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2013 ugust a / y l u j

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Massive amounts of data bursting forth from different sources and swirling around us at top speed – how can we harness Big Data for public service? P.8

COver stOrY 08

How can we harness it to better serve the public?


FeatUres 05


riding The big daTa Wave

WalK your Way To a Friendlier CiTy “Walkable” cities make for stronger social bonds, argues urbanist Sanjeev Sanyal


The (he)arT oF designing poliCies How public officers are applying design thinking in their work


sTars in The maKing Officers show off their singing chops for the nation



your FaCebooK Friends

leTTers To a Young Public officer Keep innovaTing It keeps your work exciting, says HDB’s Senior Advisor Lau Joo Ming

The Unsung Heroes behind PUB’s social media engagement efforts


hIGhlIGhts 04

THinking aloud Turning Failures around Dr Low Lee Yong on how he transforms his mistakes into success

The sea is his oysTer Challenge follows Biodiversity Manager Collin Tong on his marine adventures



a cuPPa WiTH… “We have To build TrusT in The Team.” Former Navy chief Chew Men Leong on leading PUB

neWs From The serviCe


2013 July/August


Grab a free MRT ride to town and exit before 7.45am (till June 2014).

Need more motivation to wake up early? Incentives for Singapore’s Commuters (Insinc) gives you cash for skipping rush hour trains.

For drivers, leave before the ERP gantries start working, usually before 7.30am. For health enthusiasts, join HPB’s “Sunrise in the City” workouts from 7.30am-8.30am. Activities such as yoga and jogging are available four days a week at various locations around town.



…while you save money and get f it. Here’s how:

Things to do all year round without spending a cent: ! FREE

pages of street-smart tips

17-24 Life’s not easy, but we’re here to help. From surviving peak hour travel to fighting off coldcallers or even creating the right impression at work, this pullout will teach you how to navigate the choppy waters of life, without being eaten by sharks.

Singapore Really Really Free Market: At this Sunday market, everything is free! Some people set up booths giving away books and other items, while others offer services such as free massages.

Now that there’s free admission to the National Museums and Heritage Institutions for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents, it’s time to get in touch with your artsy side.

PERFECT THE ART OF NEGOTIATION Ever wondered how to get the best deal at the market? Experts teach you how.

On the jOb

vIeWPOInts 02

inbox Your views on the May/Jun issue of Challenge


Your saY hoW Can eduCaTion beTTer prepare our Children For a meaningFul liFe?


level uP mending The gen gap How to deal with intergenerational tensions


THe big idea WhaT a “novel” idea! Need more empathy in your life? Try reading fiction

Readers share their ideas

rest & relax



THe cHallenge PullouT Wise up! 8 pages of street-smart tips



life.sTYle Tiong bahru Tales Challenge unearths a different side of this local heritage gem


THe irreverenT lasT Page CulTivaTing CelebriTies There’s plenty of star power in Challenge’s very own orchidarium

Learn about health, the arts or even investment through workshops and talks at public libraries. Many libraries also hold storytelling and craft sessions for children.


This gorgeous truck is worth every cent. But I just can’t pay your price.

You take the seeds and I’ll take the fruit. Sounds like a good deal?

Disarming Empathy

Expand the Pie

Be nice. Stay committed to your goal, but show the other party that you understand their difficulties.

Consider many related issues together. Be flexible – try giving up what’s less important to you in return for what you really want.

When FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss wanted to buy a truck, he offered a price that was low but not impossible to meet. The salesman lowered the price slightly but Voss didn’t budge. While praising the truck for being worth every cent, he asserted that he couldn’t afford it. The salesman finally took Voss’s original offer.

Cathy Tinsley, who teaches negotiation at Georgetown University, needed to buy the last four pumpkins from a farmer, who only wanted to sell her two. The reason? The farmer needed pumpkin seeds for next year’s harvest. Since Cathy only needed the flesh, they cut up the fruits and parted happily.



Visit the Botanic Gardens not just for the flora, but also to enjoy the free tours and concerts held throughout the year.

Spend a Sunday at the Esplanade, and relax to its monthly “Beautiful Sunday” performances by local music groups.


Hello Getting a buzz from innovation I remember in the early days of Amazon, my techie Dad and I would gush over how “clever” the site was, because it could recommend products based on what other buyers of the item you were viewing had also purchased. Some years later, when working for an e-commerce website, IT advances once again left me amazed. We could customise what each shopper sees to show stuff that he or she would more likely want, based on his/her profile. We could also advise sellers on what items to stock up, not just based on actual sales, but also on what buyers were searching for. I always get a buzz from learning about such innovative initiatives and that ’s why this issue’s cover story, Riding the Big Data Wave, personally excites me. The story delves into how the trend of applying large amounts of data is now gaining momentum far beyond the confines of e-commerce. From catching errant restaurants which clog up drains with grease to planning public transport capacity, Big Data is helping governments globally deliver better public services. In Letters to a Young Public Off icer, Housing and Development Board Senior Advisor Lau Joo Ming talks about innovations in a different industry – building and construction. I can’t wait for the day when the silent breaker that uses microwave technology to remove floor tiles becomes a reality. No more migraine-inducing drilling!

But to me, innovation is about more than new technologies. It’s also about having a mindset of being open to different points of view.

From catching errant restaurants which clog up drains with grease to planning public transport capacity, Big Data is helping governments globally deliver better public services. That ’s why a seemingly mundane, age-old activity like walking could actually facilitate innovation. According to the economist and environmentalist Sanjeev Sanyal in Walk Your Way to a Friendlier City, ensuring that Singapore remains one of the world’s most walkable cities can help create a more egalitarian society. As people from all walks of life (pun intended) interact along our streets, shared experiences and relationships help us to understand one another better. So as Singapore matures, it ’s nice that my buzz is coming not only from tech advances, but also from socially driven ideas. Happy reading!


Tan Hui Min

E 2013 MAY / JUN


PS21 Office, Public Service Division, Prime Minister’s Office

100 High Street, #07-01 The Treasury Singapore 179434 Email : Web :

For enquiries or feedback on Challenge, please write to the Challenge Editorial Team at Editorial Advisors

Keith Tan, Tay Choon Hong & Charlene Han Editor

Tan Hui Min

Assistant Editors

Kaira Peh & Christopher Teo Editorial Assistant

Daphne Liew

Tuber Productions Pte Ltd

298 River Valley Road Level 2 Singapore 238339 Tel : 6836-4030 Fax : 6836-4029 Email : Web :


INBOX INBOX I would like to commend the team for publishing yet another interesting issue of Challenge. I enjoyed reading this

issue as much as I did the previous one (the one with the eye-catching Lego cover). I find the content relevant,


A new library is leading the way P.6

how to Issue

How to tell a good story

Use authentic stories from the ground P.8

How to champion the man in the street Two advocates share their experiences P.10

How to deliver “wow” through service It’s about creating a service culture P.12

How to read things right

Good data and analysis are needed P.14

How to “do first, talk later” Clean up the turf issues P.15

How to make life simpler

lab va i a PLUS: ow ad PracticalN tips P for officers n i o Collaborate as a whole government P.16

I have to say that the Challenge issues are really worth a read!

Keep up the great work!

Keep the awesome work going!

Shahreen Aman

Rendy Chen




insightful and easy to read. I particularly liked the article about the makeover of finance officers and hope to share this during our meeting’s check-in exercise.

How to co-create



Lee Han Shih Project Director

Liew Wei Ping



Bridgette See

Contributing Editor

Chen Jingting Sub-editor

Bernice Tang Staff Writer

Siti Maziah Masramli Cont ributors

Dai J.Y., Jamie Ee, Richard Hartung & Wong Sher Maine

I’ve seen past issues of Challenge but this is the best so far.

