What I learned about our government on my trip to Singapore
Last month, I had the opportunity to travel to Singapore with my colleague Loren Dejonge Schulman as part of a business immersion trip that examined public administration and whole-of-government work from an international perspective.
During this long journey across the globe, I met new people at all levels of Singaporean society, both private citizens and high-ranking government officials. I also ate great food and was able to admire a beautiful and extraordinarily well-run country.
Here are my three biggest observations from my time in Singapore.
We have a lot to learn from others
Travelling expands the mind, enabling you to not only see something different, but to also see oneself and home in a unique way.
As a high school student, I had the opportunity to study and live abroad for a year. As I prepared to leave for my trip, friends and family kept telling me how much of a culture shock it was going to be. I soon found out that traveling to a new place was less shocking than my return to the U.S.—the trip completely changed my perspective on how I viewed my former world.
As I’ve grown older, I find it harder to make the time to embrace and experience novel and uncomfortable opportunities. It has been a long time since I have immersed myself in a completely new and different place.
But it was a phenomenal experience. I have always wanted to do more work studying and learning about democracy and public service on the international stage. The problems I saw are largely the same ones we confront and it was impressive to see how well they are addressing them.
Singapore’s secret sauce
It would be easy to ignore the Singapore government’s success and lessons for the U.S. by noting the ways it is different from our country – it is small (5 million people); simpler (there is one, integrated government) and relatively new (the country didn’t even get started until 1965).
I think that would be a mistake since there is so much that they are doing that speaks directly to what we can do here. Their secret sauce starts with a profound respect for people – they understand that their success depends upon recruiting great talent and developing them as whole-of-government actors focused on a common vision for national success.
One element that stands out is their commitment to moving civil servants around the different parts of government in order to grow their best people and connect the different parts of government. One example that sticks out is the meeting we had with their central technology unit and learning that one of their deputies had previously served as a senior diplomat to Great Britain!
The Partnership is on the right track
One of the most important lessons from our trip to Singapore is that the Partnership is on the right track, even while we have still a long distance to travel.
Our upcoming launch of our Public Service Leadership Institute is a great example. The Singapore government invests substantially in the leadership capabilities of its people, largely through a civil service college that is a strong model for what we are trying to build.
A second important example is the more recent work we are doing on understanding and building trust in our government and recognizing how fundamental that is to our democracy. Once again, Singapore is marching in this same direction.
Singapore is dedicated to improving government just as we are at the Partnership. We not only help build a better government and a stronger democracy, but we also demonstrate in clear terms for the American public why that mission is so important to all of us. As such, our work helps keep our nation focused on strengthening and supporting our most vital public institution.
I left Singapore energized by this cause and confident in the Partnership’s ability to make a difference.