The challenge: what does it mean to be a Singaporean citizen in an increasingly diverse country?
Singapore has one of the world’s most diverse populations. An open economy based on talent and mobility means that the arrivals of new citizens and an increased presence of foreigners creates pressures for integration and the management of social cohesion. In a society that has long prided itself on the successful management of its diversity (ethnic, religious, socio-economic), new and powerful potential social divides needed to be examined and understood as they had the potential to impact on social cohesion and resilience.
Nationality, citizenship, inter-generational differences, growing inequality and competition, as well as greater diversity of views in society needed to be integrated within the Singapore social compact. What did it now mean to be a Singaporean citizen? Was the definition changing as the country became more diverse? How did people deal with changes that may have made them feel more anxious? Amidst this diversity, it was important to ensure that Singapore continued to be a cohesive, integrated society and Singaporeans continued to feel a strong sense of belonging to Singapore.
Our methodology: examining narratives, in depth conversation groups and immersion, testing new narratives
We first examined and mapped out how citizenship was being messaged and narrated by the government, currently and across sixty years of history. We looked at how these citizenship narratives still played out in the population and how they impacted upon people’s relationships to the state.
We ran over a dozen focus group discussions (segmented into relevant population types) to understand how people felt about the components of the current narrative and what they reacted to, both positively and negatively. We held many one-to-one meetings and conversations with selected individuals and drew on a series of previous projects on middle-class anxieties in Singapore.
Our methodology went beyond organised focus groups and involved deep immersion within different segments of the Singaporean citizenry, which we analysed using anthropological and psychological lenses.
We later tested the findings from the initial phase of the research with several government agencies and policymakers, in order to craft and refine the new strands of the narrative.
The result: an inclusive and expanded notion of Singaporean citizenship
Together with government agencies and based on all of our research, we developed policies and narratives that enabled the government to emphasise the need for tolerance. It created an inclusive, expanded notion of citizenship, stressing a shared destiny and project.