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.
About the Research
“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)