The COVID-19 pandemic highlights how data-driven governance could elicit the citizenry’s trust and compliance in order to keep everyone safe together.

During the COVID-19 pandemic when fear and anxiety were peaking, the relationship between the Singapore government and its residents had been put to the test.

Decisions had to be made without full information from global medical experts, and any wrong decision could deeply affect the livelihoods of millions.

However, a trust barometer report by Edelman had found that public trust in the country’s government had actually risen amid the pandemic.

How did Singapore pull it off? Answer: the government’s dogged focus on data was a key contributing factor.

A case study in data-driven governance

Beyond COVID-19 management, there is now an opportunity for the country’s data lessons to be applied across other facets of the public service and even emulated elsewhere in the world.

What are some of these data lessons?

  • Data collected from rapidly-developed tools such as TraceTogether and SafeEntry were critical for contact tracing and ring-fencing efforts. 
  • Data around case number tracking and vaccination rates was used as the basis to determine reopening strategies.
  • To monitor the pulse on the ground, the government’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) used data analytics as part of their evidence-based approach to formulate plans and policies with the aim of maintaining the country’s level of normalcy as much as possible: as great city to live, work and play in. The government agency continues to use data to ensure amenities are well-connected and accessible by everybody. 
  • The country’s Civil Defence Force (SCDF) uses real-time data to save precious time in all the incidents it handles. Every second matters on the frontlines. In fact, putting out a fire and administering emergency medical services has to happen even before they arrive at the scene. This can only be possible with access to real-time data. Data here acts as a dynamic and powerful tool to drive such transformation. The defense force also uses the power of data visualizations through interactive maps and charts to extract actionable insights that can inform the locations of new fire posts; or guide the deployment or dispatch strategy to employ for any incident. Leveraging insights from the data, the SCDF has developed a deeper understanding of how a black swan event, such as COVID-19, has affected the demand of their services.
  • With data improving accessibility and responsiveness of government services, trust from the public has been strengthened. 
  • Becoming data-driven requires cultural change to shift the mindset of every person in an organization. The government is taking the next step to expand the use of data by prioritizing digital upskilling for all public sector officers, through the launch of the Digital Academy in 2021. This cuts across different sectors in the digital realm—from training in cybersecurity and data literacy, to enhancing data science capabilities to improve policy making and overall operations. 
  • To maintain and grow the level of trust with the public, government agencies continue to improve the use of data to improve the efficiency of current work processes and deliver new initiatives that improve the lives of citizens and residents alike.

As countries in the region digitalize at their own fast pace and attempt to tackle tomorrow’s challenges head-on, their public services need to learn from their neighbors’ success stories and be ready to adopt a data-first approach. Only then can they confidently make decisions that benefit citizens, and be resilient to whatever is to come.