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“Your Friend in Government”:The Singapore Government Partnerships Office

Updated: Jun 29


Image: Credits to Unsplash (Unsplash: charlesdeluvio) https://unsplash.com/photos/human-hand-neon-signage-AT5vuPoi8vc

In this Explainer, find out...

  • What is driving increased public engagement in Singapore, and how does the Government partner with citizens?

  • How does the new Singapore Government Partnerships Office (SGPO) work?

  • What can SGPO learn from how other countries partner with their citizens?


Introduction


“Your friend in government that will guide you along the way.” This is how Dawn Yip, Coordinating Director of the Singapore Government Partnerships Office (SGPO), described the newly minted office.¹


Launched on 19 January 2024, SGPO is a one-stop portal to deepen partnerships between citizens and government. Its establishment is a response to the Forward Singapore exercise, where citizens expressed aspirations to shape their communities and co-create policies.² More broadly, SGPO is also a response to an increasingly vocal citizenry and builds upon existing modes of public engagement.


In this Policy Explainer, we will delve into the role of SGPO in an evolving social compact, and explore how other countries partner with their citizens.


An Evolving Nation Calls for a New Social Compact


In a 2011 article by the Civil Service College, Senior Researcher Lena Leong wrote that Singapore’s success “has been predicated on a governance approach characterised by a strong government presence, with heavy reliance on good policy design, legislative tools and tightly managed execution to drive public outcomes.”³ 


Yet as Singapore evolved, a more vocal and sophisticated citizenry emerged. In the TODAY Youth Survey 2023, three-quarters of respondents agreed that it is important for young people to participate actively in civic discourse. Social media platforms have also become hotbeds for discussing social issues, underscoring the changing form of civic engagement. Finally, according to an article by the Public Service Division, “the government-knows-best mentality is increasingly outmoded because citizens can easily gain access to information once controlled by governments.” 


Thus, as the mindsets and aspirations of Singaporeans shift, therein lies the question: How can governance change to rope in citizens as partners?


Modes of Public Engagement


Public engagement refers to the involvement of the public in “the practice of ... agenda-setting, decision- making, and policy-forming activities.” It can be categorised into four distinct modes: 


  1. To inform (i.e., provide objective information to the public);


  1. To consult (i.e., gather feedback from the public);


  1. To build consensus (i.e., make decisions with the public); and


  1. To co-create (i.e., partner with the public for collective action).  


To gather ideas and feedback from the public, the Government organises both recurring and one-off consultative channels. These include REACH listening points, where public feedback on policy issues is collected, as well as dialogues like Our Singapore Conversation in 2012 and Forward Singapore in 2022, where the Government sought to understand Singaporeans' values and priorities, thereby aiding to refresh our nation’s social compact.¹⁰ Beyond consultative channels, the Government has also strived to co-create policies with citizens through partnerships.  One of the earliest forms of partnership in Singapore is tripartism, where the National Trades Union Congress (NTU), Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) collaborate to achieve economic success.¹¹ 


With time, the Government also initiated more partnerships with citizens. 2019 saw the creation of Alliances for Action (AfAs), which sought to unite people, private and public sectors to ideate solutions to issues like social sector resilience.¹² Fast forward to 2023, and we see that the Government has launched Youth Panels to engage youths in policy deliberations and empower them to give policy recommendations.¹³


Yet, despite the myriad of government-initiated partnership opportunities available today, it can be hard for citizens to figure out who to approach if they have a fresh idea that they want to work with the Government on. For example, if a resident wants to help convert an unused carpark roof into a community garden, he may not know whether to approach the town council, HDB or NParks. Additionally, he may not know who to speak to in those agencies to take his proposal forward. This is where the SGPO plays a unique role in public engagement: it provides a one-stop platform for the public to explore and propose partnerships.


The Singapore Government Partnerships Office


Launched in January 2024, SGPO formalises the structure for citizen-government partnerships, thus helping to build shared goals and mutual trust between citizens and the Government. At its core, it recognises that Singaporeans want to shape and bolster national efforts, and welcomes such ground-up initiatives.¹⁴


SGPO fulfils three main functions: serving as a first-stop for the public to seek partnerships, facilitating exchange of expertise and practices, as well as sharing inspiring stories of changemakers (see Figure 1). In this Policy Explainer, we will focus on the first function.


Figure 1: Overview of SGPO’s mission¹⁵


Sharing Partnership Opportunities with the Public


True to its function as a one-stop portal, SGPO’s Partners Portal lists existing partnership opportunities by various agencies (see Figure 2).¹⁶ 


For example, one can find links to contribute their expertise under Mentoring.SG, partner schools on programmes through the School-Industry Partnership and share ideas on enhancing Total Defence awareness via the Total Defence Sandbox. As such, SGPO serves as a starting point for the public to navigate to the right agency and leverage existing platforms for partnership.


