HOW do you convince people to do the right thing? How do you change behaviour? Of course, there is the top-down approach, through legislation. But is it effective? The answer has to be, not always. For this reason, we welcome the approach the Government is taking in plans to build a more environmentally friendly Singapore: Find out from individuals, businesses and civic groups what they think, what they are passionate about and what their priorities are. Then, work with them. With such a 'buy-in', initiatives and plans will likely have greater support from the very start, as the public is involved in influencing the choice of programmes and of their design. In other words, the key is to determine the confluence between grassroots concerns and wants, and government intentions.
Towards this end, there will be opportunities through the Internet and forums for the public to share views and possible solutions to environmental challenges. For instance, feedback on home design for rubbish disposal and the habits might prove useful in designing ways that make it easier for households to recycle. And are there cycling groups out there, and what do they think it'll take to make the bike a commuting option? Enthusiastic public engagement with policy planners can lead to fresh ways of looking at old problems, and new insights from those closest to the issues, from consumers to small and big businesses and volunteer groups. The important thing is to get as many people involved as possible, so plans have the greatest resonance. This, however, is where difficulty might lie. Not all suggestions are workable, and they need to be sorted out without alienating people. This will take time and effort. Even before that, will the public respond in the number needed? While there is a good number of people who will relish the opportunity to have a say, there are also those who prefer to leave it to someone else. So getting people to become more involved will need some work.
It's one thing to seek responses to questions in a survey, and another to open up a dialogue with stakeholders. The former offers the possibility of crafting the best solution from a set of options. The latter, however, can offer solutions that hadn't even yet been considered. Whether it's energy conservation, recycling or reducing car use, changing entrenched habits isn't easy. But if the public is given a stake in how this might be reshaped, the bigger is the chance that it will stick.