Beyond SG50: Driving Forces, Trends And Singapore's Future

A peek behind the scenes at how Singapore is preparing for 20 years into the future.

While many of us work on the urgent issues of today, a team of public officers have been setting their sights on Singapore’s future.

Since mid-2015, they have been coming together for an exercise known as the National Scenarios 2035, or NS2035, to think about how a number of driving forces, or trends, might affect Singapore in 20 years. The project is expected to wrap by the end of this year.

The National Scenarios exercise is convened every three to five years to examine key trends and changes to Singapore’s operating environment. It’s something the Singapore Public Service has been doing for 30 years, starting in the 1980s with the Ministry of Defence.


In this sixth edition, led by the newly formed Strategy Group in the Prime Minister’s Office, 80 public officers from various agencies studied six domains: social, economic, governance, environment and resources, technology, and geopolitics and security.

“The teams were formed with an appreciation that our colleagues brought with them diverse perspectives… [and] that the lenses they used were not confined to the perspective of their organisation,” says Ms Melissa Khoo, Director, Strategic Planning and Futures, Strategy Group. The teams comprised officers from over 30 agencies, including all ministries and several statutory boards.

They also sought external perspectives from thought leaders such as senior corporate executives who came for the Singapore Summit 2015 (a forum on finance and economics with a Global-Asia focus), environmental experts who visited during Singapore International Water Week, and futurists and other idea-makers during Singapore Foresight Week.

Opportunities and challenges

The diverse mix of public officers came together for a variety of workshops, including one to draw links across the driving forces and brainstorm possible trajectories, such as opportunities and threats for Singapore.

Certain trends such as demography are “perennial”, says Ms Khoo. “Given our ageing population, how might we turn our limitations into sources of strength, the same way we have done in the past with our water constraints? And what sources of competitive advantage can we seek out, in a digital age?”

Newer trends include developments in technology: artificial intelligence, virtual reality and innovative digital platforms that match service providers and clients. There is also the rise of digital conglomerates, such as Google or Alibaba, which have access to vast amounts of consumer data to construct real-time snapshots of the economy and society, e.g., urban transport flows, consumer and business credit ratings and a more detailed pulse of the economy.

Scenarios aren’t predictive — they are meant to lay out plausible stories, and the main objective is to have people respond to those stories. They act as prompters about what we need to do today to prepare for 2035.

The NS2035 exercise is also looking at the trends’ impact on Singapore’s economy, as it matures and begins to follow the trajectory of other advanced economies.

Besides working in their teams, the NS2035 officers are coordinating with ministries, statutory boards and other groups to look into the opportunities and challenges these trends could bring for Singapore.

The future trends have also been shared with the 30-member Committee on the Future Economy (CFE). Its five sub-committees will look into corporate capabilities and innovation, future growth industries and markets, Singapore’s connectivity, urban development and infrastructure, and the jobs and skills needed for the future.

Ms Khoo sees the National Scenarios as a broader effort to think systematically about the future with the community. Several planning officers involved in an earlier National Scenarios exercise went on to design and facilitate the Our Singapore Conversation and other public conversations on the future, such as Institute of Policy Studies’ Prism Scenarios on governance.

Talking about the future

In the past, the scenario planners would weave the 20 or so driving forces into three to four scenarios, which are then shared with different ministries to use in their planning for the next five years, or further ahead.

“Scenarios aren’t predictive — they are meant to lay out plausible stories, and the main objective is to have people respond to those stories. They act as prompters about what we need to do today to prepare for 2035,” says Ms Tan Gee Keow, Deputy Secretary of the Strategy Group (read more about her in her interview with Challenge).


This time, in addition to the scenarios, the full set of driving forces is being shared with agencies too, to preserve their richness and serve as a resource for planning. “Stories are an easy way for people to relate, which is why the scenarios are useful tools… but this time round the driving forces are really looking interesting because of the way technology is developing,” adds Ms Tan.

“These driving forces lead down different paths according to how people, companies and the Public Service respond — and what we want is for these driving forces to create conversations within the Public Service.”

As part of Public Service Week, public officers can take part in PSFuture conversations hosted by their agencies, with thematic inter-agency dialogues hosted by various public service leaders.

Over the next several stories, Challenge explores the interaction of several trends that the NS2035 teams have come up with.

Read the other stories on future trends:

Find out more about the PSFuture sessions.

    May 10, 2016
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