Putting Design Thinking To Work For Public Service Excellence

Published in
4 min readJul 19, 2019

How Design Thinking was used in the design and construction of a national memorial in Singapore.

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on the Founders’ Memorial design process

Dialogue Session at the National Design Centre, Source: Founders’ Memorial

The journey started on 13 April 2015, when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’ announced the idea of a Founders’ Memorial Committee (FMC)in a Parliamentary statement following the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. The FMC serves to affirm the value of having a memorial to honour independent Singapore’s founding generation of leaders, strengthen Singaporeans’ sense of solidarity and educate future generations on the ideals and values upon which our nation is built.

Shortly after, in June 2015, the Committee was formed to gather views from the public and conceptualize a Founders’ Memorial. The FMC comprises of members who are leaders and experts in different fields such as education, heritage, architecture, academic research, and community engagement. Its mission is to engage Singaporeans to conceptualise a memorial to honour the values of the founding generation of leaders.

The committee quickly began discussion and planning for the public engagements. Three key phases for the public engagements emerged.

Phase 1: Dialogues
Phase 2: Co-creation Workshops
Phase 3: Exhibition of findings

For ease of understanding and standardisation of naming convention, the methods mentioned and explained can be referenced from the book, “Universal Methods of Design” by Bella Martin and Bruce Hanington. It is a great book that succinctly recommends design and research methods that are applicable to any project.

Phase 1: Dialogues

Beginning on a clean slate, the steering committee, together with the team at the Ministry of Community, Culture, and Youth (MCCY) was open and committed to using Design Thinking to establish a non-biased Singaporean narrative for the memorial.

The Phase 1 public engagements took place from October 2015 to January 2016, focusing on the idea and concept of a memorial.

They made use of these methods to understand public sentiments of a founders’ memorial:

  • Focus groups — a qualitative method to gauge opinions, feeling, and attitudes from a group carefully recruited participants about the topic the team wishes to discuss.
  • Interviews — a fundamental research method for direct contact with participants, to collect firsthand personal accounts of experience, opinions, attitudes, and perceptions.
  • Crowdsourcing — used to elicit a large quantity of data from an undefined, large group of people who voluntarily responds to an open call.
  • Affinity Diagramming — a process to externalize and meaningfully cluster observations and insights from research, keeping design teams grounded in data as they design.

Crowdsourcing + Interviews

The committee reached out to more than 400 Singaporeans through 13 face-to-face dialogues, including sessions for all age groups and vernacular languages, all of which were open to public sign up. These sessions were intended for the public to express their opinions on the need for a memorial and what it should truly represent.

In addition, a representative sample of 1,300 individuals was interviewed via a door-to-door survey, and over 200 responses were also received via an online portal.

80% of participants supported the idea of a Founders’ Memorial to remember the values and ideals Singapore was built on. The consensus among participants was that the Founders’ memorial should evoke pride and gratitude in what Singapore has achieved, foster a sense of unity amongst Singaporeans and inspire all who visit to build on that legacy for the future of Singapore.

Affinity Diagram at dialogue sessions, Source: Founders’ Memorial

Focus groups + Affinity Diagramming

In some of these open dialogue sessions, participants were split into groups, each with a facilitator from MCCY to lead the discussion. The main agenda was to uncover what the public thought was a suitable way of commemorating the nation’s forefathers as well as the purpose and meaning behind the memorial.

Responses were recorded on post-its and the team then proceeded to compose an affinity diagram of their responses. By doing an affinity diagram, the team was then able to distil the values that were repeatedly mentioned in the public consultations into a memorial narrative.

Among the key values and ideals suggested by participants were multi-racialism, unity, resilience, diligence, determination, teamwork, integrity and the pioneering spirit. Many of these emerged in discussions inspired by examples of physical development of Singapore since independence, such as the clean-up of the Singapore River, but equally important were stories of human experience in surviving tough times and pursuing opportunities for family and community.

In conclusion, there was strong support for the notion that the memorial should be built to commemorate the values and ideals upon which our founding leaders built Singapore. Singaporeans want the Founders’ Memorial to be a place that is values-centred and forward-looking; something that is not just right for Singaporeans today but also an inspiration to future generations. Ultimately, it should reflect and strengthen the public sense of what it means to be a Singaporean.

Phase 1 sessions were extensively documented across various mediums, such as on the Founders’ memorial website as well as a video series of the dialogue sessions can be found here.

Read about Phase 2 of the Founders’ Memorial design process here:

Feel free to drop us an email at hello@codomo.com.sg if you are interested in adopting some of the methods and activities for your projects.



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