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Are you concerned about the rising living cost in Singapore? The over-crowded MRT trains? The difficulty to find jobs due to competitions from foreign talents? Or the dilution of the Singapore identity and culture? If yes, you are not alone. Many Singaporeans share the same worries as you do. You may have sensed that during your casual conversations with your family members, your friends and colleagues, or random encounters on the Internet. But your everyday social circle is limited and it may not allow you to fully know what is going on in your fellow citizens’ minds. Do you want to know how other Singaporeans think about these problems and whether they agree with you? Do you like to talk to these fellow Singaporeans directly and discover why they hold different views from what you do? And eventually after knowing what others think, do you wish to have a voice in shaping governmental policies regarding these issues? Our research project is set to fulfill these possibilities, through building a digital platform that will be open to a group of Singaporeans who come from all walks of lives and allow them to discuss these issues with each other.

So here is how it worked in our first trial with the Singaporeans. We had three phases:

In Phase 1:

  • 2,006 participants, representative of the Singapore population, were recruited for the pre-deliberation survey (both pre- and post-deliberation surveys were conducted by YouGov)
  • The questionnaire included variables such as: 1) Perceptions and opinions on policies for Fertility, Foreign Workforce and New Immigrants; 2) Certainty and conflictedness of own attitudes; 3) Usage of mainstream media and social media for information-seeking and discussion; 4) Political traits (e.g., political knowledge, political efficacy, political cynicism and political participation); and 5) Demographics such as age, gender, income, education, and ethnicity.

In Phase 2:

  • 1,208 respondents from the 2,006 who participated in the pre-deliberation survey were invited to discuss Fertility, Foreign Workforce and New Immigrants issues on the platform.
  • Among 1,208 invited participants, 509 logged in at least once during the three-week long discussion.

In Phase 3:

  • The post-deliberation survey repeated some measures, e.g., perceptions and opinions on policies for Fertility, Foreign Workforce and New Immigrants; media usage, and political traits.
  • Additional questions such as the “look and feel” of the digital platform and likelihood of future participation were added in the post-deliberation survey.

Now you probably wonder how the digital platform actually “looks and feels”, should you be able to have the chance to participate. We had a few technological features built into the digital platform that you may find interesting.

  • Educational slides on the three sub-issues: We all have our day-to-day experience with the issues but it does not mean that we have the full view. So what does the overall picture look like? What have been done and what could be done to address the issues? And how do other countries deal with the issues? This set of educational slides will give you some brief information regarding these questions, without burdening you too much to read through hundreds of pages. These interactive slides allow you to have a sense of the broad picture quickly and give you a chance to briefly reflect on your own views too.
  • Tree-structure interactions: If you have ever visited a discussion forum such as hardwarezone.com, you would be familiar with these interactions. You write a post, or your reply to someone else’s post. All these posts are organized like a tree, with branches stemming out. You can also like, dislike, vote up and down the posts in these interactions, giving you more opportunities to interact with other fellow discussants. This format would not burden you to learn how to use a brand new interface that you have never tried before, and thus give you more time and energy to write down your thoughts and interact with others.
  • Graph summary of the points of discussion: But when the posts are getting many and the tree grows higher and higher, you may find it difficult to “climb” the tree. Also, how about posts that very well written and those that are not? How can you save the time of “tracing” all the branches to identify what is worth your time reading and what is not. We provide a graph summary of “good” posts, based on the moderators’ judgement. These graphs featured posts that provide high quality arguments, or include informative external sources, in a network type of graph. You can simply click the dots on the graph and immediately reach the original post, to read more and make your own judgement and response.
  • Reward system for active users: If you join as a participant, you may wonder what the benefits for yourself are if you spend so much time and energy in contributing to the discussions. The platform does recognize the hard work active users put into the discussion, and reward those who have made good contributions. With a point system that takes into account your log in time, likes, dislikes, votes, posts, and replies, your participation is given a point score. Depending on how many points you earn, you would be able to redeem your points as vouchers. So your civic behaviors not only benefit the country but also your own personal life.
  • Online polls: After the discussion is closed, what if people still disagree with each other? How to make a decision and provide the decision to policy makers for consideration? At the end of this discussion, an online poll is posted to the digital platform and all participants are invited to vote on solutions or decisions that have emerged through their own discussion. So you don’t have to worry that the discussion leads to nowhere. At least an informed decision has been made by the group of fellow discussants you have talked with.