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Lessons from Singapore’s public service

9 August 2018

News and media


ANZSOG's Executive Master of Public Administration students have the option to study a subject at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.

By Professor Michael Mintrom

Australia and New Zealand are a small part of a big region and our public servants need to be connected to their counterparts across the Indo-Pacific, to build links and be part of the dialogue about the future of government.

ANZSOG’s partnership with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy means that Executive Master of Public Administration students have the option of taking a core subject, Designing Public Policies and Programs, in Singapore. I lead the subject, with significant input from LKY School faculty. 

Register your interest in the 2019 Executive Master of Public Administration here

The course focuses on how policies and programs work as investments, and how their design can be enhanced through comparative analysis.

Participant numbers continue to grow annually, and this year more than 40 of the EMPA cohort joined us in Singapore. 

Given its multiculturalism, strong commitment to continuous and sustainable growth, and the challenges it faces with an ageing population, Singapore offers many insightful points of comparison with Australia and New Zealand. 

During the week-long course, lecture sessions provided overviews of various topics including Singapore’s political and economic history, effective approaches to comparative policy analysis, how Singapore manages its systems of health care delivery, the importance of pragmatism and planning, and how Singapore is positioning itself to maintain a competitive edge in the years ahead. 

The enthusiastic EMPA cohort was able to contribute to discussions and ensure that Australian and New Zealand perspectives were part of the debate.

Participant Tiffany Crawford said the experience was “such an inspiring and rich week of learning in an incredible setting”, while Simon Bell said it was “a fantastic and thought-provoking experience, with hugely informative presentations”.


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We heard insights from Peter Ong, the retired head of the Singapore Civil Service and former Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, who is now chairman of Enterprise Singapore. Mr Ong was generous in reflecting on his experiences and giving advice on how to perform well in leadership positions. He emphasised the importance of creating initiatives that can continue to survive and thrive after you’ve moved on to other things, the importance of building trusting relationships with Ministers, and the need to find ways to maintain personal resilience. 

Digital Transformation

We heard about Singapore’s Smart Nation digital transformation program from Daniel Lim, an executive in the Data Science and Artificial Intelligence Division of the GovTech agency. Over recent years, the Government of Singapore has worked to create a critical mass of information and communication technology specialists who collaborate with others in the public sector to improve service delivery. At GovTech, the goal is to transform Government digital service delivery by taking an “outside-in” view, where users are at the heart of everything they do. Mr Lim offered a variety of examples of how GovTech is growing new capabilities and talent to support digital service delivery and developing the Smart Nation infrastructure and applications.

Design Thinking 

Debbie Ng of Singapore’s ThinkPlace gave a presentation on the use of Design Thinking to support improvements in the design of public policies and the delivery of public services. Debbie is one of the pioneers who brought design thinking to Singapore a decade ago. She spoke of how design thinking can assist in addressing wicked and complex challenges facing public organisations. During her talk, she reviewed the ethnographic research methods at the heart of design thinking and explained how she develops stories and visualisations to support change.

Scenario Planning 

Ms Cheryl Chung, Co-Director, Executive Education at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, and a former executive in the Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Trade and Industry gave an introduction to scenario planning. Ms Chung is a strategic foresight practitioner with considerable experience working with senior decision makers in the Singapore Government to identify trends, understand their policy implications, and develop strategies to prepare for the future. Participants experienced first-hand how scenario planning works, as they engaged in a multi-round simulation game.

Making policy

ANZSOG’s Dean and CEO, Professor Ken Smith, gave a presentation on policymaking in complex environments – focusing on Chris Sarra’s work to promote effective schooling for Aboriginal children in Cherbourg. Opportunities were also provided for participants to develop policy projects using Singapore as a point of comparison.

Throughout the week, participants saw much of Singapore, including a walking tour of the Civic District, where a statue of Sir Stamford Raffles marks the initial location of British settlement on the Singapore River in 1819.