ETHOS Issue 01, October 2006
We are at an inflexion point. Globalisation and rapid advances in technology are transforming business, politics and society. The simultaneous rise of China and India are changing trade flows and mapping out new patterns of influence. Formidable competition and new opportunities are emerging in unexpected quarters.
As the pace of change accelerates, uncertainty and unpredictability will increasingly define our operating environment. It is in such a complex and volatile environment that the Singapore Public Service must make its policies and plans today. Many of the most critical and strategic issues that we must address are not within the competence of a single agency to deal with. Instead, they are more likely than not to span several agencies and involve many interdependent factors, some of which are beyond our direct influence. Some of the policies that have served us well for the last few decades will no longer be adequate going forward. We cannot rely on time-tested formulae to ensure future success.
To succeed, we must reinvent ourselves as makers and implementers of policy. We must not only be aware of the immediate environment in which we are operating, but also the larger strategic landscape and how it shapes – and is in turn shaped by – our policies. The way forward is not to shy away from complexity, but to embrace it.
As a Public Service, we must always stand ready to seize opportunities and to capitalise on new ideas. We must be prepared to consider fresh or alternative approaches. We must be ready to act even when we cannot be certain of the outcome, because inaction will be the greater failure. We cannot worship at the altar of perfection in policy-making, or it will doom us to paralysis. Instead, we should learn how to manage the risks inherent in policy-making in an uncertain and unpredictable environment. To this end, we have to be savvy, well-informed, and open to new perspectives.
Ethos, as our professional journal for policy practitioners, has an important part to play in this evolution. It will document some of our public policy innovations, and serve as an invaluable reference for a new generation of civil servants. But it should also strive to present the best thinking there is on the theory and practice of public policy. I hope it will challenge us with cutting-edge ideas from leading thinkers worldwide, and help sharpen our policies through critical reflection, discourse and debate.
I wish the Ethos editorial team every success and I urge our readers to contribute ideas on how the journal can be improved.
Head, Civil Service