Do governments really understand what people are thinking? Do they know how people really feel, for instance, about public services? Or do they merely think they do? Speaking at AMEC Summit, Ivan Yeo, Senior Director of Research at Singapore’s Ministry of Communications & Information, outlines the case for improving the government’s understanding of the people it serves through data.
Yeo realised the value of implementing data metrics to hone communications in June 2013, during the haze crisis — Singapore’s worst in 20 years. Figuring out what people on the ground needed was mission-critical, as soot levels were extraordinarily high. Data enabled the department to send out a clear message advising the use of masks in the most affected areas.
Yeo’s department uses eye-tracking technology and quantitative measures to learn what people look at when they’re out in public, and uses these insights to better engage with people on a day to day basis, and optimise the reach and potential of their campaigns.
“Just as the private sector has to think about ROI in advertising, so too does the government,” he says, citing the “three I’s” which need to be addressed in the data conversation: investment, insight, and integration.
Being able to accurately gage public sentiment is crucial to their outcomes. Social media analytics are useful of course, even if some platforms don’t make their data as readily available as Yeo might like. But his team is also looking at other more analogue means of research, like holding surveys and polls, which helps offset what they can’t learn from social.
Yeo cites a recent example where members of the public were causing a storm on social media around a library book that they felt was unsuitable for children. While in the past, authorities might have simply bowed to this high profile pressure and approved a request to remove the book from shelves, instead the department went offline and asked people on the street how they felt about this issue. It turned out only a very small number of people were opposed to the book, and most were entirely oblivious.
This enabled the government to determine how they would respond to specific groups, rather than assuming everybody felt the same way. “Understanding their attitudes helped us think carefully about how to pitch the right message to them,” says Yeo.
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