Insights on Public Policy

By Darrius Tan

The Discovery+ Series is a series of events, delivered through online digital solutions, which gives students the chance to speak directly with working professionals, and learn about careers they aspire to enter. Given the developments in the COVID-19 situation, Advisory is keen to provide support to the many students who are experiencing woes in this time of disruptions, by digitalising professional mentorship.

On 20 April 2021, Advisory organised a Discovery+ online panel: Discovery+: Public Policy. On our panel that evening, we were privileged to have experienced professionals from academia, government and corporates. The panel consisted of Ms Shanta Arul, Director, Strategy & Development, Public Policy (Asia Pacific), Netflix; Ms Amira Karim, Head of Public Policy (Asia Pacific), Stripe; Ms Carol Soon, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Policy Studies, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Mr Daryl Lim, Deputy Director (Strategy and Masterplanning), Smart Nation and Digital Government Office, Prime Minister’s Office; Mr David Black, Founder and CEO, Blackbox Research; and Mr Royce Wee, Director, Head of Global Policy, Alibaba Group. Our registered participants comprised students from various education levels and institutions with a common curiosity in public policy, and what they can do to better stead themselves in entering and staying relevant as a player.

“Where there are people, there are problems, and where there are problems, there are solutions.” Public policy, put simply, is the attempt to solve people’s problems in a holistic manner. It is a course of action taken by the government in consultation with stakeholders in response to issues that threaten the interests of a nation. Because of the wide impact of public policy on people’s lives, public policy involves a wide range of interests, such as the public, economic and moral perspectives. In the public policy sphere, there are multiple actors, such as think tanks, corporations, and the government. As part of this industry, you may monitor global trends and use quantitative data to conduct research to help your organisation to influence or formulate better policies. In corporations, you may also build connections with other stakeholders to increase awareness of corporate operations and initiatives, and to advance the company’s interest.

In the government, civil servants formulate and refine public policies, or push our new government initiatives to deal with pertinent societal issues. For instance, someone at the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) would work on the digitalisation of the government, such as the introduction of digital vaccination certificates, and work with other government technology agencies. Working as a civil servant in Singapore may be difficult, but exciting, because you may be given ample opportunities to explore up-and-coming areas in public policy that interest you. Working as a civil servant also involves a lot of training opportunities and projects, and may require a creative, analytical and entrepreneurial mindset, which are skills that are extremely transferable to the private sector.

In research institutes focusing on public policy, the work can be very multi-faceted, and every workday is unique because it involves different tasks and topics. Research work involves working with experts in the public sector, the private sector and the people sector, to push out an effective and broad response to problems in society. There is also a large degree of collaboration and communication with researchers and academics from other countries. The work can range from writing media commentaries to providing thought leadership in the mainstream media. In addition, one’s input may be required in public policy briefs, research proposals to procure funding for research, as well as teaching.

Working in public policy in a corporation will let you better appreciate the actual implementational impact of policies on the ground, as well as the corporation’s legitimate needs and interests in common economic and societal problems.  Working closely with internal stakeholders will allow you to formulate suitable corporation-wide public policy positions on pertinent issues.  You will also have the important role to provide feedback to regulators and co-create solutions that are balanced, workable and sustainable.

In a number of corporations, corporate culture offers a great degree of autonomy to those in charge of public policy to analyse the wide range of issues that the company may face, and to decide on which policy-related aspects to focus on and address. There may be a flat hierarchy, and communications may be more informal within the organisation. This autonomy allows for those in public policy to work on issues that they feel strongly about.

It is not difficult to enter the Public Policy sector. For instance, in think tanks, there are researchers with different levels of experience, the most junior being research assistants who come from a wide range of disciplines such as economics, political science and linguistics. This is because public policy involves skills that are transferable between sectors, such as communication, collaboration or problem-solving. Certainly, it is an advantage to know how government works and to build up connections with officials in government, but this can be built up over your career in public policy.

In the public policy space, it is important to possess the ability to express yourself and to clearly articulate your point of view. Some employers may look out for individuals who are slightly contrarian because having a diversity of perspectives is key in developing robust ideas and solutions in public policy. Furthermore, one should have a genuine passion to improve people’s lives, and a sense of integrity and what is right.

Instead of looking at “culture-fit”, employers may look for “culture-add”, which is about how an individual’s experiences may add a new dimension to what the organisation is thinking about. For instance, an employer may hire an older PME (Professional, Manager, Executive) who has a large amount of working experience in a different industry.

In conclusion, it is always important to have an open mind, to voraciously read from a variety of sources and to keep learning. One should say yes to new opportunities even though you may be apprehensive about them, and have a continual desire to improve current conditions.