A Human-Centric and Resilient Model for Cities: Case Study of Singapore

Jasmine Ong

A Human-Centric and Resilient Model for Cities: Case Study of Singapore

by Jasmine Ong | Research Analyst, Governance and Digital Transformation, Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, UNDP

A city’s infrastructure and its population are characteristic of an urban living space. This case study of Singapore aims to demonstrate a collaborative approach towards population health safety and financial resilience.

The city-state of Singapore has one of the highest population densities, by global estimates. It follows closely behind the cities of Monaco and Macau, and every square kilometre is inhabited by an estimated 7,800 people. This close proximity of individuals in public areas or work spaces, poses a higher risk for endemic spread of infectious diseases, like the coronavirus. A report by the World Health Organisation Global Preparedness Monitoring Board for instance, recommends that cities evaluate their preparedness for epidemic control based on their local context, with the aid of tools like the Rapid Urban Health Security Assessment.

As Singapore moves to allow entry by business travelers within the upcoming year, human traffic will further increase. The Service sector (eg. transport and financial services) - which often involves movement of skilled labour, contributes to a significant part of the city’s economy. While the challenge of striking a balance between economic outlook and population health safety is not unique to Singapore, its collaborative approach towards a digital solution for crowd management is noteworthy.

See the attached PDF version for an infographic on 'An Agile and Inclusive Approach Towards Implementing Digital Solutions.'

In February, an engineering team at Govtech, the lead government agency for public sector digital transformation in Singapore developed a prototype for a smart thermal scanner named SpotOn, for mass temperature screening. Deep-learning AI for facial recognition, was integrated with low-cost off-the-shelf hardware, to produce an efficient means of screening up to ten persons, in each instance.

The team promptly moved to provide their algorithms - for face, neck and colour segmentation - as an open-source code. Open-sourcing allows for developers from within and outside of Singapore, to tap on this video analytics code. This encourages upcycling and development of enhanced solutions in a collaborative manner. Duplication of software development efforts can also be minimized.

Open Standards, Data, Source and Innovation as a Guiding Principle

  • Open-source tools have often been used in development contexts, and the global response to COVID-19 is no exception.
  • Find out more from this list compiled by the UNDP Global Centre for Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development in Singapore.

Govtech at the same time, agreed to provide a free license of their software to several private and non-profit groups. Extraordinary People Limited (EPL), a registered charity in Singapore is one of the community partners. EPL in its day-to-day operations, supports the developmental needs and provides integrated therapy services to children and youth with special needs. It also runs an apprenticeship programme for young adults in the group who are above 18 years old. Specifically, the programme aims to increase employability of those on the autistic spectrum or have other impairments, by assisting them to seek out meaningful job placements.

Discussions were initiated early in February, for a pilot initiative to engage youth beneficiaries from EPL for assembly of the thermal scanners, while representatives from the government agency aided in sourcing for low-cost hardware components. Prior experience with their placeand-train programme, meant that EPL was able to promptly put in place supporting plans, such as having job coaches and relevant video aids. Extraordinary People together with collaborating small/medium enterprises – Embrio Enterprises and Tuan Sing Holdings - then ensured effective deployment and after-sales services of SpotOn.

Taken together, this multi-stakeholder approach accelerated scaling-up of Singapore’s thermal scanner solution, as demand for it reportedly surged to 10,000 units. The solution requires minimum setup – without a need for on-site laptops, comes with inbuilt software and wireless connectivity for cloud management of data – making it suitable for use in both indoor and outdoor locations, such as office buildings, sporting facilities, places of worship among others. Leading institutions like the United Overseas Bank have since expressed interest in deploying the solution. Besides reducing the need for manpower in temperature screening, it can be expected to confer a high level of confidence in detecting febrile individuals. More importantly, these events illustrated a timely involvement of public, private and civil society actors, in a bid to create economic opportunities, financial resilience and disease-free community spaces.

Additional Notes on the Need for Inclusive Hiring

  • Article 27 of the United Nations Convention On The Rights Of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD) puts forth the need to elevate the potential and involvement of persons with disabilities. This might include, assisting them in entrepreneurship; hiring of persons with disabilities in the public sector, urging the private sector to practise inclusive hiring; ensure that workplace environments are well-suited for persons with disabilities etc.
  • According to Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower’s figures in 2019, 32.8% of persons with disabilities (PWD) in Singapore aged 15 to 64 participate in the labour force, with 28.6% of them employed and 4.2% actively looking for a job. Globally, the employment rate of persons with disabilities is about half the employment rate of people without disabilities (World Health Organisation, 2011), with employment rates being the lowest for individuals with mental health difficulties or intellectual impairments.
  • study commissioned by the National Council of Social Service of Singapore, involving some 981 local respondents, highlighted that a key finding that adults with disabilities associated a lower quality of life (1.7x) in situations where they did not earn a personal income. Similarly, where they did not have a main daily activity, such as employment or engaging in activities at an activity centre, this was associated with a lower quality of life (1.7x).

Photo credit: Lily Banse (@lvnatikk) | Unsplash