Internship experience at the Institute of Policy Studies, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, Singapore (April to July 2019)

27 Jun 2019

Background of IPS

The Institute of Policy Studies was established in 1988 as an independent think-tank to study and generate public policy ideas in Singapore. IPS became an autonomous research centre of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore in 2008. Today, IPS continues to analyse public policy, build bridges between thought leaders, and communicate its findings to a wide audience. The Institute examines issues of critical national interest across a variety of fields, and studies the attitudes and aspirations of Singaporeans through surveys of public perception. It adopts a multi-disciplinary approach in its analyses and takes the long-term view in its strategic deliberation and research.

IPS contributes to the research and analysis of domestic issues covering a wide range of topics and areas of study, focusing primarily on Singapore-centric subjects. The major areas of research include:

  • Arts, Culture, and Media
  • Demography and Family
  • Economics and Business
  • Politics and Governance
  • Society and Identity

Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh Chok Tong, who is currently the Governing Chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, is the Founding Patron of IPS. In 1988, ESM Goh announced the establishment of IPS, as a think tank outside the government, which could examine and add value to government policies, and provide a platform for mature, open, and incisive discussion on Singapore’s challenges, options, and direction.

My first encounter with IPS was during a chit-chat session with Dr Gillian Koh, Deputy Director (Research) and Senior Research Fellow on September 14, 2018 who introduced us to the works of the organisation, and subsequent participation in IPS related conferences piqued my interest to consider a research experience there.

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Internship Opportunities

From April to coming July 2019, I am working as a Graduate Research Assistant at the IPS. I assisted my supervisor, Research Fellow Dr Mohamad Shamsuri Juhari, in the project title “Society and Culture” in the Malay/Muslim Research Network.

My first scope of research at IPS focuses on issues pertaining to the local Malay-Muslim community, specifically in relation to Malay Youth Identity project. This project investigates the issue of how today’s Malay youths see themselves as members of their ethnic group in the context of Singapore’s current multi-ethnic society. Its findings have identified where lies the strengths or weaknesses of a young Malay person’s sense of identity and whether these have had an impact on his or her subsequent affiliation with their ethnic group. The Malay youth’s sense of belonging to the ethnic group then decides the level of support that will be rendered back to the ethnic community. The research will identify the plethora of issues confronting Malay youth identity formation in Singapore today. Where possible, and in line with Singapore’s Bicentennial, comparisons will also be made to responses of Malay youths on similar themes and issues in the past decades. My supervisor, myself, and another graduate research assistant is currently writing on a working paper on ‘What Does it mean to be Malay? Voices of Youth from the Community.

A rudimentary introduction to the MMC will put things in perspective. The story behind the Singaporean Malay community or the Malay Narrative - post-Independence - has generally not been seen in a positive light. This negative outlook, in turn, has impacted the community’s psyche. On an aggregate level, it affects the community’s measure of self-confidence, its level of aspirations, and ultimately the motivation to better itself socially, economically, and even politically. The discussion brought together youths who were participants of the focus group discussions, practitioners, and decision makers on the ground, as well as policymakers and academics representing the different areas of concern for the MMC.

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My second scope of research is a ‘Solution-Seeking’ workshop for two youth personas, built upon the ‘8 personas project’ under the Malay-Muslim (MM) Research Network initiative. The initial project began with a first ‘problem-identifying’ workshop based on the Design Thinking (DT) framework and that resulted in the 8 MM personas being agreed on by the participants: “At-risk youth”, “Did okay in primary school but not so well in secondary school”, “At-risk PMET”, “Lost Dreams”, “Single Mum”, “At-risk Health”, “Ageing alone” and “Ex-offender”. One of the deliverables is to design a ‘Solution-Seeking’ workshop for two youth personas - ‘Atan’ and ‘Daniel’. Based on the DT process, participants arrived at the consensus that issues faced by Malay youths should be given priority for discussions in subsequent workshops. The Solution-Seeking Workshop focused on identifying and prioritising solutions to the problems faced by the two personas. The aim was to get participants to synthesise and synergise their thoughts into generating actionable solutions to the difficulties experienced by these two personas. This is because, if left unaddressed, challenges faced by these young Malays will cascade into the other domains of their lives.

