Joseph Nye argues that transactional hard power skills, like organisational ability and political acumen, are just as important as transformational soft power skills, like communications, vision and emotional intelligence. The state must develop a kind of “contextual intelligence” to be able to apply the best combination of hard and so power skills in different situations. It bears consideration what new capabilities the state should invest in to be able to ensure “supply” for the future, both in the ability to deliver on its promises and the ability to shape the direction that it is moving in. In retail parlance, “consumer insights” provide a key to what the “supply” should be. Likewise, for the state to undertake this type of sense-making work, it has become important not only to get data from economists and engineers but also insights from sociologists and anthropologists.
As Singapore approaches fifty years of rapid progress, sense-making would also have to take into account the development of its slower-moving components – in terms of its history, culture and heritage. In August 2011, the Government launched the Singapore Memory Project, a nationwide movement that aimed to capture and document precious moments and memories related to Singapore. Intangible assets such as collective memory are important in maintaining the resilience of our country, as Singapore seeks to become more adept at managing its pace of change. As the state seeks to be more responsive to growing public pressure, how can it work with new or existing providers of public services to split the load? What capability gaps have arisen because of the change in the operating environment? What new capabilities should the state invest in to ensure “supply” for the future?
The rise in the network structure and the expanding influence of non-state actors also presents opportunities for states to facilitate networks of responsibility and build inclusive institutions in place of traditionally more extractive ones. What results is greater experimentation and decentralisation, leading to more robust processes and outcomes. There are weak signals of this happening in Singapore. In 2013, local social enterprise SYINC launched a collaborative, community focused project “Under the Hood” to crowdsource innovative solutions to Singapore’s urban poverty challenges. The initiative brought together a range of organisations from the private and people sector, and acted as a lab to prototype micro-level, local solutions that are scalable, if proven successful. The potential for greater collaboration with such initiatives creates a specific role for the state in the network to identify successful ideas and scale them, leveraging its resources and existing infrastructures to augment the delivery of public services.
Some argue that only looking at increasing the “supply” of the state with limited resources leads to a vicious cycle. One of the reasons for this is that increasing the “supply” of the state can enlarge the issues that come under the purview of the state, thereby creating its own demand. When there is surplus demand for public services, the instinct is for the state to fill the gap. However, this sometimes generates more demand for said services. Therefore, a more sustainable solution might be to find ways to reduce the “demand” on the state that can lead to a more virtuous cycle.
The nature of trust may be different in a networked structure. Even though the quality of public services has improved, there has still been a declining level of trust in governments, institutions and elites. There is a growing sense amongst the middle class that the “system” is rigged in a self-serving way and that it lacks the capacity to deal with emerging challenges.
Trust in a network structure depends on long-term reciprocity of relationships, where there needs to be fair outcomes for stakeholders in these networks, and a perceived “fair” allocation of costs and benefits. Contribution, participation and reciprocity then lead to trust outcomes over time. In this environment, the appropriate scale of decision-making may be smaller, which can favour small states like Singapore, although it bears consideration how we might further localize decision-making to build more trust.
Efforts to invite participation from the network have to be designed with care. In 2006, the New Zealand government undertook a review of their Policing Act. One stage was to open up the act on a wiki for two weeks and the public was able to contribute. However, the parliamentary council office came out to express concerns at the format required and the expertise of the public in being able to meaningfully contribute to drafting legislation. Furthermore, in a low-trust environment, the public may question the role of a preventative government in protecting its citizenry and the potential legality of an infallible prosecutor.
How might the state create more space for network actors to take greater responsibility?
The state often retains the reputational risk and overall accountability for outcomes.
How can the state share responsibility while maintaining the influence over outcomes?
One of the ways that the state can legitimize itself to its constituents might be to facilitate the building of relationships with the people and other sectors to co-provide solutions to problems. There are many well-studied factors that contribute to the demand for the state, for example, the origins of crime, educational failure, indebtedness, family breakdown, psychological trauma, ill health, and others – yet the demand for the state is derivative, that is, people are actually demanding for certain services to be provided, and not necessarily for the state to provide it. This delineation opens up many possibilities for the state to co-opt other partners into the picture, with the state retaining an important role in designing the architecture of the networks in the sector, and facilitating access. In Singapore, the mytransport.sg app functions as a gateway for all things to do with transportation by aggregating available data, facilitating greater access to other non-state partners, and enabling the public to find solutions for themselves.
One of the challenges facing the state, especially in the area of public policy innovation, is how to balance equity and autonomy. A centralised system is often viewed to be more equitable at the expense of autonomy. However, as the governance system gets more complex, there are also hidden forms of inequity in a centralised system, like the difficulty
in navigating the system. Decentralised service provision at the hyper-local level can actually help to reduce this inequity. For example, the emergence of chartered schools is a good example of how this decentralised approach worked in practice because the focus was on outcomes, rather than the process. This represents a shift in the role of the state from ensuring equity in process to equity in outcomes.