The design is appealing with lots of illustrations and the articles reach out to the millennials, especially the Letter by Dr Tan Chin Nam on finding meaning in our work and the article on finance officers. I also like the service tips from the article featuring MOM’s Irwan Awang.

Ng Ling Ling RP


Tay Qiao Wei


Art Director


Yip Siew Fei

Graphic Designers

Ng Shi Wei & Ryan Ong Cont ributing Photog raphers

Exclusively on Challenge Online at

Alecia Neo ( John Heng ( Justin Loh ( Norman Ng ( Challenge is published bimonthly by Tuber Productions Pte Ltd (Registration No: 200703697K) for PS21 Office, Public Service Division, Prime Minister’s Office. Copyright of the materials contained in this magazine belongs to PS21 Office. Nothing in here shall be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written consent of PS21 Office. Views expressed in this magazine are not necessarily those of PS21 Office or Tuber Productions Pte Ltd and no liabilities shall be attached there to. All rights reserved. All information correct at time of printing. Printed by KHL Printing Co Pte Ltd (Registration No: 197801823M) 57 Loyang Drive Singapore 508968

Duck and Cover

Free MRT Rides for Early Birds Drastic changes happen across Singapore as the free train travel to the city kicks off.

You are Creative Go Ahead, Daydream! A few minutes of daydreaming may just be the hack you need to work better and faster.

Duck and Cover Jonson Quek Gets Promoted Can a fortune teller really read your future? Jonson finds out.

You are Creative Put a Green Plant on Your Desk And make sure you see it. It’s going to be all good.

To scan QR codes, please download any free QR code reader app available on iTunes Store and Google Play.

Your Say03 Special

How can education better prepare our children for a meaningful life? We invited readers to share their ideas.

Reduce spoon-feeding! We cannot inculcate a love for learning when “learning” means getting the answer from the teachers or parents immediately. Instead, parents and educators should be guiding. What truly matters, then, is the process, not the goal. Here’s an example: What and what makes 2? Most people have been structured to say 1+1=2. But is that it? It’s not! 2+0 is also 2. And so is 2×1, 4-2, 21, 20-18, 98/49, and so on! If we can produce the same result, with no answers being said as wrong, we would be inculcating a love for learning, freedom of expression and thinking out of the box.

L ee McK SPS


Congratulations, Lee! Thanks for sharing your suggestions with us. We’re sending you a $100 board games voucher from Paradigm Inf initum! What better way to cultivate a love for learning than to make it fun with games?

Education should be looked at holistically: 40% should be taught at school, while the balance 60% should be informal education, comprising home learning and social learning through the media, friends and religious institutions. Formal education teaches literacy skills and instils in the child academic k nowledge, discipline, respect for authority and accountability for one’s academic progress. Informal education helps the child to develop emotionally and spiritually, and sets the foundation for his/her moral and ethica l at tit udes. It is largely through this route of learning that a child gains his/ her vital life skills.

Sharon Teng NLB

The education system should offer diverse definitions of success. Specifically, education should nurture children’s innate talents and strengths, rather than penalise them for their natural shortcomings. Finally, children should be taught that pursuing one’s passions and the translation of knowledge into practical application need not be mutually exclusive.

Jack Huang MND

There was a time when neighbour shared delicacies with neighbour during festive occasions. Now, we live in a time when we don’t even know our next-door neighbour. Are the values of our forefathers being passed on to the young ones? To borrow a quote from Martin Luther K ing Jr.: “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

Thinagaran S K SPF

Editor’s Note: We’re overwhelmed by the many passionate responses to this issue’s Your Say. Thank you for your enthusiasm! Check out for more entries.

Ever Ever dreamt dreamt of of being being the the next next superstar superstar or or best-selling best-selling author? author? If If you you could could change change jobs jobs for for aa day, day, what what would would you you want want to to do? do? Tell us at The best entry will win an attractive prize worth up to All other published entries will win book vouchers worth each. Please include your name, agency email address, agency and contact number.



All entries should reach us by

August 7, 2013.

04 Highlights


Coming up...

from the

SERViCE terms & conditions exhiBition While the phrase “terms and conditions” conveys a sense of rigidity, when taken apart the words could also mean fluidity and continuous modification. This exhibition features creations of Arab artists who work across different geographical, physical and cultural contexts, making it difficult to pin them down to specific identities. Held from June 28 to September 8 at the Singapore Art Museum.

Public officers celebrating Public Service Week at the Istana.


#Awesome is “my boss who was passionate about developing the best in his subordinates” and “my colleagues for the friendship and bonds we share”. These are just snippets that officers shared and celebrated on Cube, the Public Service social intranet, during Public Service Week (PSW ). We affirmed colleagues for their hard work and achievements at the Excellence in Public Service Awards and rejoiced in the meaningful work we do during PSW Observance Ceremonies. Many of us also took part in the Learning Festival activities. Serving the nation and proud of it indeed!

iP Week @ sG 2013 The 2nd annual Intellectual Property (IP) fiesta is back! From August 26 to 30, 600-800 industry leaders, top names in IP and chief IP judges from across the world will gather here to share how businesses, governments and professionals could practise the smart use of IP. Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean will be the guest of honour opening IP Week @ SG’s anchor event, the 4th Global Forum on IP, on August 27.


As part of its drive to promote good practices in Intellectual Property (IP) Management, the Intellectual Property Office of S ingapore held the IP Management Communit y of Pr a c t i c e ( I P M CoP) Forum 2013 on April 25, in conjunction with World IP Day on April 26. More than 120 participants from the private and public sectors attended the event, where the guest of honour, Dr Beh Swan Gin, Permanent Secretary for Law, presented Appreciation Awards to private organisations for their support and contributions to the IPM CoP.

PUB’s “What’s YoUr take?” comPetition To celebrate its 50th anniversary, PUB, Singapore’s national water agency, is organising “My Take on Water” – a nationwide photography competition. Entries can be in the form of stills (photographs, drawings, paintings, digital ar t) or motions (videos, short films, animations). Submission closes July 26 and online voting ends August 9. Send in your entries now and stand to win attractive cash prizes!

Walk your way to a friendlier city Environmentalist and economist Sanjeev Sanyal says walking, the oldest mode of getting around, could lead to a more inclusive society in the 21st century. Text by Chen


Photos by Justin


The Train is packed, bu T the passengers, squashed together with boxes snug between their knees, don’t seem to notice – they are too engrossed in a game of bridge. elsewhere, other riders have found another way to have fun, singing and playing instruments. These sights, quite unimaginable in singapore, are common in the Mumbai suburban railway, which carries over 7 million passengers from all types of socio-economic class every day. “Whether you’re rich or poor, you’re forced to use the [Mumbai subway] because it’s the fastest way to get from point a to b,” said economist and environmentalist, Mr sanjeev sanyal at a recent talk organised by the centre for Liveable cities. it is his proposition that as a result of such constant interaction between its rich and poor, Mumbai, despite the massive wealth disparities, is one of the most egalitarian cities in the world. named a “Young Global Leader” in 2010 by the World economic Forum, Mr sanyal is founder and president of the sustainable planet institute, a think tank and innovation centre based in new delhi. born in calcutta, he now lives in singapore, where he is a global strategist at deutsche bank. author of Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India’s Geography and The Indian Renaissance: India’s Rise after a Thousand Years of Decline, Mr sanyal has also worked closely with officials worldwide on urban planning. Most city planners, he tells Challenge, assume that a rapidly growing city must first plan the roads for cars and then create the pedestrian network. he challenged that assumption: “Technology will keep changing the [types] of transport [we have] but so long as cities are built for people, they will walk in them.”

