The man who took on this gargantuan task was the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. He recognised that Singapore had to change in order to thrive. "We knew that if we were just like our neighbours, we would die. Because we've got nothing to offer against what they have to offer. So we had to produce something which is different and better than what they have. It's incorrupt. It's efficient. It's meritocratic. It works,” he told the New York Times.

In 1986, Lee Kuan Yew said “I am often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens. Yes, if I did not, had I not done that, we wouldn't be here today… we would not have made economic progress, if we had not intervened on very personal matters - who your neighbour is, how you live, the noise you make, how you spit, or what language you use. We decide what is right."

A very Platonic approach, using laws to regulate private lives to ensure citizens are well-behaved in public. One day I'll find time to blog that one up...

But while Singapore still loves a public campaign, it has moved toward a more nuanced approach of influencing the behaviours of its inhabitants. One such strategy has been to collaborate with the UK government’s Behavioural Insights Team, nicknamed the “Nudge Unit”, which uses the Nobel Prize-winning concept of “nudge theory”. This is based around the idea that people can make better choices through simple discreet policies while still retaining their freedom of choice. Nudge theory is certainly de rigeur among policy makers across the world at the moment but Singapore has actually been using similar strategies long before it became fashionable.

In Singapore some of the nudges you come across are remarkably simple. Rubbish bins are placed away from bus stops to separate smokers from other bus users. Utility bills display how your energy consumption compares to your neighbours. Outdoor gyms have been built near the entrances and exits of HDB estates so they are easy to use, available and prominent enough to consistently remind you. Train stations have green and red arrows on the platform indicating where you should stand so as to speed up the alighting process. If you opt to travel at off-peak times (before 0700), your fare is reduced.

The National Steps Challenge, which encourages participants to get exercising using free step counters in exchange for cash and prizes, has been so successful that the programme name has been trademarked. This form of gamifying is one of the more successful ways of engaging users in achieving objectives. Massive queues to collect the free fitness tracker demonstrated the programme’s popularity.

A potential correlation also has been drawn between support for nudges and the level of trust in government. Hungary, which had one of the lowest levels of support for nudges, also has a low level of trust in its government – only 28% according to the OECD. China, on the other hand, had overwhelmingly positive attitudes to nudges and also a high level in trust in the government.
Shared publiclyView activity