About the Research

This project at the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities (Singapore University of Technology and Design) researches the role and organisation of self-led community initiatives. We situate our research and case studies in Singapore, a country typically characterised by its central planning and top-down governance. However, recent years have seen an increasing interest in participatory planning and public engagement from both governmental and non-governmental actors. One form that has gained visibility are “ground up” community projects – arguably, one of the most active and empowered modes of engagement and public participation. Rather than providing feedback or input into a process, like a traditional Town Hall, residents initiate their own actions and solutions to challenges or opportunities they see in their community. In this way, they model their feedback, showing not only what they think, but how they think it can be addressed.

“Where there were problems in the past, residents used to ask what the Government could do to solve them. But today, more ground-up initiatives are taking place where residents find ways to create a better environment for themselves and their community.” – Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education (2017)

Given the increasing impetus for “ground up initiatives” (what we refer to in this research as community initiatives), we are interested to learn more about what makes them “work,” whether they are true instruments of change or a rehashing of tokenistic mechanisms for participation, how we can support them to become more impactful, and the potential to leverage the innovative models and insights generated by these unique, grounded organisations. We explore these topics under the three broad research questions below:

  • What is the experience of starting and sustaining a community initiative in Singapore?
  • In what ways are community initiatives in Singapore able to embed and shape their broader institutional and environmental context? Are community initiatives an effective mechanism to co-create our cities?
  • What are the needs and tools that would build the capacity of community initiatives, and help them become more impactful?

“Some of the most effective methods for cultivating social innovation start from the presumption that people are competent interpreters of their own lives and competent solvers of their own problems.” – Geoff Mulgan (2006)

The Research Process

The findings and content in the website are derived from research over a 12 month period in 2018. Research methods include:

  • Semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions with initiative leaders and participants
  • A survey of initiative leaders and volunteers
  • Workshops with initiative leaders
  • Discussions with government agencies that support community initiatives

Through the research, we identified a number of practical needs shared by many community initiatives. While we had a good sense of what their challenges are, we wanted to better understand how they could be mitigated, and more importantly, how to design for the unique organisational needs of community initiatives.

This process yielded six design prototypes – products and services – to support budding and established community initiatives. However, we were as interested in the process as the outcome. We held three focus groups discussions to gather feedback on the prototypes, allowing us to validate our findings in a more physical, reactive setting.

The research findings have been made available on this website. While we do not anticipate new updates to the site, feedback and comments are welcome.

The Research Team

The research was conducted at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, and is supported by the SUTD-MIT International Design Centre.

Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities (LKYCIC)
Julienne Chen
Hoa Nguyen
Cheryl Low

Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Cluster (SUTD)
Samson Lim
Ate Poorthuis

We also would like to thank Xiaochen Xu, Pearlyn Neo, Grace Guo and the dedicated and committed support of our research participants and external collaborators. In particular, we would like to acknowledge the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre, who provided critical input and feedback, helped to organise and facilitate workshops and ground our research in an applied context.

This research is supported by the SUTD-MIT International Design Centre. Any findings, conclusions, recommendations, or opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessary reflect the views of its funding or research partners.

Photo Credits
Images from this site were sourced from the research team, community initiatives and the generous photographers who make their photos available by permission and/or under a Creative Commons license. With the exception of the below, photo credits are listed on their respective pages.

Photo credits for Home: NVIDIA Corporation, Ted Eytan, Hoa Nguyen, Design Innovation Center du Competence, Be Kind SG, Happy People Helping People

Photo credits for About the research: Design Innovation Center du CompetenceNVIDIA Corporation, Hoa Nguyen