What’s “walkability”?

so what does the Mumbai train system have to do with the “walkability” of the city? a “walkable” city is one where walking is an important, if not the dominant, mode of transport for the average citi-

zen, said Mr sanyal. “Walkability” is not just about the act of walking itself because obviously, you would need to go much longer distances than you could walk. That’s where public transport matters. “every form of public transport is based on walking, because the first and last miles have to be walked, unless you’re very lucky and have a bus [or train] stop right in front of your door. so designing [a city] for public transport … is essentially about designing for walking,” he said. in other words, think of walking as the flexible backbone of a system of getting around a city – it can be “mixed and matched” with various modes of public

transport to enable people to navigate the city effectively. Mr sanyal cited new York as another example of how, in his opinion, “walkability” has helped to foster relations between the haves and have-nots. “it is a city where both the rich and the poor walk on the same sidewalks and stroll through central park. That is why new York has a very egalitarian and inclusive feel, despite having very high income inequality.”

Measuring “walkability”

Mumbai and new York are two of about 20 cities he has walked through extensively for the past five years. based on his experience, he rated these cities using his own “Walkability index”.

Feature07 and public transport connectedness has paid off handsomely. A high level of overall street safety also makes Singapore one of the most “walkable” cities in the world. A minor blight on Singapore’s stellar report card is the “horrid” taxi system. “The biggest problem for walking in Singapore is not the heat or the sweating, but the rain. Whenever it rains, the taxi system breaks down,” he said. Mr Sanyal hopes that Singapore would consider boosting cycling as a more viable mode of transport. He cycles from his home at Tanjong Rhu to work at One Raffles Quay, passing by Gardens by the Bay and the Marina Barrage.

A “walkable” city is one where walking is an important, if not the dominant, mode of transport for the average citizen.

The index looks at a variety of factors – pedestrian infrastructure (pavements, shades, signage); the effectiveness of connecting walking with other modes of transport (buses, trains, bicycles); amenities like cafes and parks that encourage interaction; and safety. “Walkability” is more than creating more sidewalks, he emphasised. What about weather? Shouldn’t that be an important consideration in the “Walkability Index”? Not to Mr Sanyal, who explained wryly: “Every city I go to, everybody who lives there says, ‘The weather is not conducive for walking.’ In Singapore, it’s too hot and humid… In London, it’s always drizzling. So I’d just assume

that every city is equally ‘unwalkable’ from the weather perspective.” The top spot on his list belongs to Zurich, thanks to its excellent tram and train network, and its free bicycle rental system that makes it a breeze to cruise around the city (for more information about other cities on his list, listen to his speech at

How does Singapore fare?

Singapore comes in at a close second. Mr Sanyal credited the high ranking to an “intelligent urban policy that uses both carrots and sticks”. While the high prices of cars have kept car ownership “very low” for a country with Singapore’s per capita level, the country’s heavy investment in pedestrian infrastructure

He was also critical of the closing of the Orchard-Patterson pedestrian crossing to ease car traffic. Now pedestrians wanting to cross the two roads would have to look for the underpass at the Ion Orchard shopping mall and find the Ion-Patterson link. This can be a challenge, given the lack of signage. “I’m a reasonably good walker and I know my way around. It still took me 4.5 minutes to get to the other side,” he said. “Why should one walking be spending that 4.5 minutes [going] up and down? If anybody should have to do it, [it is those] in the air-conditioned cars!” He stands firmly by his belief that ensuring “walkability” – building the city for people, not cars – is the way to go in planning successful cities. “I keep telling people that a sign of prosperity is not that the poor drive around in Ferraris, but that the rich walk. Thankfully, I think that message is getting through to some cities.”

The value of walking Walking, oddly enough, could also be an economic generator. The personal interactions in places such as cafes and parks encourage exchange of ideas and creativity, build trust among people and form communities. “The street cafes of Paris, New York’s Central Park and the pubs of London have generated more great ideas than all the libraries and labs in the world,” said Mr Sanyal.

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Cover Story09

RiDing the

Big Data Wave

In a single minute, 100,000 tweets are produced, 2 million searches on Google are made and more than 680,000 pieces of Facebook content are posted. How can we make sense of this staggering amount of data and put it to good use? Text by

Richard Hartung

IMAGINE THIS: WALKING ALoNG North Bridge Road on your way home from work, you get an SMS from your bank, offering a 20% discount on an anniversary bouquet at a flower shop 50 metres ahead. Having forgotten that it was your wedding anniversary, you quickly pop in to pick up the bouquet.

The real question, though, is how the companies had any idea that it was your wedding anniversary or that you were going to be near Pacific Place in Hong Kong. Was it simply an overzealous employee checking on you? or was it your wife’s musing on Facebook about what you were going to get her for your anniversary?

Here’s another scenario: on your way to the airport the next morning to board your flight to Hong Kong, you get an offer from the airline for a restaurant at Pacific Place shopping mall. Since you’re attending a conference at the Shangri-La Hotel right next to Pacific Place, it’s quite tempting.

The real answer is Big Data. Newfound power in computing means companies are using their own data and sometimes pulling in everything, from GPS location data on your phone to the public postings on your Facebook wall, to find out more about you.

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Big what?

Big Data consists of the three “Vs” – Volume, Velocity and Variety. Volume means that there is an incredible amount of data. Velocity means it’s whizzing by all the time, everywhere, from mobile phone chats and Google searches to CCTV cameras and companies churning out financial records. And variety means it ranges from structured data like tables that the Singapore Department of Statistics produces or financial reports, to unstructured data like Facebook musings and Twitter posts. In fact, technology news portal ZDNet reported in 2012 that as much as 90% of the data in the world today was created in the last couple of years alone. Rapid-fire advances in technology also enable people to use Big Data like never before. Software developer TIBCO Asia’s Chief Technology Officer Kevin Pool told Challenge that in the past, anyone who wanted to use their organisation’s vast amount of data usually had to go to a business intelligence analyst and wait a month. Now, cheaper memory chips and better software mean the average

person gets the answers he needs by himself almost instantly.

The impact on our lives

The big deal about Big Data, Open Knowledge Foundation Founder Rufus Pollock told The Guardian, is “the mass democratisation of access, storage and processing of data. What matters is having the data that helps us solve a problem or address the question we have.” Because of that, Big Data has the power to change how governments, businesses and even individuals go about their daily lives. Big Data’s ability to identify patterns and anomalies in an analysis of a large amount of data means that one can make predictions of wrongdoings and take preventive action. For example, using Big Data for fraud detection, tax collectors in the US would be able to spot anomalies more easily, making those considering improper tax filings think twice. Elsewhere on the globe, researchers from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Canada have tapped Big Data to detect hospitalacquired infections in premature infants

Big Data’s ability to identify patterns and anomalies in an analysis of a large amount of data means that one can make predictions of wrongdoings and take preventive action.

Boosting security with real-time information The US Department of Energy (DOE) needed to detect, locate and track potential threats to secure its border areas. So it first set up an elaborate sensing system that could collect huge amounts of acoustic data along the border areas. This deluge of data is fed into a programme that scans at hyperspeed and in real-time – it “listens” out for selected key sounds that could indicate human presence. The system is able to analyse 275Mbit of data (about 100 MP3 songs) in a fraction of a second; in contrast, humans would require hours to do the same. Now, the US border security staff use the results of the Big Data analysis, delivered to them on their computers in real-time, to decide how to respond to a threat.

