Liana Tang, Deputy Head and Deputy Director, Centre for Strategic Futures, Strategy Group, Prime Minister's Office, Singapore

By Medha Basu

Women in GovTech Special Report 2019.

How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.

Working at the Centre for Strategic Futures, my role is to scout for emerging issues that will impact policy - technology and beyond - and to help the Singapore Public Service anticipate the implications of these issues. Impact can range from new economic opportunities such as jobs and industry, to new approaches to regulation.

What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2019?

It has to be convening the Centre’s biennial roundtable, Foresight Conference 2019: Society 4.0 - the theme was a play on the term Industry 4.0. There has been much discussion about the economic opportunities and impact of the 4IR. But we are all also still trying to understand what it means for us, our sense of self, how we relate to one another, and what we might value in the future.

The trouble with social impact of technology is that it tends to creep up on you but could explode when triggered, with often severe consequences - social media’s impact on politics and vulnerable groups such as youth and persons with mental health conditions, is just one example. Some of the deeper, more philosophical questions like identity, meaning and sense of time, are rarely discussed, but will have profound implications to the kind of society we will be in the future.

The discussions were very rich and participants came up with many ideas on what Society 4.0 might look like and how we could navigate it. The full report can be accessed here.

What is the best thing you have experienced in your career?

Perhaps the best thing is that in the course of my work, I have met extremely intelligent, thoughtful, and creative people who keep me growing. They range from cyborgs and body-hackers, to science fiction writers, thoughtful and provocative policy-makers, and people who have accidentally joined nomadic tribes. Understanding how different people think and see the world provides me with a range of perspectives that inform both my work and career life.

If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2019, what would it be?

Don’t worry if the conversation seems to have gone nowhere - sometimes, the conversation is the point.

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2020?

Polish up my interview techniques! A lot of my work involves looking beyond the horizon, and many crazy ideas are locked up in people’s heads rather than in the public domain. I also need to tailor my work to challenge latent assumptions, which aren’t revealed easily.

What are your priorities for 2020?

Research-wise, I’d like to keep looking into the intersections of technology and society. This would give me an excuse to continue binging on science fiction! We will also be looking into the larger forces that will continue to impact Singapore and how they might pan out - some such forces include geo-political shifts and developments in technology.

What is one challenge you would like to take on in 2020?

Work harder to diversify participation for foresight and policy work. It is very important to reach unconventional stakeholders - there are many brilliant ideas and new ways of thinking that we need to tap! Furthermore, this helps minimise developing blindspots that could derail us.

What has been your fondest memory from the past year?

Being a Chief Facilitator on a Citizens’ Panel on Work-Life Harmony. We worked with 55 citizens, who have been tasked to help improve work-life harmony in Singapore. The energy and commitment of participants have really inspired me to continue serving the Singapore Public Service, knowing that citizens are willing and enthusiastic about creating policies and proposing community solutions to complex issues. This is an exciting way we can work together to build a future Singapore we all want to live in.