“The new Youth Conversations aim to inform the young about important national issues, as well as help them work out their differences by listening, negotiating, and finding solutions together, and with the government” (Youth Conversations Dialogue Series among Outreach Efforts, Toh Yong Chuan).
The launch of a series of dialogues – christened the Youth Conversations – “to inform the young about important national issues” (ST, Mar. 9) is encouraging, but thus far it is not clear whether the government has considered the feedback from similar outreach efforts in the past, both to ensure a broader diversity of participants as well as to articulate a more coherent “so what?” vision: So what happens at the end of the process? And more importantly, since the Minister for Culture, Community, and Youth Grace Fu has said that the government will be more open, is it also open to ideas or projects which may run counter to what is expected, for youths to not necessarily find solutions together with it.
Preceding the Youth Conversations were the Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) series from 2012 to 2013 and the SGfuture initiative announced in 2015, and despite tweaks to this upcoming dialogue series and the plans for a new outline platform, the Ministry of Culture, Community, and Youth (MCCY) has, however, said little substantive about the overall vision of the dialogue series – the guiding principles, the topics for discussion, and even how this might differ from other MCCY or non-government projects, for instance -and how the profiles of participants may be diversified. In other words, youths participating in the Youth Conversations could end up having very broad exchanges, among others from fairly similar backgrounds.
And what may emerge are tired points or generic policy recommendations which may not be of much value.
Instead, a more productive approach might be to first establish what was gained through the OSC and SGfuture, and to lay out – in addition to the challenges of diversity and the “so what” vision – other problems which surfaced. Next, the MCCY could map out more precisely the roadmap for the Youth Conversations, and at the same time how different sessions or themes relate to one another. And above all, such outreach efforts should include individuals who manage meaningful endeavours independently or without the support from the government. It is tempting and convenient to only engage with those who are already familiar with or to agencies like the MCCY, especially through networks which are involved in the government’s initiatives, yet the resulting perspectives are likely to be limited.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.