How data helps provide Singapore’s relief aid

By Sean Nolan

Caroline Tan, Senior Deputy Director, Information Technology Group, MSF shares how social services used technology to continue their work.

When safe distancing measures meant that people couldn’t meet in person, multiplayer games skyrocketed in popularity, according to the BBC. The online medium gave individuals a chance to join a community when doing so in-person became difficult.

Governments have also turned to online platforms to continue interacting with the community. Data plays a key role in this, as it enables the public sector to personalise the digital services they provide to citizens.

Caroline Tan, Senior Deputy Director, Information Technology Group at Singapore’s Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) shares how data helps relief services tailor their support to the citizens in need.

Using data and the cloud

MSF used data to personalise and support citizens in need. At the start of the pandemic, the ministry partnered with GovTech, the public sector’s technology agency, to gather insights as it distributed aid, Tan explains.

As MSF distributes Covid-19 relief, it uses data to identify those who received aid and ask if they need additional support. This allows the ministry to then refer these citizens to the relevant support agencies.

It also oversees data sharing, which helps provide coordinated support among different government agencies. For example, frontline officers from different social service agencies can see data on a particular family, allowing the agencies to work together to provide support.

To help citizens applying for welfare assistance, MSF uses a common database for managing cases. This means that applicants applying for different social service programmes do not have to repeatedly explain their situation, Tan highlights.

The ministry uses ready-made tools found on the government cloud, for example an analytics portal, she says. This helps to collect data such as website traffic, popular pages and user feedback, to improve the government’s digital services.

A library of data sharing tools, which connect the information of two different agencies, is also available. Having these tools available means that ministries won’t have to produce their own, cutting down on duplicated work, Tan explains.

Adapting in the pandemic

When the pandemic began, safe distancing measures made it difficult for frontline officers to deliver social services in-person or over the counter, said Tan. Physical interactions were the ministry’s main channel for engaging with citizens.

But now the organisation mainly interacts digitally. A new one-stop portal that enables citizens to access and apply for Covid-related support programmes, is an example of this, Tan shares.

The MSF also adopted a platform to quickly enable form submissions to be made online. This tool was highly valuable at the start of the pandemic, with many new forms being introduced, for example temperature taking, its website explains.

Another useful tool shares a citizen’s data with multiple agencies, after receiving consent from the individual. The data sharing reduces the “tedious form filling” that citizens must go through when applying for multiple programmes, Tan highlights.

Using video conferencing is another way the ministry adapted to the pandemic. Citizens are able to speak virtually with support officers, reducing travelling time and ensuring that services can continue throughout the pandemic.

Developing digital talent

While MSF adopts new technology, its staff must also become more familiar with using data. The organisation develops the digital skills of its staff in two ways.

First, it is training its public servants on data through GovTech’s education programme. This programme is useful as new skills must be learnt every few years, explained Senior Minister of State, Janil Puthucheary.

Second, MSF organises data training so staff can shape policy with relevant data insights. One example of this training is on the use of data visualisation, where 200 staff learnt how statistics can be turned into easily understood images.

As nations continue to battle Covid-19 , governments must find new ways to deliver the same essential services. Data and the cloud are helping Singapore to provide convenient and personalised relief for its citizens in need.