Cover Story 11

A plAnEt that revolves around Big Data To find out more about daily commuting behaviours in Singapore, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) rolled out the Planning for Land Transport Network (PLANET) project in 2010. One of the largest government data warehouses in Singapore, PLANET gives the LTA easy and timely access to historical and real-time data captured from more than 12 million public transport transactions every day. The data collected is then analysed and used to improve the commuting experience. For instance, PLANET is used to plan the recently launched Bus Service Enhancement Programme. The result – 180 new buses have been deployed to reduce crowding on buses and increase the frequency of bus services along heavy transport corridors.

early. While machines monitoring the babies can detect subtle changes in body temperature, heart rate or blood pressure, the data stream is too rapid and abundant for humans to process quickly. Hence infections go undetected until they are life-threatening. Researchers have developed algorithms to analyse the Big Data in real-time so infections can be detected 24 hours before symptoms become visible. Big Data can also boost the overall efficiency of government operations. In New York, the Department of En-

vironmental Protection wanted to crack down on restaurants that were illegally dumping cooking oil into sewers. In the past, the New York Times reported, the health department would have sent inspectors to restaurants, hoping to catch the culprits in the act. Recently, they did it the smarter and quicker way – the city’s Office of Policy and Strategic P lanning, “a geek squad of civic-minded number-crunchers”, unearthed records of local restaurants with a carting service to remove their grease. Matching restaurants that did not have a carter with geo-spatial data

on the sewers, public officers informed inspectors of the statistically likely suspects. The success rate of catching the culprits was 95% and the problem was solved.

Big Data in Singapore

In this country, Big Data is already starting to improve service delivery. The National Environment Agency (NEA) is using Big Data to fight dengue. It pulls in data from dengue cases, public feedback, mosquito inspections, mosquito virus serotypes and other















Big Data can be useful, but only if we know how to convert it into ‘actionable information’ so we can see what to look for. sources for analysis. Making use of geographical information systems to identify high-risk areas, NEA is able to prioritise places for checks. Along with sharing its risk assessment with other government agencies to coordinate dengue control efforts, NEA provides information to the public at the national dengue website and via social media. The agency also puts up notices at high-risk zones. On the transport front, the SingaporeMIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) compared weather data and 830 million GPS records of 80 million taxi rides to find out why it’s so hard to get a taxi on rainy days. The findings: cab drivers pull to the side of the road when it rains for fear of getting into accidents – they could have to pay about $1,000 because of a taxi company policy. This insight could shape policy and make a difference to public transport here.

Going big

While in the past only people like statisticians and programmers with PhDs might have been able to access all that data, more powerful software means that the ordinary public service officer, company employee or even the man in the street can now use Big Data. In Singapore, government-wide initiatives are already underway to turn Big Data into something that public officers, from policymakers to front-line staff, can actually use. “Big Data can be useful, but only if we know how to convert it into ‘actionable information’ so we can see what to look for,” SMART CEO Rohan Abeyaratne told Challenge. “Researchers at SMART are working together with public agencies to do just this in the domain of transportation. The goal is to solve real world traffic and crowding problems.”



To make sure Singapore has the resources it needs, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) is seeding early adoption of analytics in key industry sectors, formulating data policies, and collaborating with universities and polytechnics to roll out programmes that will ensure there are enough people with the right skills to work on Big Data. It is also developing a Government Business Analytics Programme to boost public sector capabilities in data analytics. A few agencies are in the early stages of training their staff not just to use the software correctly, but also to collect the right type of data – there’s such a massive amount out there that you need to identify and select those you need – and know the right patterns to look out for i n t h e a n a l y s i s s t a ge. O n l y t h e n w i l l t h e a n a l y s i s b e u s e f u l ( To find out more, check out “How to

Cover Story 13

Tackling privacy woes Obviously, with the Big Data trend, concerns regarding how data about individuals is collected and used need to be addressed.

Read Things Right” in our May/June 2013 issue).

Kate Crawford in a recent Harvard Business Review blog entry.

Similarly, in the private sector, DBS Bank’s Managing Director Ed Pinto said the goal is not to give staff data but to give them useful information. “Everything we put out to an operations or marketing person is in a form that tells them an action or gives them a measurement. There are tools they can use.”

With all that data floating around, another risk is data privacy (see sidebar). And as Mr Pool said, consumers can find it “kind of spooky” when a company or government uses all that data.

Risky business?

Despite the benefits, Big Data does come with risks, such as drawing the wrong conclusions from data analytics. One example is Google Flu Trends, which significantly overestimated flu levels in the US during the winter season this year. If public health officials had over ly relied on the Google data, misallocation of public resources could have resulted, said Microsoft Research’s Principal Researcher

While privacy protection is clearly important, people seem to accept usage of their data better if it benefits them, such as in the case of public safety, said Mr Pool. If a bomb goes off and law enforcement can instantly access information from in-store cameras, mobile phones and license plate registrations, it may be easier to catch the culprit. There may be risks, but Big Data can enable us to do our job better. Finding the tools to access data, turning it into action and using it the right way will ensure every public officer rides the Big Data wave to improve public services.

Besides the recent passing of the new Personal Data Protection Act, which aims to prevent private companies from misusing consumers’ information, the Public Service also needs to adhere to a set of rules when managing public data. Officers can check out the rules in the IT Management section of the IM on the Government intranet. For the individual, the Personal Data Protection Commission, in charge of educational and outreach efforts to encourage data protection, has some tips: • Think before you give your personal data to anyone. Look at website privacy notices for information on why your data is needed and how it would be disclosed to third parties. • Destroy any document with your personal details before you bin it. For instance, you can shred it first. • Tweak your browser settings if you don’t want to be tracked. Visit for more tips on how you can better protect your data.

The (HE)ART of Designing Policies PS21 Off ice has a new unit – The Human Experience Lab (THE Lab) – working with agencies to bring citizen perspectives into the design of public policies and services. Text by Siti

Maziah Masramli

If you thInk that a sure-fire way to foster relationships among residents in a community is to organise big events with door gifts and goodie bags, think again. In fact, the bigger the event, the tougher it may be for citizens to get to know each other and build genuine connections. after the events end, they are back to being strangers again. This was one of the insights that public officers working on Project Love Punggol – which aimed to create a

living experience that residents can take pride in – surfaced after conducting ethnographic interviews with the citizens. Project members met with a wide range of residents to hear their stories and understand what it takes for them to feel attached to the community. hearing first-hand from citizens and using design thinking, which begins with understanding who you are designing for, has changed how Deputy Director (Community & outreach) Brandon Low from the

Feature 15

National Environment Agency (NEA) approaches issues at work. In design thinking, officers listen attentively to citizens with an open mind. These conversations help them to draw out citizens’ underlying needs, which are often unspoken.

to policy and service design needs to be changed to one that considers the very different needs and aspirations of citizens today. “The way we have been working in the past where we design for the average citizen will no longer suffice,” says Mr Hue.

motivations for taking the initiative for their environment.

As part of the Project, Mr Low and a team of officers from NEA, People’s Association and the Housing and Development Board spent hours having small group conversations in residents’ homes, which may occur even late at night. This is a far cry from tradition, where public officers tend to rely on desktop research, statistics and focus group discussions to discover citizens’ needs. With these conventional methods, officers could be biased with answers they already have and fixed ideas of what citizens need. The result of this – they may end up not recognising the real issue, much less address it.

Instead of grouping Punggol residents according to housing type or demographics, THE Lab characterised

Heart at work with citizens

“Design thinking provides a different perspective by allowing us to hear from our audience first, rather than telling them what we want,” says Mr Low.

Team members from NEA and THE Lab presenting low-resolution prototypes made for residents in Punggol.

Lending a hand to officers working on the Project is THE Lab at the Public Service Division, PS21 Office. The team uses design thinking to help agencies deliver – as their name suggests – more human-centred solutions in public policies and services. The team comprises Design Leads Debbie Ng, Andy Hue, Jason Leow and Leon Voon, and Communications Designer Sheriza Faisal. Drawn from diverse backgrounds such as engineering, psychology and economics, these experienced design practitioners share a passion and belief in the potential of design to improve public services.

