This post picks up on a point made by Oikono's SIPA friend about how "the dearth of independent social policy research in Singapore... results in conservative decision making." I argue that the crux of the problem is not so much that critical social policy research is lacking but that such research does not constitute as significant, regular or structural input into the civil service policy formulation process.
Leaving aside the contested notion of how "independent" social policy research produced by our local thinktanks and academic institutions is, I contend that critical research does exist and has been increasing in quantity. I've previously blogged about how Saw Swee Hock's Population Control for Zero Growth in Singapore shows that academics had been arguing against the Stop At Two policy for almost ten years before it was eventually reversed.
Likewise, Lai Ah Eng's Meanings of Multiethnicity shows how the Chinese- Malay- Indian- Others (CMIO) categories and its assignment by paternity are begining to mean less real Singaporeans but yet continue to have housing implications due to HDB racial quotas based on CMIO. Her edited volume, Beyond Rituals and Riots, brings together a rich collection of studies on issues like ethnic mixing and cohesion in early education settings.
However I do not know if such social policy research forms a decisive or significant input into policy formulation and implementation. I suspect that it does not. Firstly, while it is not beyond imagination that civil servants and ministers might actually read such research, I have not seen any evidence that such research is a regular, structural input in the Singapore social policy-making process even though this is normally the case in UK's paradigm of 'evidence-based policy-making' [further reading].
Secondly, I am not entirely sure if civil servants are quite ready for academics to have a regular (rather than ad hoc) finger in policy making pie. The degree of bureaucratic turf-guarding, inertia, propensity towards social engineering varies from ministry to ministry, I'm sure.
Thirdly, and most seriously, critical social research not only illuminates past mistakes (thus causing embarrassment and undermining an image of omnipotence and omniscience) but can also seriously challenge key foundational myths such as the benefits and actuality of trading off debate for action (Saw on how it took 10 years to scrap Stop At Two, in contrast [via the FT] to how it took South Korea two years to scrap a similar policy on the basis of similar data) or the fixed nature of ethnicity (Lai on salience of CMIO categories).
Thus it may not be that civil servants lack critical social policy research to draw on but that, drawing from dansong's insight , such research simply does not have a systemic input into technocratic policy-making.