It has been almost 2 years since we started the STACK-X community. Take a look at our journey and how we pivoted our efforts amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you have attended one of our STACK-X Meetups, you are probably quite familiar with GovTech. Chances are, you are also well acquainted with some products we have developed — for example, TraceTogether and our Whole-of-Government Application Analytics.
If not, that is fine too! To get you up to speed — GovTech is a statutory board that is part of the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG), reporting to the Prime Minister’s Office. Our mission is to develop technologies for the government to ultimately make a difference in the lives of everyday Singaporeans.
Today, we would like to share about our community engagement journey and what drives us to do what we do. Hopefully, by the end of this, you will share our excitement for this community we have built together, as well as what lies ahead in the future.
How It All Began
As developers, we are always learning. That is why we are excited about the potential of a community space where the exchange of knowledge, ideas, and solutions can happen freely. At the same time, we also realise that the government can sometimes be seen as rather opaque by members of the public. This is why we feel community engagement is the perfect way to let everyone learn more about our projects, provide feedback on how we can improve them, and the talented techies behind them.
These beliefs have been the driving force of our community building from the beginning, but the idea to kickstart this journey really only began in 2019.
At the time, we had just finished conducting our STACK 2018 Conference, the very first government-led developer conference. While going through the process of launching this huge event, we realised that we did not quite have a good grasp of who our audience was going to be, or how to even go about engaging them.
While it wasn’t easy to start from scratch, we were thankfully not alone. As it turned out, several of our developers within GovTech were already local community leaders, such as Michael Cheng, Melvin Tan, and Lim Min Li, who were familiar with building up and managing these groups. We were fortunate to be able to tap on their expertise, gaining lots of useful information about how they had started up and how they had grown their communities. We also spoke to technology leaders such as Amazon and Thoughtworks, who have been extremely successful in building up communities of their own. Finally, we observed other communities we came across in our search and tried to gain as many insights as we could from their examples.
In short, we took every opportunity we could to learn from the people around us!
By August 2019, the groundwork had been laid and we organised our very first STACK-X Meetup(around 80 people showed up!) on agile development. As this was our first time, we partnered with YOW!, an established tech community organiser familiar with holding similar events.
Speakers at our first STACK-X at GovTech’s office (from top, left to right): Chan Cheow Hoe, Government Chief Digital Technology Officer, Michelle Playfair, Exec Director, Yow! Conference, Jean Looi, former Senior Product Manager and Eyung Lim, Director, Government Digital Services, GovTech
By early February 2020, it became clear that in-person Meetups were going to be impossible with the ongoing pandemic. It was a small struggle to pivot to online meetups as we had to learn new ways to engage our community. In April 2020, we held our very first online STACK-X Meetup, where we talked about how tech could address some of the problems emerging as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. For this online event, we similarly partnered with EDB’s Tech+65 who was experienced with hosting digital events. Our partner helped to shed some much-needed light on how online events could be run effectively, and we were very grateful for the learning points we gained that night.
For our very first online STACK-X Meetup, we discussed how tech can be used in service of public good during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It has been over a year since that first digital Meetup and this format has now become the norm for us. Looking back, the sudden onset of the COVID-19 crisis helped us to realise the importance of curating and organising timely, relevant Meetups that best help the community. Going online also provided new challenges and pushed us to come up with innovative solutions. For example, as a substitute for live engagement, we had to introduce polls and video Q&A with upvoting. This all sounds rather straightforward today, but remember that this was at a time when we were all still unfamiliar with online events and webinars!
Also, while our live sessions became a great place for developers to network and meet up, the digital space made it difficult for our community members to connect, especially amongst themselves. So, we started the STACK-X Telegram group for more casual engagement with our growing community outside of Meetups. These days, we also invite our speakers into this channel so the community can continue to engage with them and learn beyond the time limitations of our webinars.
Our Successes in Singapore & Beyond!
To date, we have almost 4,000 members in our Meetup group. We are very happy with our community building journey thus far, but we could not have done it without the help of those around us.
Our efforts were met with strong leadership support and drive, all the way from the very top of our organisation — we have passionate advocates in our senior leadership, GCDTO Cheow Hoe who attends every Meetup and CE Ping Soon who regularly encourages others to join us. We have also been very fortunate to have access to a wealth of speakers, both from GovTech and spanning the entire tech industry, each deeply enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their own fields. These include colleagues from the Centre for Strategic Infocomm Technologies (CSIT), Ministry of Education (MOE), and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), or from other communities interested in partnering with us.
What Is Next?
Just like you, we are eager to transition back to physical events and Meetups. However, with social distancing measures and the current restrictions placed on events, in-person events might not be as engaging as we would like them to be. Moving forward, we plan to try out hybrid events where possible. These events, with a mix of both in-person and digital elements, will hopefully combine the best features of both.
We have also been working to better understand our community, especially since it has now grown significantly from when we first began. One of our goals is also to connect more with the public officers in government. We want to better cater to this community and see them engaging with us even more in the Meetups to come. We recently held several in-person feedback sessions with our community regulars to get a better sense of where your interests lie and how we can improve the experience for you. This will help us to create events better tailored to what you want to see.