Figure 2: Partnerships opportunities featured on SGPO’s Partners Portal¹⁷


Figure 3: Funding opportunities featured on SGPO’s Partners Portal¹⁸


To help the public take their partnerships forward, the Partners Portal also features funding opportunities  (see Figure 3). These include all-encompassing government grants like the OurSGGrants portal, as well as sector-specific grants like the Maritime Outreach Fund and HDB Lively Places Fund. Businesses and entrepreneurs can also find links tofunding for commercial ideas, such as social enterprise support by raiSE Singapore. 


Besides partnerships and funding opportunities, SGPO’s Partners Portal also raises awareness of other available opportunities for citizens to volunteer, fundraise, provide feedback on policies and more.


Supporting Other Partnership Proposals


Citizens with partnership ideas not covered by existing platforms can also submit a partnership proposal via SGPO. SGPO defines a partnership proposal “as an idea that you would like to take action on, that can benefit the community and may require support from the Government”.¹⁹


After receiving a partnership proposal, SGPO will assess and channel the proposal to relevant agencies. These agencies are responsible for evaluating and responding to partnership proposals within five to six weeks. Subsequently, if agencies are keen to explore the partnership, support for the project can come in the form of networks, design thinking training, venue sourcing and funding. 


Former Elections Department Building Turned Social Impact Hub


Finally, beyond catalysing citizen-government partnerships, SGPO has also been supporting efforts to house and strengthen partnerships between non-profit organisations. In a partnership between The Majurity Trust, Tote Board and SGPO, the former Elections Department building at 11 Prinsep Link is currently being repurposed into a social base, and is set to begin operations in end-2024.²⁰


Named The Foundry, the collective impact hub will bring together non-profit organisations and social enterprises, facilitating collaboration and the exchange of resources between them. This includes youngcharities who will benefit from networking and collaboration with other non-profits in a common space. The Foundry thus tackles the issue where non-profit organisations “are often siloed, under-resources and lack proximity access to critical support needed to succeed.”²¹


Discussion


Catalysing a Shift in Public Sector Attitudes?


As a relatively new office, much remains to be seen of SGPO’s future direction and role. Nevertheless, as a one-stop agency receiving partnership proposals, it can help gauge public sentiment in an evolving nation. Through empowering citizens to realise their proposals, SGPO can also shape the future of public engagement in Singapore.


SGPO can also take the lead in shifting mindsets across the public sector. As Carol Soon, Senior Research Fellow and Sim Jui Liang, Research Associate at the Institute of Policy Studies put it, “The public sector … needs to be ready for the new mode of engagement that sees it working closely with citizens in creating and implementing solutions to policy problems”.²² Indeed, as increasingly complex challenges arise and external tensions worsen, Singapore needs a united citizenry who can uncover blind spots and contribute to solutions. In this vein, SGPO can catalyse a public sector shift where civil servants and policymakers see citizens as partners of the Government.


Learning From Other Countries’ Public Engagement Efforts


As more vocal and educated populations emerge, public engagement has also gained traction on national agendas globally.


Estonia is one country that has leveraged advances in digital technology to create consultative channels that bring citizens on board policymaking processes. Since2011, Estonia has strengthened the Information System of Draft Acts (EIS), allowing citizens to be notified about upcoming draft laws and to comment on legislative drafts.²³ The EIS platform also features spaces for online discussion and working groups, where civil society organisations can provide feedback as policies materialise. 


Put together, Estonia’s EIS platform is an example of a systematic co-creation process where citizens can offer inputs throughout the policymaking process. As SGPO evolves, it could likewise harness digital technologies, creating a collaborative environment where citizens can provide live inputs and co-create existing initiatives. This will help establish an open policy-making and initiative-shaping process in Singapore. 


Separately in Austria, co-creation and consensus- building take the form of Popular Initiatives, where citizens can introduce bills by attaining at least 100,000 signatures. Such bills will then be submitted to the National Council for deliberation.²⁴ Taking inspiration from Austria’s Popular Initiatives, SGPO could introduce voting mechanisms where citizens vote for partnership proposals drawn up by fellow Singaporeans. By doing so, the public can be actively engaged in collectively assessing partnership proposals.


Ultimately, every country has a different political culture and policymaking process, which shapes their preferred modes of public engagement. Nevertheless, other countries’ innovations can be SGPO’s inspiration. By taking inspiration from abroad and adapting to Singapore’s unique context, SGPO can help reimagine the role of citizens in Singapore’s future.


Conclusion


SGPO’s establishment is a milestone in Singapore’s public engagement efforts. Beyond that, it is also the start of a journey, as Singapore forges a new social compact to tackle emerging challenges. As a nascent agency, there will be concerns about SGPO’s capabilities. However, questions about SGPO’s role and value should be grappled with not only by the Government but also by citizens. Equipped with valuable lived experiences and unique capabilities, it is also up to citizens to shape the value of SGPO for the nation’s future.


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This Policy Explainer was written by members of MAJU. MAJU is an independent, youth-led organisation that focuses on engaging Singaporean youths in a long-term research process to guide them in jointly formulating policy ideas of their own. 


By sharing our unique youth perspectives, MAJU hopes to contribute to the policymaking discourse and future of  Singapore.


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