Excellent Big Ideas

The most innovative and value-adding ideas from public officers are recognised at the annual PS21 ExCEL Convention. From 108 nominations, 29 teams and individuals received awards in November 2010. Challenge showcases three of the award-winning projects.

1. Gold Award: NewspaperSG

Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts and National Library Board

The NewspaperSG team spent two years to complete the project, making close to 15 million articles from 21 newspapers available to researchers. They also handled negotiations with news publishers on digitising, archiving and accessing content.
Buried on an island a few hundred miles east of Singapore – more than $5,000,000 worth of treasure in gold and silver (The Straits Times, January 6, 1952, pg 10). A full grown tiger shot dead in Kallang on the eve of the grand centenary celebrations (The Straits Times, August 10, 1969, pg 12). Now you can read about such exciting stories of the past at NewspaperSG.

The online newspaper archive dating back to 1831 was launched in January 2010 by the National Library Board (NLB). With close to 15 million articles from 21 newspapers, including over 165 years of The Straits Times and microfilms of 200 newspapers from Singapore and Malaysia, it is a dream come true for researchers.

Ms Judy Ng, Director of National Reference and Special Libraries, NLB, says: “Previously, users who did not know the date and page number of a newspaper article had to manually scroll through reels of microfilms in order to locate the article. With digitisation and Optical Character Recognition technology, they can now do an easy search for an article according to keywords.”

And if the three million page views garnered so far is anything to go by, NewspaperSG is a useful information resource for Singaporeans and anyone who wants to obtain information on Singapore, worldwide. To make the process more efficient and effective, the search capability was enhanced for users to search by type of articles, including advertisements and obituaries.

NewspaperSG’s success shows NLB’s focus on encouraging a culture of innovation within the organisation to provide the best possible service to its customers.

The project took two years to complete, and staff had to undertake negotiations with major news publishers on digitising, archiving and accessing content. Another challenge NLB faced was to protect intellectual property rights while ensuring access to the public. This was eventually done through a combination of Internet Protocol authentication, publication date and watermarking.

While full content is available at libraries, home users (from outside the libraries) can access digitised newspapers published up to December 31, 1989 for The Straits Times. For the convenience of users, a citation saving feature was introduced to email and print for future reference, along with social media bookmarking tools for sharing through Facebook and other platforms. To further enhance the user experience, work has begun on digitising content in Lianhe Zaobao and Berita Harian newspapers, scheduled to be available from mid-2011 onwards.

Based on user feedback, NewspaperSG has certainly revolutionised research on newspaper content as it allows easy discovery of interesting information from over 179 years of newspapers that was a challenge to find in the past.


2. Gold Award: RQuest4 IQC

Ministry of National Development and Housing and Development Board

What would you do when building raw material supply is suddenly cut off totally? When sand imports were banned by Indonesia, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) built some, well, variations of concrete solutions.

The RQuest4 Innovation and Quality Circle explored new ideas to use less concrete in construction. This led to lighter building structures and more efficient design and construction in building projects piloted in Sengkang and Woodlands.
The sand ban in 2007 affected Singapore’s construction industry severely, including HDB – its buildings required concrete, which is made from sand and granite. The biggest worry: How to avoid delaying delivery of so many flats to residents?

Even as HDB sprang into action to source for alternative sand suppliers, it worked at long-term solutions that would also add value to contractors, suppliers and residents. The RQuest4 Innovation and Quality Circle took up the challenge to explore other building methods that would use much less concrete, yet offer more sustainability in construction.

Using less sand was the key in the new building designs. This was done with concrete peripheral façade walls with bigger window openings; concrete parapet walls with closely spaced slits; and lightweight partition walls to reduce material and weight. Using less concrete resulted in lighter building structures and more efficient design and construction. These were piloted in Sengkang and Woodlands. Apart from cost savings, home-owners also reported better ventilation and lighting.

Other alternative raw materials were used to substitute for sand and granite, such as recycled copper slag as well as recycled concreting sands and aggregates from disused construction materials and demolition waste.

This is just one of many instances at HDB where innovation led to value added services and products. An annual Organisational Excellence Week recognises staff and teams with monetary awards under the Innovation Award Programme, while the top Innovation and Quality Circle receives a travel incentive award.

Meanwhile, spurred on by the positive response, HDB has picked up its paces in introducing environmentally sustainable technologies and eco-friendly building solutions such as renewable energy, water recycling and saving features, and more greenery to lower ambient temperatures.


3. Silver Award: Ed-Venturers

Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources and National Environment Agency

The time is somewhere in the future. Singapore is being attacked by an alien race of Aedes mosquitoes. Agents from Operation MACE (Monster Annihilation and Control Enforcement) must eliminate them by destroying their food sources and breeding grounds.

Over 1,700 people have signed on to be MACE agents on the website, an NEA public education campaign on dengue prevention in households. Users can download videos, wallpapers, screensavers, as well as play online games embedded with succinct dengue prevention messages. The website has drawn over 106,350 hits by October 2010.

MACE was created in November 2009 after Mr Adrian Gerald Teo watched a movie. The Senior Executive (Community), 3P Partnership Department at NEA, says: “The film was Alien Resurrection, which had a scene of astronauts battling an alien underwater. I thought a campaign involving science-fiction and animation would be effective in conveying the message.”

Communicating the campaign’s concept was difficult initially because there were no templates to follow and no tangible examples to explain Operation MACE. “But we had great support from our bosses who contributed enormously to the production,” says Mr Teo.

It also helps that NEA has a culture of innovation. “We must continuously find new ways to do things better, reach out to the community more effectively and enhance their ownership of the environment. Then, and only then, can we achieve environmental sustainability. An open culture allows staff to propose, and experiment with, new ways to work,” he adds.

The Ed-Venturers are protecting Singaporeans from the dangerous Aedes mosquito by spreading anti-dengue messages among the youths, using fun and innovative online games.

Mr Teo and his team are exploring video productions and school roadshows, as well as online and mobile games, to further boost youth awareness. So, look out for the next episode of MACE.

  • POSTED ON
    Jan 18, 2011
  • TEXT BY
    Ming Lee
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