Different strokes for different folks

One of the shifts THE Lab is nudging public agencies to make – a onesize-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach

Design thinking provides a different perspective by allowing us to hear from our audience first, rather than telling them what we want. the different types of core needs and behaviours of residents into six “personas”. Grouping residents this way helps public officers better understand how to engage with different resident “types”. The “Mr Privy” persona, for example, values his privacy, and would most likely prefer email communication to home visitations. The Project was originally initiated to clean up a problem Punggol residents faced – the new town was plagued with littering and dog waste in common spaces. To get to the root of the issue, officers had to understand the residents’ behaviour, sense of pride, and

“I get a better sense of the feelings that citizens have, and whether any outreach programme we plan to roll out will be effective,” says Mr Low. Recognising that citizens increasingly want a greater stake in shaping their future and Singapore’s progress, THE Lab aims to shift public officers’ mindset from a “we know best” attitude to one of co-creating and co-designing with citizens. One way to invol ve citiz ens more is to create simple low-cost prototypes to get quick feedback. For example, to help Punggol residents better visualise mobile apps and websites for their community, the officers created cardboard models of a smartphone and laptop. Attached to the models are sheets of paper representing features of the apps and websites. Residents can then “modify” the features easily on the spot. The prototyping and testing process is repeated until a final solution is reached. “Prototyping allows us to make mistakes, and fail fast and early, rather than fall flat on our faces later,” quips Ms Ng.

Needing leaders’ support

With a holistic view of citizens’ needs, public officers should be better equipped to look at issues that often cut across agencies. But with their less than conventional way of working, THE Lab members know they have to convince their leaders – more used to relying only on hard facts and statistics – of the merits of design thinking. “Without leaders’ support, it is very difficult for people on the ground to practise or believe in design, or at least be inspired,” shares Mr Voon. Are you listening, boss?

16 Thinking Aloud Even when the going gets tough, giving up is not an option, says Dr Low Lee Yong.

Turning Failures around WI T H I n T H e fI rsT T Wo years of my solo medical practice, I had noticed that I was fighting a losing battle – a small-time practitioner going up against the giants of big established practices. Whether it was buying drugs or attracting more patients, my small practice had to compete against the sheer economies of scale of the bigger players. I could have just gone with the flow and be content with a life of always strug-

ingly, through sweat, tears and failures. When I started MHC, I was young and inexperienced. I sought safety in numbers by recruiting classmates and friends to form a bigger network to attract more corporate clients. That approach had an inherent flaw – with many partners governing a single entity and no proper business operation, the network became a breeding

MHC didn’t materialise overnight. Nor did it come about by a stroke of luck or genius. It came about painstakingly, through sweat, tears and failures. gling to survive in this big fish-small fish dynamics. or I could dream big. I decided to go with the latter and that was how MHC (Make Health Connect) came into being. MHC is now an established managed care and third-party administrator in singapore, facilitating cashless outpatient visits through an extensive network of clinics in Asia. But MHC didn’t materialise overnight. nor did it come about by a stroke of luck or genius. It came about painstak-

ground for internal conflicts and cash flow haemorrhage. In no time, we were $300,000 in debt, with unhappy doctors demanding to be paid and disgruntled clients filing complaints over the phone, almost non-stop. Also, as there was no proper IT system to link up clinics or process medical claims efficiently during the initial stage of setting up MHC, data processing and administrative work became tedious. The business suffered great losses and MHC went into further debt, owing its corporate shareholders nearly $1.5 million. It seemed doomed to fail.

But instead of allowing the administrative mess to grow out of control and drive the company into bankruptcy, I re-evaluated the system and came up with a solution – I needed a more efficient modern Web-based system that would improve the running of the business. I proceeded to build one, and made the bold move to stop all existing contracts with doctors to force them to embrace the new Web-based system. It worked and the business turned around. The lesson I learnt – don’t let failures take you out. Instead, take them on. Look at the problem, study the cause(s) of failure and tackle the problem headon to increase your chance of success. Challenges, problems and failure may be inevitable in life, but they don’t have to bring us down. If we dare to fail, success may be just a dare away. Dr Low Lee Yong is the founder and CEO of MHC. The author of the book, I Dare to Dream, he has garnered many awards such as the International Management Action Award by the Chartered Management Institute Singapore. He’s currently working on his second book, tentatively entitled I Dare to Fail. He gives back to the community by supporting Goducate, a non-profit organisation helping the needy in Asia.

Letters to aYoung Public Officer25 DEAR YOUNG OFFICER, When I fIrst started Working, I had some glaring questions: What is the role of work in my life? What do I find fulfilling? I do not have all the answers but I can share my experience. Work by nature can be boring and uninspiring. It consumes valuable time. The challenge then is to make every moment an exciting one, even if you fail sometimes. I strongly encourage younger officers to seek to create excitement by coming up with innovative ideas that would be beneficial to all. for me, the process of enr iching hdB’s core competencies or building new ones to meet future challenges is of paramount importance. hdB has achieved significant success in housing a nation. In 1984, it completed a flat every 8 minutes. hdB’s Building research Institute is the latest entity created to spearhead r&d works to tackle future challenges. It has achieved much in moving hdB towards green and sustainable homes. one example is the innovative light metal lift shaft and lift technology used in the $5 billion Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP). hdB was able to achieve higher productivity and reduce the overall construction cost of the LUP by 20%, and brought lift accessibility to many blocks. new and innovative solutions may cost more. But because of the scale of hdB’s work, the more we do, the cheaper it gets. sometimes, solutions must be put in place before others will believe in them. an example is the design of our multi-storey carparks. We invented a “superman floor plank structural system” that has a very long span (distance between two supports of a structure). By having column support only at two external ends, it yields a more spacious effect to the carpark. Most important of all, it prevents car doors from being obstructed when they are opened. We also experimented with other solutions. We built the biggest microwave oven to “cook” concrete so that it can

Keep InnovatIng by Lau Joo Ming senior advisor, housing and development Board (hdB)

gain strength faster, which will lead to higher productivity. This has spun off another idea to develop a silent breaker that detaches architectural finishes such as tiles using microwave technology. flat renovation always produces unbearable noise nuisance to neighbours. Imagine a silent breaker that can be used for all existing flats undergoing renovation! Because of potential construction resource constraints, we are also developing a concrete-less prototype building system. should there be a day when singapore is faced with no sand and aggregate, we can still construct public

It is therefore important for officers to have the broad picture in mind while working on specific assignments.

housing. Those who are looking at shortterm solutions cannot understand the need to move away from conventional construction resources which are still available and cheap to get. But there is no better time than now to try and learn new methods instead of waiting for problems to come. recently I met three young engineers during a mentoring session and related to them the story of the elephant and the three blind men. each man felt a part of the elephant and their comprehension of what the animal looked like in entirety was inhibited. There are over 10,000 hdB high-rise buildings comprising more than 1 million flats. It is therefore important for officers to have the broad picture in mind while working on specific assignments. This will further optimise the solutions we come up with. In r&d, there will be successes and failures (because that’s part of r&d!), so take the opportunity to be daring.

“We have to build trust

in the team.” PUB chief Chew Men Leong explains how military values can apply to the Public Service. Text by

Wong Sher Maine John Heng

Photos by

SometimeS a perSon’S life has a running theme. in the case of mr Chew men leong, there are two: the nation and water. after 25 years of helming battleships at sea, the former Chief of navy moved to head national water agency pUB in 2011. What he learnt as a former military chief has stood him in good stead in his new job. He explains: “We are talking about values-based leadership which has been built up over the years, from the importance of building trust in the team, fighting for what’s right; to overcoming constraints to do what might previously be thought of as impossible.”

