The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami destroyed 95 per cent of Aceh’s economy. Soon after, international organisations swooped in, bringing US$9bn of funding to the devastated and politically-fragile Indonesian province.
The operation was a “huge experiment” and its greatest lessons lie in what wasn’t sufficiently funded, says Caroline Brassard, Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Data on sectoral allocation for the recovery found that critical sectors like energy, flood control and environmental protection were significantly underfunded, compared to more publicly visible infrastructural projects like housing, education and healthcare, which were overfunded.
Brassard’s upcoming online course at the Lee Kuan School of Public Policy draws on such lessons from across the region on making effective and inclusive policies. She shares four of the essential areas.
1. Look at the long term
Civil servants must take a long term view to issues – for instance, understanding the impact of demographic changes, the evolution of tech and climate change. This will allow them to develop skills for “preventive policymaking as opposed to reactive policymaking”, she says.
For instance, Japan has incorporated disaster education into its school curriculum to prepare all generations for natural disasters. Children in every school learn tailor-made and locally-specific skills on how to respond during a disaster.
Meanwhile, Bhutan has taken a long term view to tackle climate change and protect its natural resources with well thought out and drastic regulations, she adds. For example, over 60 per cent of its land must be forested. “Of course, it brings other constraints in terms of expansion of agricultural land, but that forces better use of technology for higher productivity and yield of established agricultural land.”
2. Communicate clearly
Quite often, the reason underlying ineffective policies is poor communication, she says. “It’s not that citizens don’t understand the issues, the onus is on public officials and decision makers to develop the ability to better communicate the rationale and goals of public policies.”
A case in point is climate change, she believes. Research and policies on climate change and weather are highly complex, scientific and data-intensive. Scientists and experts are still struggling to effectively communicate these findings to citizens and policymakers in other parts of government who rely on this information, like aviation, agriculture and transport.
Brassard is working with Meteorological Service Singapore to share its findings in ways that are accessible to others. “You have to communicate this information in a way that’s not too technical, by avoiding expert talk and not overwhelming people with data.”
3. Be a good learner
Civil servants have to be efficient learners to keep up with changes, she says. They must be able to discern quality information, and weed out untrusted sources. They need to draw lessons from the past and find links between sectors which may not appear to have immediate connections.
An important lesson comes from Aceh’s recovery from the 2006 Indian Ocean tsunami. Areas like environmental protection and governance were underfunded because there is less expertise available in these areas. “It showed that we lacked building our own capacity in the humanitarian sector in these fields.”
4. Work with diverse stakeholders
One of the most misunderstood barriers for civil servants is citizens’ attitudes towards issues and how that would affect their acceptance of a policy. Working with diverse stakeholders early in the process can minimise future hurdles down the road during implementation.
Brassard pointed at Kampong Buangkok, Singapore’s ‘last village’ – a contentious proposal to replace the only remaining village in the city to build more roads and schools in the future. Heritage and culture is an obvious issue in this debate, but it’s crucial to consider the many other views on it. “You can look at it from so many different perspectives: from a business perspective, from a villager perspective, a tourist perspective, a protection perspective.”
Brassard’s course on the Essentials of Policy Development begins on 5 October. Enroll here.