I went into IPS Prism on Sunday feeling skeptical.
Why? Because from what I had read about the exercise by the Institute of Policy Studies gave me a very strong sense of déjà vu. That I had heard it all before but under a different banner, namely being the National Conversation exercise that was currently being executed by the government.
However, the trip to the National Library, the site of the Prism staging, revealed much to me. Namely that IPS had taken a different approach from the government sanctioned National Conversation by having a forum theatre that involved the attending audience to act out a possible future Singapore scenario that the spectators would like to see in 2020. It was a peak into the futurist mindset that the Prism study was being conducted in and I for one was intrigued enough to decide to spend the day observing what was unfolding.The time I spent at Prism on Sunday, showed that there was only 1 component that was similar to the National Conversation. It was the chit chat chop chop component where participants got to have a informal discussion with a featured speaker on aspects of Singaporean society they would like to talk about. At no point were we split into groups to discuss the overlying topic at hand. It was a free flow conversation where everyone was allowed to ask the speaker for their insight based on their expertise. This lead to a number of stimulating discussions that I think some would enjoy:
I was a part of a discussion on education that talked about the need to empower our students and teachers so they could be free to help grow our people into proper citizens of the world.
I was a part of a discussion that talked about the very strong possibility that the biggest government sacred cow, the true size of our national reserves, will be revealed within the next 5 years because of growing public cynicism and pressure for transparency.
I was a part of a discussion on why despite our small size we have the capacity for great literary talent and a candid talk that asked: why are we not like Finland where we could have 1000s of books published a year despite sharing the same population size.
And it was from there that the differences between Prism and the National Conversation continued to flow forth. Prism takes the effort to ask respondents for their motivation and understand the point of view from which they are basing their futuristic vision on Singaporean society.
The National Conversation is trying to learn what people want while Prism studies why people want what they want. At least, that is the sense I got when I was participating in its execution, especially the survey segment. Therein lies the importance of what Prism is doing:
Change, real holistic change and progress can only come about if people intrinsically understand why they need to change. Otherwise whatever changes that come about will only be cosmetic in nature while the people driving the change will continue to think in the same obsolete mindset - and that in itself is an exercise in futility, which explains why there are many out there who feel that the National Conversation is just for show. IPS Prism is honestly trying to bring change into society...or at least have us really think about why we need the change we keep clamouring for. It is commendable and frankly more of us should make the effort to be a part of. I know I am because I will be at Prism's last day of activities on Tuesday, November 13th. Will you?