Lessons from the military

the son of a car mechanic and housewife, mr Chew had once contemplated becoming a doctor like the rest of his raffles institution classmates, but the need for a scholarship to fund his studies led him to the Singapore armed forces (Saf). that proved to be a calling. in his 25 years in the navy, he had been fleet Commander and helmed various battleships. as Chief of navy

between 2007 and 2011, he was lauded for transforming its people development processes. it is thus inevitable that the navy has shaped the man and given him lessons that he applies in the Service, such as the need for a leader to earn his people’s trust. He learnt that lesson when, as a 20-year-old, he was told to put on a bulletproof vest as ammunition was loaded into his ship’s guns. the ship was in a standoff with a foreign vessel in the waters of pedra Branca. “there was concern that this tension could escalate,

A Cuppa With...27

but on the ship there was clear trust between ever yone. We were all listening to the decisions that the commanding off icer made,” recalls Mr Chew. Fortunately no bullets were fired and the ships eventually dispersed. During moments like this, it is important that the commanding officer has the trust of his officers, especially when he needs to get them to do things which may be unpleasant or uncomfortable, adds Mr Chew. “That means you not only have to empathise, you must also be ready to do what you ask them to do.” Circumstances at PUB are arguably less strenuous, but he can think of a parallel: “Sometimes, we do encounter cross-agency issues and our own people may say, my job stops here. But they fail to see it from the citizen’s point of view.” Together with a larger team, Mr Chew then has to earn the trust of front line officers and persuade them to get out of their comfort zones and work across boundaries. “ We may face constraints but if we apply our minds [to them], we can achieve what people may initially think is not possible.”

Overcoming constraints

Currently, over 50% of Singapore’s land is already used for water catchment. As the population increases

That means you not only have to empathise, you must also be ready to do what you ask them to do. and land gets more built up, surely there would be a strain on Singapore’s water resources? Acknowledging that demand for water will grow, Mr Chew expresses confidence that PUB can overcome its constraints with innovation, and create opportunities through new capabilities and technologies.

Ironically, one major challenge he has faced during his watch is a result of too much water. In response to the flash floods that have been plaguing Singapore in recent memory, Mr Chew publicly announced that PUB would develop higher drainage design standards and better flood management. “We were fully transparent with the public; told them where the floods were, our shortfalls, and what we needed to do.” That said, apart from the floods and recent flap about the Water Wally shower dance, few in Singapore actually complain about water. If there is any risk, it is that people are too complacent about our water services. Mr Chew, who has a 16-year-old son, says: “People feel secure as far as water supply is concerned. They turn on the tap [or] flush the toilet, and water comes down. Our topmost concern is how to get the younger generation to think about water as a strategic resource, [and] to conserve and value it.”

Currently, Singapore has built a system of four National Taps, where water comes from local catchment, imported water from Johor, NEWater and desalinated water. Apart from studying the possibility of tapping groundwater, PUB is actively trying to lower the amount of energy consumed in the processes of desalination and treating used water. “These are two very big research areas and will be game changers in how we can continue to make sure water remains affordable… [But] water won’t be a limiting factor as far as the growth of Singapore is concerned.”

What’s usually in your cuppa? Water. Not from a bottle, which is environmentally unfriendly, but water from the tap!

28 Level Up

Mending the gen


Intergenerational conflicts in the workplace can be a pain. Here’s how to prevent and manage them. Text by Cindy Tan & Peter Chua Institute of Governance and Policy, Civil Service College

J EN N Y * R E CO U N T ED T H E tension she had experienced with her older supervisee, Aik Beng*. The incessant disrespectful acts from Aik Beng, such as his show of non-verbal disapproval of Jenny’s decisions, had pushed her to the edge. The situation became tense when Aik Beng started to challenge Jenny openly in front of other colleagues. Siew Mui* had a new and young supervisor, Sandy*, who threw her weight around in the office. Sandy’s lack of sensitivity towards the older staff, and the impression she gave of being a know-it-all made Siew Mui feel unappreciated as a staff. Anecdotes depicting hostility between younger supervisors and older supervisees, as in the cases stated above, are not uncommon. To examine intergenerational issues in this contemporary supervisory context, the Institute of Governance and Policy at the Civil Service College conducted a 2012 study on 450 public officers. Twenty-six percent of the Baby Boomers/Traditionalists (BBT) respondents were once under the charge of Generation Y supervisors and one-third of these BBT officers faced challenges working with their younger heads. Some remarks by BBT respondents about their difficult Generation Y supervisors were: “Micro-manager.” “Don’t share the same opinions or views.”

“Inexperienced.” “Do not know how to manage.” “Cannot help to solve problems.” On the other hand, one-third of Generation Y supervisors in the study had experience managing BBT officers and half of them shared that overseeing their older colleagues was no piece of cake either: “They think they know better.” “They insist on their views.” “They think that experience counts more than anything else.” “Older employees show less respect to younger supervisors.” Though these intergenerational conflicts might not be prevalent in all organisations, they could create a negative work culture. How then can organisations and officers help to reduce intergenerational tensions at the workplace?

• Prepare young supervisors for leader-

ship roles: Prevailing literature pointed out how younger supervisors might have the “paper qualifications” but lack the technical knowledge, experience and the ability to manage older employees. Leadership development programmes for young supervisors should include diversity topics, stereotype issues and skills to manage a multi-generational workforce.

• Provide intergenerational training

at different levels: This can help to facilitate the understanding of gen-

erational differences and encourage older and younger officers to learn from one another.

• Encourage offline communication: Supervisors and officers should set aside time for face-to-face interaction instead of relying on emails as the main mode of communication. Avoid resolving conflicts over emails and instant messaging as that may lead to more misunderstandings.

• Appreciate each other’s strengths: Younger officers can tap on the technical knowledge and experience of older officers and seek their input before making decisions. Older officers can look to younger officers for ideas and fresh perspectives, and work with them to embrace new technologies at the workplace.

• Ensure fair human resources policies: Provide ample and equal career development and progression opportunities for both younger and older officers to reduce perceptions of inequality. To help public officers learn more about managing intergenerational relations, the Civil Service College conducts the following courses: • Leading a Multi-Generational Team • Managing and Unleashing Gen Y’s Potential For more information on the courses, please visit *Not their actual names


be lle, Fr om lef t: Isa br ina . Tif fany an d Za

Could these public officers be the next sing

ing sensation?

Te xt by

Jamie Ee

Phot o by

Alecia Neo

At work, they Are Senior officers at the economic Development Board (eDB).

The show’s producers grouped them with three other female contestants for greater stage presence.

o utside work, they are members of ricochet, an all-girl group that performs catchy pop tunes and slick dance routines à la korean group Girls’ Generation.

All Sing A Nation participants will join this year’s national Day Parade (nDP) choir, with the winning group being the centrepiece. Participants will also share their experiences in being part of the nationwide celebration on the nDP website.

impressing the judges during auditions, tiffany ong, Zabrina Chew and isabelle techawatanasuk clinched a spot on Sing A Nation, a televised group singing competition which airs in July.

After seeing the tV promos, tiffany, 25, who works in human resources (talent Management), decided to form a group to join the competition.

So she roped in isabelle, 21, from Pro f e s s i on a l S e r v i c e s a n d Z a br i n a , 2 3 , f ro m t h e G l o b a l - A s i a Programme office, both of whom are musicians. Preparing for the competition on top of other commitments in their l i ve s h a s n’t b e e n e a s y. Z a b r i n a recalls how she practised by watching videos of her group’s choreography sessions while on holiday. “ when i a r r i ve d i n S i n g a p o re ( on t h e competition day), i had to jump straight into the whole thing and be ready to perform. it was crazy!”