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Other than the research work I undertook above, my supervisor also provided me research opportunities in other areas such as:

  • Geylang Serai Ramadan Bazaar as a Malay Cultural Heritage Site: An Ethnographic Case Study of Sights, Sounds and Smells -the Geylang Serai Ramadan Bazaar represents a microcosm of MMC life located at the eastern part of Singapore. The proposed study is interested in embarking on an investigation which will examine issues of social meaning, cultural sustainability and profitability centering on the annual Ramadan bazaar at Geylang Serai.
  • End-of-Life Care from the perspective of MMC - the notion of the end-of-life care will have different expectations, experiences, beliefs, and value systems. However, data on Malay-Muslim community is almost non-existent and is not elevated to an academic study. Researchers are cognisant that topics since death and dying are approached with a theological notion of fate and at best seen as a ‘taboo’ topic.
  • Minor Marriages in Singapore - innumerable research also found that minor marriages cause or is associated with adverse impacts on all parties involved, conditioned by personal irresponsibility and attitudinal defect. Thus far, minor marriages in Singapore has not received significant attention, and disparate research has been dated thus far (Noor Aisha 2009, Tay and Yip 1984). This literature review is a preliminary study to gather studies in Singapore for subsequent phases.
  1. Internship Opportunities

IPS also developed a very robust and broad-based internship program for all interns, including myself. The programme includes

  • Newsletter and Full-Length reports for IPS website publication - interns can publicise full-length reports for events, research findings or Working Papers.
  • Department Lunch and Meeting @ IPS Meeting Room - where proposed agendas were discussed to keep abreast of the happenings within each research cluster. The Institute also encouraged sharing of ideas and participation.
  • IPS Brown Bag Lunch - a casual get-together lunch where researchers can share projects with the rest of the institute pertaining to their subject of interest.
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For this Brown Bag Lunch, I presented a topic on “Public Rental Housing in Singapore - A Last Resort?” (co-written by Gabriel Lim and Gregory Tham). The paper was submitted for the LKY Case Study Competition 2018 and won the Distinguished Prize Award. It was an opportunity for me to showcase their policy knowledge and application through the analysis of a public policy case study concerning contemporary issues in Asia, specifically Singapore. There was a robust exchange of ideas pertaining to the visibility of the Public Rental Housing in Singapore and how the concept has evolved through time.

  • Meeting Stakeholders - encouraged synergistic co-operation and exchange of information for the betterment of the intended community. During my stint, I have met with representatives from Ministry of Culture, Community, and Youth (MCCY), Majulah Singapore (a non-profit organisation that aims to improve the social capital of the Singaporean community by empowering and developing its youth), and the Director General of Multiculturalism at Canadian Heritage (a government agency responsible for addressing Canadian multicultural policies).
  • Conference and Workshop Opportunities - in the course of the Internship period, I have had the opportunity to attend multiple conferences and workshops which brought together academics, practitioners, and think-tankers from around the world to share experiences, present their research, and co-develop solutions to common challenges. Examples include - “Does “Invisible Privilege” Travel?: Looking Beyond the Geographies of White Privilege”, “3rd ARISE Industry and Community Engagement”, “Challenges to Multiculturalism - Managing Diversities in Europe and Southeast Asia” and “International Conference on Cohesive Societies”.
  1. Conclusion

It was a productive three months at the Institute, learning the ropes from my supervisor who has been valuable in imparting both a sociological and public policy perspective in my stint there. It afforded me a broader view on how thinktanks such as IPS form part of the ecosystem of policymaking in Singapore. A concerted effort must be made to come up with actionable plans for the benefit of the intended community or society, and that it followed a SMART framework - specific, measurable, actionable, relevance and time-bound which is both valid and reliable. Being a change-maker for the betterment of lives in Singaporean society, IPS has equipped me with the intellectual tools one needs to understand better and find solutions to many of the problems facing Singapore’s minority population.

One is a sharing session by a Canadian Director General on Multiculturalism, and the other is with my supervisor :D

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