Report on Public Sector Outcomes 2022

On Wednesday 7 Dec 2022, I was interviewed by Mediacorp Channel 8 primetime headline news (in Mandarin) for the "Report on Public Sector Outcomes 2022" (RPSO) released on the same day. The broadcaster asked for my overall assessment of the report card, the areas where the public sector can do better, and what are the domains that future evaluation should encompass.

Unlike the Population Census, the key findings in the biennial report are not extensively debated, although they do cover the critical performance indicators, such as access to healthcare services, pre-school education, and median income. Singapore has done well in most areas, notwithstanding the global headwinds in the last 2 years.

That said, an area(s) that would be of interest to policymakers and Singaporeans alike in future reporting concerns the subjective indicators of wellbeing, such as collective happiness, sense of cohesion, and perceived optimism - these measures, no doubt considered less objective by conventional evaluation benchmarks, are equally if not more important as the measurable, objective ones. Importantly subjective indicators encapsulate our daily lived experiences, which are critical aspects of wellbeing. Emerging techniques and proxy measures such as sentiment analyses and time-use can capture these measures to provide a complementary perspective to public sector performance.

Community Advisory panel report on neighbourhood noise management

Establishing a set of social norms to regulate neighbourhood noise seems straight forward enough. In early 2022, the Community Advisory Panel (CAP) was set up by the Municipal Services Office (MSO) at the Ministry of National Development to address the raising number of complaints on this area.

The volunteer panel includes Dr William Wan (Chairman), Dr Foo Fung Fong, Prof Gan Woon-Seng, Mr Isman Bin Abdul Rahman, Ms Lela Kaur, Mr Raymond Poh, Dr Sathish S/O Sritharan, Ms Susan Ng, and myself. We were asked to fact-find, and recommend the necessary policy changes and interventions to tackle the problem.

After surveying over 4,400 respondents, 11 focus group discussions, and half dozen meetings with stakeholders in government (eg Community Mediation Centre, Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals) and ground-up associations (e.g., MCST), it is clear that neighbourhood noise is a subjective and complex issue - it is also a manifestation of Singapore's diverse social fabric, and the divergence in lifestyles, rituals, and values.

The list of policy recommendations by CAP was released yesterday (19 Nov 2022) at the closing dialogue. Among the key items include:

1. Forge a consensus and a set of norms on what is (un)acceptable neighbourhood noise. We hope the norms will serve as a social compact among residents in Singapore

2. Extending quiet hours from 10.30pm-7am to 10pm-8am

3. Set up dedicated agency in government to address noise related nuisance, harassments, and disputes; produce a well-defined resolution process that includes making mediation mandatory; and empower the agency to enforce and penalise offenders

4. Deep dive and define an objective auditory threshold that is considered unacceptable

The list of recommendations to government represents the FIRST stage of CAP's work, and it is principally centered around managing noise nuisance from proximal neighbours (e.g., resident next door), as opposed to congregational noise (e.g., noise from the playground, void deck, carparks).

For those who feel that not enough is done to address congregational noise, be reassured that the work is but the first phase of review. Amendment to quiet hours is not insignificant change because it has material impact to neighbourhood businesses and other activities.

On behalf of CAP, I like to thank SMS Sim Ann and the MSO Secretariat for their support in the past 8 months.

What is the "profile" of your neighbourhood? Do you fit in?

Yes, it matters more than you think. And quite often, in an opposite way that you would imagine. The essence can be summarised in figures 1a and 1c. The results from Singapore are no different from the rest of the world: middle-upper class neighbourhoods provide a psychological buffer to the vulnerable families; economically needy individuals living in these neighbourhoods feel protected as far as their quality of life is concerned. This privileged environment however, also amplified class consciousness among the vulnerable individuals by means of social comparisons with their privileged neighbours; the disadvantaged feel the pinch in class differentiation.

This is the challenge we face today. How to encourage social mixing in a diverse neighbourhood, but also ensure that the interaction is meaningful.

Some of our built features can make a difference, but that will be a story for another day...

This article is not possible without the generous support of Prof Tan Soo Jiuan and Prof Siok Kuan Tambyah, both from the NUS Biz School. I am grateful for their support, always.

Leong, C.H., Tan, S.J., Minton, E.A., & Tambyah, S.K. (2021). Economic hardship and neighbourhood diversity: Influences on consumer well-being. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 55(4), 1226-1248 (IF: 1.733).

$2.27 million for five-year SUSS study into how Singaporeans use their time

The Straits Times

Ng Wei Kai

SINGAPORE - Researchers from the Singapore University of the Social Sciences (SUSS) will be conducting a five-year study into how Singaporeans use their time.

The project will involve 1,000 families or about 3,000 individual participants, SUSS said at a funding presentation ceremony on Monday (Aug 16).

SUSS will seek to understand how Singaporeans' routines and rituals have been changed by the pandemic and its restrictions on social activity and how caregiving arrangements for the young and old are evolving.

Living with Covid-19 means having to adjust our lives to the changes that come with it - especially regarding work and the economy. In my chat with Dr Daniel Seah, lecturer at SUSS School of Law, we talked about self-reliance for the future generation as they enter new phases of life during this tough time.

This is part of the SUSS podcast series, Future Social, that explores issues which are rapidly and profoundly changing our lives on the social, cultural and economic fronts.

Have a listen and let me know what you think!

#SUSS #SUSSpodcast