What a “Novel” Idea! Research shows that diving into fiction can help you “feel” more for others. Text by Dai


Illustration by Yip

We all knoW t h e refrai n. Public officers should be caring and empathetic in their dealings with people. but often, we don’t personally know the people we serve; we haven’t experienced their individual struggles and life circumstances. can you ever make yourself “feel” deeply for a stranger? apparently you can. by reading fiction. Psychologists are starting to establish links between fiction and feeling for people. their research is showing that just reading newspapers and other non-fiction texts isn’t enough – to develop more soul, you have to turn to novels and short stories. case in point: a report published this year by Dutch researchers. they recruited 163 university students in two experiments, randomly assigning some to read fictional works while making others read newspaper reports. all were then asked to rate how emotionally engaged they were with their texts, and also their empathy levels before and after the experiments using an empathy scale. items on the scale include: “Sometimes i don’t feel sorry for other people when they are having problems” and “i am often quite touched by things that i see happen”.

Siew Fei

the students who were most absorbed in the fictional texts self-reported greater empathy levels, compared with those who read newspaper reports. but how does fiction boost your empathy levels? novelist and psychologist keith oatley believes that when you’re immersed in a novel, you tend to identify with its characters and “try to connect with something larger than [yourself ]”. by doing so, you sharpen your ability to see things from different perspectives and over time, can better “read” the emotional and mental states of others. but it’s not as simple as hitting up the fiction section of kinokuniya. The same study by the Dutch researchers showed that the fiction readers who didn’t feel engaged with their texts actually recorded decreased empathy levels over time. Why? if you don’t enjoy a novel, you become disengaged, resulting in the reverse effect. What that probably means: choose books that you like. Don’t force yourself through the Twilight saga if you detest vampires.

The Big Idea 31

The Sea is his Oyster Challenge follows a biodiversity off icer to f ind out how he keeps an eye on our marine flora and fauna.


Text by Tay




1. Surveying low-lying marine habitats is an important part of Collin’s job. 2. Using a GPS device, he plots the locations of seagrass patches for records. 3. He measures the size of a seagrass patch. 4. Together with his colleague, Collin documents marine life found on the shore.

Qiao Wei

Photos by

Norman Ng

COLLIN TONG DIGS HIS hands into the wet sand at the Tanah Merah shore. Sweat drips from his nose and seawater touches the cuffs of his long sleeves, but he doesn’t stop until he pulls out a small bunch of seagrass. The Biodiversity Manager is collecting a sample of a rare species of seagrass, which the Singapore Botanic Garden’s Herbarium does not have a specimen of yet. Collin also plots the locations of the seagrass patches with a GPS device, while his teammate takes pictures of the plants. Getting his hands dirty is all in a day ’s work for the 34-year-old officer from the Coastal and Marine branch of the National Biodiversity Centre. Once or twice a month, Collin and his colleagues sur vey and monitor the wildlife at various low-lying marine habitats during low tides.


From left: A sea star, clownfish and jellyfish Collin found during his surveys. (Photos from Collin Tong)

“I saw lala (clams), shrimps and schools of swimming catfishes … [They were] very fascinating!” Information collected during the sur veys helps Collin and his team to keep track of Singapore’s marine biodiversity. They will then advise companies and public agencies planning developments along coastal areas on protecting the marine life in those places. Collin’s interest in marine life started when his father took him, then a child, to Changi Beach to fish. “I saw lala (clams), shrimps 5

and schools of swimming catfishes… [They were] very fascinating!”

easygoing officer is not going anywhere after nine years in the job.

During his teens, Collin spent much of his free time near the sea, even befriending the fishermen who frequented the jetty at East Coast Park. When he was 19, he learnt diving so that he could see corals.

After Collin became a father in January, however, he has gone on fewer dives (which are often on weekends) in order to look after his twin daughters. He plans to take them to Changi Beach when they are older.

Fortunately for him now, diving to check on corals is also part of his work, which may explain why this

“I hope they will still get to see the marine life we see today.”



8 5. Collin takes the plunge to check on life underwater. 6. He examines a sample of marine life collected by other divers. 7. Collin takes samples of seagrass back to his office and passes them to a colleague for plant pressing. 8. Interesting sea life, such as nudibranchs, are collected for documentation.

34 Unsung Heroes

Your Facebook Friends This two-man team from PUB, the national water agency, is engaging the public through social media. Te xt by

Jamie Ee

P h o to by

John Heng

T h e y p o s T waT er - r el aT ed stories on Facebook, ensure that flash flood alerts are pushed out on Facebook and Twitter, and share inspiring sunrise photographs of singapore’s newest waterways on Flickr and pinterest. This may sound like a fun and – dare we say – easy job, but it is just the tip of the iceberg of what assistant director wesley Michael lewis and Communications executive syed omar Fadzil do. In fact, their work day is spent analysing online reports, blogging, tracking web chatter, churning out content and meeting staff from other departments to coordinate messages for pUB’s social media platforms. In essence, they are in charge of most of pUB’s online communication efforts, apart from its website and youTube channel. They also take turns to be on 24-hour standby to provide real-time Facebook and Twitter updates, such as when a road lane reopens after the completion of pipe repairs. “we work as long as we are awake,” says Mr syed, 35, who loves IT and photography and has worked in pUB for 17 years. he and Mr lewis, 34, have been friends since their army days. Mr lewis joined pUB about two years ago. Inevitably, the pair has had to deal with “flaming” from unhappy netizens. They respond by tr y ing to find out more about the complaint and giving a suitable reply. such head-on engagement has helped turn foes into friends. “our online netizens are now our friends,” says Mr lewis. “on occasions when nasty comments are posted… they not only speak up for us but also reinforce our messages or information that we have previously shared.”

The Horse Shoe Block: Block 78 was known as Tiong Bahru Gor Lau (“5-storey flat” in Hokkien). It was the highest public housing in Singapore when built in the late 1930s.

Tiong Bahru Tales Instead of just Instagramming those delicious tarts or oh-so-nice latte art, look up and around you the next time you café hop in Singapore’s f irst public housing estate. Here’s a brief guide that might help you see Tiong Bahru in different light. Te x t by

Bridgette See

Compare and contrast Tiong Bahru estate has rapidly gentrified in the past five years.

P h o to s by

John Heng

Speedy getaway Architects used spacesaving spiral staircases as fire escapes and alternative access for residents.

It’s a ship! It’s a plane!

The hip cafes and eateries in Tiong Bahru are located in pre-war flats that were marked as conservation buildings in 2003. There are 20 of these 2- to 5-storey blocks built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) in the 1930s and 1940s. According to the National Heritage Board, architect Alfred G. Church was entrusted to design the flats between 1936 and 1941. His designs emphasised the clean, curved lines and rounded corners of Streamline Moderne, a late development of the Art Deco movement that was inspired by travel and technology of the 1930s. Block 81 on Tiong Poh Road resembles an airship while Block 82 (photo 3) looks like an ocean liner: spot the ship’s decks and nautical semi-circle windows. The flats were cleverly designed for the tropics, says Tiong Bahru resident Mr Kelvin Ang, who is Director of Conser vation Management at the Urban Redevelopm e n t A u t h o r i t y. H e n o t e s t h a t eco-friendly features like air wells a n d a i r ve n t s i n e ve r y u n i t h e l p to reduce indoor temperatures while introducing light. “There are [also]









1. All the pre-war blocks have bevelled edges (also known as chamfered faces) that make the corners a pretty sight. 2. Dog-leg staircases serve as fire escapes for residents. 3. The unique semi-circle windows of Block 82. 4. Drips Bakery Cafe occupies a shop space that was once a “sports association” where the muffled clacks of mahjong tiles could often be heard. 5. Mr Goh Chwee, the owner of Hup Seng provision shop retired in June after leasing his shop to a cafe owner.

With rental rates escalating, many old-time shop owners have decided to retire and collect rent instead.

