains in public health have been eroded by low morale of public workers, resulting in absenteeism, moonlighting, corruption and unauthorised sales of free medicine. A recent study confirms public workforces to be demotivated across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Public service motivation is poorly understood. Some believe that Singapore manages to retain high intrinsic motivation because it pays its officials well. Yet, such extrinsic motivation is not enough: for example, the public service of Switzerland, despite being one of Europe's most prosperous countries, is apparently witnessing a general collapse in morale.

Similarly, although per capita income in South Africa is much higher than in Tanzania, only 52.1 per cent of South African health workers are satisfied with their jobs, compared with 82.3 per cent of their Tanzanian counterparts.

In recent years, public service reforms undertaken without adequate consultation with staff have also added to the general discontent among public sector workers.

Within Britain's civil service, for example, only 30 per cent of respondents agreed that changes made were usually for the better; only 31 per cent felt that change was managed well in their ministry; only 44 per cent had faith in management; and only 45 per cent believed that a strategic vision existed in guiding reform.

Of course, levels of motivation can vary greatly within one country or organisation.

For instance, India's State of Civil Services Survey showed that motivation among ordinary public servants is a challenge, although motivation among the Indian Administrative Service and other elite officials remains relatively high.

Repeated reorganisations cynically implemented for political reasons have generated deep disquiet among public service employees worldwide; the politicisation of once proudly neutral civil services has devastated faith in the commitment to protect the long-term national interest. Unchecked, the disconnect between rhetoric and reality will grow ever deeper.

So not only must governments learn to do more with less while rebuilding the trust of the public and responding to ever-growing citizens' demands; they must rebuild, from an all-time low, the morale of the public officials responsible for both front-line services and for central policy formulation. Only upon the successful completion of such rebuilding processes can the transformative potential of public service be unleashed.

Yet, innovative ideas to tackle the problem are emerging. The evidence indicates that, for instance, in Britain's public service, many officials remain because of their passion for their work (72 per cent believe that providing a public service is an important or very important motivation for staying in the civil service, and 51 per cent feel that being a civil servant is important), even though only 24 per cent felt fairly paid. In fact, although 53 per cent wanted to quit in the next year or so, 89 per cent remained interested in their work.

Public service needs to start embracing the potential passion of officials for their mission. Public service offers intellectually interesting work that creates a sense of contribution to the greater good. Better decision making by "co-creation" with citizens offers the most likely way to resurrect the social status and job satisfaction of public service officials.

To this end, the Global Centre for Public Service Excellence, jointly established in Singapore by the UN Development Programme and the Government of Singapore, is researching and advocating a "New Public Passion" in public service. Learning in part from the high morale among public officials in Singapore, the centre seeks to help developing countries nurture high job satisfaction by ensuring that all civil servants feel directly engaged in improving the lives of their fellow citizens.

The writer has been Director of the Global Centre for Public Service Excellence in Singapore since July 2013. The centre was jointly established by the United Nations Development Programme and the Singapore Government.



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