S'pore should 'accelerate' online citizen engagement

Singapore "relatively advanced" in engaging citizens online which lays ground for it to push adoption of social business to wider group of citizens and communities.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

The ground work for engaging citizens online is set for Singapore but there's still room for government to reach out to wider group of citizens more aggressively, says an IBM scientist.

In a phone interview, David Millen, senior research scientist from IBM T.J. Watson Research Center and IBM Center for Social Software, said that the Singapore government is "relatively advanced" compared with other governments when it comes to integrating social business into the public sector.

Social business is about bringing technology-enabled collaboration--primarily used in consumer space--into the enterprise, which now is seeing an emergence in the public sector.

"From my observation, Singapore is pretty advanced in [social business]" and has examples of engagement with citizens online at every hierarchy of social business, said Millen.

Structure of social business in public sector
The research scientist explained that social business in the public sector follows several hierarchies. At the base is the use of Internet to disseminate information by having Web sites. Next on the hierarchy is transactional engagement by moving offline transactions to the Web to allow the citizens to renew licenses or pay fines online and so on.

The next stage is the use of sensors to collect data and to share the data with citizen for them to make efficient decisions, said Millen, adding that this is a more passive use of social business. Higher up on the level is for citizens to be more actively engaged, such as by having mobile apps to report road repairs, graffiti or to assist with crime prevention.

At the highest stage is engaging groups citizens online to generate high-quality conversations. He cited IBM online town hall meetings as an example where groups of citizens and the government get together to brainstorm on different topics.

He noted that social business is important for governments because they always need to be informed. Governments also find the need for more effective ways to engage with their citzens and to get new ideas, he said.

Accelerating citizen engagement
Miller said he has been "quite impressed" with Singapore's initial moves in public sector social business. Since the ground work has been set, he said the government can move more aggressively to accelerate citizen engagement.

To facilitate high-quality conversations, the senior research scientist said the public sector can organize heavily announced special events online where citizens can participate in conversations on public topics.

However, he advised governments to have a plan for action before the formal launch of such events. The organization will need to have a plan to deal with problems that might pop up such as copyright issues or Internet abuse, he noted.

Millen shared that governments can also keep themselves informed of what is happening on the ground level using social listening. This is the use of text analytic tools to listen on Twitter streams, he said. He added that while data Twitter data is sometimes not verified, in many cases the information is very useful.

Social listening can be used in emergency response situations, such as locating areas with electrical failure, he said. With such a tool, governments can find information that is not easily found, he added.

Asked if this is a cause for worry if the tool is used for surveillance, Millen believes that the norms will change over time. Citizens may choose to participate anonymously in the beginning and as behavior changes, it could lead to de-anonymization, he said.

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