Public Sector Transformation: The Biggest Challenges

Hear from officers across the Singapore Public Service on what they think the biggest challenges are for Public Sector Transformation.
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The biggest challenge is getting everyone to believe in transformation. Structures, processes, etc., can be put in place to facilitate transformation, but the people first need to change their mindsets for transformation to really happen. If we pour new wine into old wineskin, the old wineskin will stretch and break, and the wine will be wasted. Similarly, even if we put in new structures, technologies and processes, but public officers don’t believe in them, those with unchanged mindsets would continue doing things the old way; grumble or influence other colleagues, making the environment toxic; or leave the Service, taking away with them valuable expertise. New wine must be poured into new wineskin. Public officers must think differently, believe in the need for transformation, and embrace it before the Public Service can truly transform itself.

Alvin Lim, GovTech

Congratulations, Alvin! You win a $100 Kinokuniya voucher to read up on the best ways to brainstorm new ideas and put them into action with your colleagues.


The biggest challenge is the “curse of knowledge”. That’s the tendency of humans to assume that others have the context to understand what is being said during communication. In the Public Service, this leads to abstract and unclear communication of what transformation is about, that therefore doesn’t persuade. The curse of knowledge can cause the intent of policymakers and the action of frontline officers to be misaligned. Given that a lot of data is held within Government, this can also create a chasm between the Public Service and the public, or other relevant stakeholders who do not buy into the Service’s change efforts.

To overcome the curse of knowledge, we need to present transformation in simple, concrete terms. One way would be to make use of contrasting and compelling examples to illustrate how Public Service transformation can support a better Singapore (e.g., e-payments giving greater convenience to the public, sensors that anticipate and prevent road congestion, info-sharing across Government to enable citizen-centric solutions/approaches).

Weihan Zhang, SPF


The biggest challenge is probably the size of the Public Service itself. That I pondered whether I should even bother responding to this question is enough to tell me that transformation is an uphill task. People tend to shy away from change once they are in their comfort zone. Once a while, a change champion will come along and try to effect it. However, due to the sheer size of the Public Service, the inertia faced can be so great that he or she might finally feel it’s a case not worth pursuing.

How can we help drive this change? Besides senior management driving change from the top, more can be done to engage the middle management, who are likely to be in their comfort zone for longer periods by virtue of how long they have been in the workforce. Once the middle layer has been engaged, change will hopefully trickle down to the ground.

Amos Lau, CSA


The biggest challenge is letting go of old processes as new ones are being put in place. At all dialogues, retreats, conferences and seminars, we hear about how public officers struggle to keep up with change because existing workloads cannot or will not be reduced despite new ones being added. It is easy to lose sight of the end goal when day-to-day work involves this struggle.

Granted, transition periods are effortful and frustrating. But with courage and creativity by ground staff to innovate and progress, and importantly, with management’s support at all levels to communicate and spur morale consistently throughout the entire transition period, it will be possible to transform.

Farhanis Ahmad, SPS


As a citizen, what would you like to see from a transformed Public Service ready for the future?

Send your entry to psd_challenge@psd.gov.sg.

The most exciting entry will receive a prize worth $100. All other published entries will win vouchers worth $30 each. Entries may be edited. Please include your name, agency email address, agency and contact number.

All entries should reach us by September 15, 2018.

  • POSTED ON
    Aug 23, 2018
  • ILLUSTRATION BY
    Mushroomhead
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