How to Make Life Simpler

Collaborate as a whole government. 
How to Make Life Simpler

When you are a new parent with a wailing newborn in your arms, the last thing you want to do is to run to different places to register the birth of the baby and submit forms for the Baby Bonus.

Luckily, you don’t have to. You can do both at the Immigration & Checkpoint Authority (ICA) or at the hospital your child was born in.

Such streamlined processes make life simpler for citizens, but the relevant public agencies and even private service providers (like the hospitals) first had to figure out how these services could be delivered at a one-stop shop. Questions of training, manpower and costs were likely to have been raised.

It is no easy feat but it definitely makes for more satisfied citizens. This is the aim of the Smart Regulation Committee. Formed in 2005 and helmed today by Mr Chan Heng Kee, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), the Committee pushes public agencies to examine whether their rules could be causing “pain points” (read frustration, inconveniences, difficulties) for citizens, and to explore how they can work with other organisations to simplify processes.

Some key questions that this Committee – whose members consist of the Deputy Secretaries and Chief Executives of several public agencies – asks are: “Why do these pain points exist?” and “How can we ease the impact on citizens?” The aim is to get agencies to think hard about how the rules could be adapted or removed to alleviate the pain points, said Mr Kelvin Chia, an MSF officer and member of the Committee’s secretariat.

Making life simpler for citizens is now a global public service trend. Instead of pushing programmes that governments think the people need, governments are now building capacity to offer services based on citizens’ needs. But delivering such seamless service requires governments to adopt a “whole-of-government” or WOG approach.

“Historically, we’re organised in a rather decentralised fashion which… helps us to respond quickly to situations but this also means that in our daily work, we’ve become used to thinking in smaller units,” said Mr Peter Ong, Head of the Civil Service in Singapore.

But he stressed the need to look at the big picture if officers want to excel in their individual work. “When we formulate policies in our own agencies, do we take care to attend to spillover impact on policies belonging to other agencies and seek to iron out these downstream impact before we execute?” he asked.

Asking such questions keep the focus firmly on citizens but agencies will have to think differently. “Some agencies may be extremely reluctant to make organisational sacrifices or incur costs in service of a larger WOG outcome,” said Mr Ong. “Leaders and line officers may feel they are only accountable for outcomes within their direct area of responsibility.”

It’s a difficult shift but a necessary one, adds Mr Ong. “Change is always challenging and sometimes our officers will feel tired and underappreciated. But what encourages me is that our hearts are in the right place, which is to serve the people. So I’m confident that ultimately we will come together as one Service.”

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How To WOG Better


Placing citizens’ needs ahead of individual agencies’ priorities helps officers to develop more holistic solutions.


The most ideal WOG collaboration occurs when officers with the right skills, experience, interests and conviction come together to form a team.


Don’t escalate problems too quickly. Resolving operational issues at the working level builds a stronger collaborative spirit.

Source: Reviewing Whole-of-Government Collaboration in the Singapore Public Service, Ethos, Issue 9, June 2011. For more tips,


In 2007, an inter-ministerial body was formed in France to look at how “life events” of citizens and businesses, such as marriage, could be simplified. It created a simple metric (“Is it a simple/OK/complex/very complex experience?”) to monitor progress. It found that two-thirds of the 100 reforms to simplify processes needed inter-ministerial collaboration. Mr François-Daniel Migeon, head of the team, said in a 2012 report Government Designed for New Times that there was a tendency for the different government units to focus on their own internal issues and challenges. “[But] this metric… [forced] them to focus on the perspective of the citizens,” he said. This led to the highest level of inter-ministerial collaboration the French government has ever had.

    May 13, 2013
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