7 6. Mr Rodney Goh runs Pin Pin Piau Kay & Co, a minimart at Block 71, Seng Poh Road. 7. A wooden crate, which was once used to store Milo tins in the 1960s, is still being used in Mr Goh’s shop today. 8. His childhood school bag from the 1950s is still in mint condition.

ledges above windows that prevent rain from splashing in so we can keep the windows open to cool down the flat,” he adds.

Old world charm

T iong Bahru has become a much sought-after place to live and work in. With rentals escalating, many old-time shop owners have decided to retire and collect rent instead. In June 2013, Hup Seng, the oldest provision shop, and Hua Bee, the oldest coffeeshop, called it a day. Still, there are those who have tales to share, for those who care to listen.

Mr Rodney Goh (photo 6) runs Pin Pin Piau Kay & Co, a minimart in Block 71, Seng Poh Road. His grandfather opened it in 1938. Mr Goh recalls buying meals from roadside hawkers who plied the streets outside, including the founder of the famous Tiong Bahru Pau, who used to “park his tricycle and sell one pau for 15 cents, seven for $1”. The nostalgic Mr Goh shows off some wooden food crates from the 1960s that he still uses today. He then reaches up to a shelf and carefully unwraps his vintage baby blue leather school bag from the 1950s. “I used to sit on



For 15 years now, residents have been enjoying mouth-watering Peranakan treats like kueh dadar and lemper udang from Galicier Confectionery.


9. Hainanese coconut candies are among the traditional offerings from Galicier Confectionery. 10. Madam Soh Kee Chin is keeping up with the times by constantly innovating and introducing new desserts. 11. With their strong almond aroma, these butterfly cupcakes (named for the wings atop) look and taste different from the typical American dessert.

it while waiting for my father to take me home,” he grins. Further down the road at Block 58, Ms Nei I-Ann (photo 13) runs Nelson’s Tailor, which was started by her parents in 1951. Nelson’s was originally where the current Link Hotel is. The youngest of four, Ms Nei spent her childhood days in the shop where she picked up her parents’ knack for tailoring. Long-time residents share that Nelson’s made the first batches of Singapore Airlines’ uniforms in the early 1970s. When asked about this, Ms Nei opens a drawer and pulls out a set of the Pierre Balmain-designed kebaya. “The collar, with the intricate pleating, was the hardest to sew,” recalls Mdm Lau Hong Cheng, who has worked here since 1971 and remembers sewing uniforms for “five matchsticks” (colloquial for Rolex). Today, Nelson’s makes bespoke cheongsams for regulars but alteration requests are increasingly coming from clients who shop online.






The oldest block in the estate is Block 55 along Tiong Bahru Road. For 15 years now, residents have been enjoying mouth-watering Peranakan treats like kueh dadar and lemper udang from Galicier Confectionery. Run by Madam Soh Kee Chin and her husband, the bakery is keeping up with the times by constantly innovating. Galicier now offers German-style black wheat bread, brownies, apple pies and even jelly cakes. 12. The scissors and stone weights that Ms Nei’s parents bought in the 1950s are still being used. 13. Ms Nei now runs Nelson’s Tailor. 14. A blouse from the first batches of Singapore Airlines’ uniforms made by Nelson’s. 15. At Block 56, the corner coffeeshop serves yong tau hu and other local food in the day but turns into a pizzeria called Two Face at night. 16. In Tiong Bahru, the cats are so loved that there is a Tiong Bahru Catlovers’ Circle on Facebook.

If this has intrigued you about Tiong Bahru, download the Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail guide at for more. 16

Cheat sheet to tiong Bahru’s food heritage With so many stalls and too little tummy space, which ones should one prioritise? We asked some Tiong Bahru residents for their picks. Loo’s hainanese Curry rice Block 57, Eng Hoon Street, #01-88 tiong Bahru Yong tau hu Block 56 Tiong Poh Road #01-46 at the tiong Bahru food Centre: • Teochew Kueh #02-02 • Tau Kwar Pop #02-06 • Tiong Bahru Pau #02-18/19 • Koh Brothers’ Pig Organ Soup #02-29 • Hwa Yuen Porridge #02-74 • Ru Yi Vegetarian Food #02-26

40 The Irreverent Last Page

Cultivating Celebrities The Challenge Botanical Department has been breeding a collection of celebrity orchids that exude the charisma of the famous people they are modelled after. Guess the celebrities who have inspired these six orchids from our (top-secret) orchidarium: Text by Tay

1. Vanda ferrum-hominis

Known for its strong metallic scent, this orchid is very popular with the ladies.

Qiao Wei

2. Renantanda gangnam-stilo

Look away for just a second and you just might spot this flower breaking into the horse dance out of the corner of your eye.

3. Phalaenopsis barbarellia

This showy local flower frequently changes her last name to that of her favourite ang moh of the moment.

............. .................... ................. .................... .................. ........................... ...................... ........................... .................... ............................ ...................... .............

.. . .. .. ... ... ... . ..... .... .... ..... . . . . . . ... ... .... ..... .... .......... .. . . . . ... . ..... .... .... ..... .... ..... ... . .. . . .. . .. . ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... .. .... .... .... ..... .... .. ... .... ..... .... ..... .... .... ... ... ... ... ... . . ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... . ... ...

4. Dendrobium flavo-caligas

This orchid is the self-proclaimed “best in Singapore, JB and, some say, Batam”!

. ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... . . ... .... ..... .... ..... .... .... . . . . . . ... .. .... .... .... ..... .... ... . . . . ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... . ..... .... .... ..... .... ..... ... . . . . ... ... .... ..... .... .......... .. . . . . . . ... . ..... .... .... ..... .. .. .. . . ... ..

5. Mokara materia-puella

One of the first hybrids created in our programme, this long-lasting orchid remains attractive and perky despite its age.

6. Oncidium boltinium

No other flower in our collection grows as fast as this competitive orchid, which also stands out due to its frequent showboating.

Answers: (1) Iron Man (2) Psy (3) Barbarella (4) Phua Chu Kang (5) Madonna (6) Usain Bolt

Need We Say More?

Here’s where we let the humour loose, and learn to laugh at ourselves a little more. Have ideas or jokes about the Public Service? Email us:


Singapore has built a robust, diversified and sustainable water . supply from different sources known as a. b. c. d.


Baby Boomers and Generation Y are individuals born in respectively. a. b. c. d.



1940s – 1964 & 1981 – 1999 1965 – 1981 & 1940s – 1964 After 1999 & 1981 – 1999 1940s – 1964 & 1965 – 1981

Movie Vouchers to be won

Submit your answers by August 3, 2013 at: Challenge Online

According to Mr Sanjeev Sanyal’s “Walkability Index”, the factors influencing the “walkability” of a city include the following except:

Please include your name, email address, agency and contact number.

a. b. d. c.

All winners will be notified by email.

Traffic & road conditions Building accessibilities Weather Safety

The National Environment Agency (NEA) provides dengue updates on the national dengue website and social media after pulling technology. various data using a. b. c. d.


The National Taps The Nation Taps Four Taps system Four National Taps

Pairs of

DataKind Small Data Big Data SAS

Being empathetic means a. b. c. d.

having the feeling of compassion or concern for others feeling sorry for someone the tendency for two individuals to emotionally converge having the ability to mutually experience the thoughts, emotions and direct experiences of others

congratulations to the winners of the May/June 2013 Trivia Quiz Ong Chang Kee ITE

Wan Ming Kong Danny HDB

Shakeela Shanmugam SPRING Singapore

Cindy Cheong MOE

Lock Yam Wee NEA

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Challenge July/August 2013  

Here comes the big data wave. Massive amounts of data bursting forth from different sources and swirling around us at top speed – how can we...

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