• The ‘nudge’ theory and policy-making in Malaysia

    (This article can also be read at the Penang Institute in KL Column in the Malaysian Insight, 15th October 2017)

    EARLIER this week, Professor Richard Thaler was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics for his contribution to the field of behavioural economics. He is probably most well-known for his “Nudge” theories on providing incentives to change people’s behaviours on a number of dimensions, such as one’s propensity to save money or to switch to a healthier lifestyle.

    In 2010, the transition of behavioural economics from a marginal topic in the discipline to mainstream public policy making was formalised with the establishment of a Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) or better known as the “Nudge Unit” within the Cabinet Office in the United Kingdom government. Around the same time, Thaler’s co-author for the best-seller “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness”, Professor Cass Sunstein, worked as a regulatory ‘czar’ in Obama’s White House from 2009 to 2012 and a “Nudge Unit” was formally established in Obama’s White House in 2015 via executive order.

    Some examples of the UK’s Nudge unit achievements include using various telephone messages to encourage greater participation in organ donation drives and personalised messages to increase the percentage of those who pay their government fines on time.

    Such “nudge units” are fashionable among politicians and policy makers, because the positive results arising from such initiatives are usually measurable and yield benefits which far surpass the low-cost implementation methods.

    How likely will such “nudge” ideas find their way to our shores? To answer this question, we must first understand the potential obstacles that lie in the way of implementing such initiatives in Malaysia.

    Firstly, we have scarcely any local experts in the field of behavioural economics in our public and private universities. Whereas places like the UK, the US and Australia have established economists working in this field and full-fledged research centres dedicated to the testing and implementation of ‘nudge’ initiatives, we would be hard pressed to find even one well-trained and experienced Malaysian behavioural economist.

    Secondly, for any ‘idea’ to take root in a government, the politicians in charge must have some basic level of understanding of that ‘idea’. For example, most politicians and senior civil servants in Malaysia are familiar with the “Blue Ocean Strategy” (for better or for worse) through exposure to the authors of the book and various consultants who have formulated ways to weave this marketing theory into our government machinery. By contrast, few of our Malaysian politicians or senior civil servants are familiar with the concepts underlying behavioural economics and how these ‘nudge units’ can potentially work for the benefit of the population.

    Thirdly, many of the initiatives undertaken by these ‘nudge units’ use randomised control trials (RCTs) to evaluate the effectiveness of various ‘tweaks’ in order to find the method with the highest returns. This kind of experimentation, although commonplace in clinical trials, could be terrifying for our civil servants and the wider population. Imagine telling a civil servant to issue different variations of a speeding fine or ‘saman’ notice to registered car owners as a test, to see which would result in the most fines being paid. He or she would find it difficult, to say the least, as it goes against the typical government procedure of standardising such documents. Additionally, car owners may doubt the authenticity of their fines, if they compare their own letter to that of others and find that the wording is different.

    Furthermore, such experimentation may require a ‘control group’ to benchmark the performance of tested subjects. If incentives are given out to the test group, but withheld from the ‘control group, the ministry or government department in question may very well be criticised for unfairly ‘rewarding’ one group and ‘punishing’ the other.

    This being said, I do not think that it is impossible for such ‘nudge’ experiments to be tried out in Malaysia. However, for it to be feasible, the pilot project will need to be conducted using a very limited and carefully selected sample size, using a research design that is well-thought out. Policy makers and politicians also need to be assured that these social experiments won’t come back to haunt them and that the potential benefits could be significant.

    It would be very useful, for example, to identify communities which are especially prone to diabetes and provide incentives for such families to decrease their sugar intake via cash payments or the provision of healthy replacements in lieu of sugar.

    The Ministry of Consumer Affairs can also work with supermarkets and hypermarkets to display healthier foods in more prominent locations and make them more visually appealing. This would be a far more effective strategy to deal with health problems associated with high sugar intake, instead of merely raising sugar prices across the board. Such ‘nudges’ to reduce diabetes rates could well result in a much healthier population and lower health care costs for the government.

    * Dr Ong Kian Ming is the Member of Parliament for Serdang, Selangor and is also the General Manager of Penang Institute in Kuala Lumpur. He holds a PhD in Political Science from Duke University, an MPhil in Economics from the University of Cambridge and a BSc in Economics from the London School of Economics.

  • Memastikan prestasi Sukan SEA kita kekal mampan

    (Artikel ini juga boleh dibaca di ruang Institut Pulau Pinang di KL dalam Malaysian Insight, 2hb Sept 2017)

    Ketika saya menulis artikel ini, Malaysia telah pun mendahului rekod pungutan pingat Sukan SEA ke-29 dengan meraih 140 emas, 91 perak dan 84 gangsa. Jumlah pingat emas kita adalah 2 kali ganda jumlah pingat emas Thailand, yang berada di tempat kedua. Kita turut berjaya memecahkan rekod Sukan SEA 2001 di mana kita telah meraih sebanyak 111 pingat emas.

    Ini merupakan pencapaian yang menakjubkan dan usaha gigih atlet-atlet kita harus disanjung tinggi. Namun adakah pencapaian ini sesuatu yang mampan? Adakah atlet kita mampu melangkah lebih jauh dan bersaing di peringkat Asian dan, untuk sesetengah mereka, di peringkat antarabangsa juga?

    Kini, sukan telah menjadi sebuah industri berbanding sebelum tahun 1990an di mana ianya kelihatan lebih bersifat amatur (kurang mahir atau profesional). Di samping mengenal pasti bakat, bidang sukan kini melibatkan pelbagai aspek lain seperti pembiayaan, latihan dan bimbingan, nutrisi dan pertandingan, dan banyak lagi.

    Masyarakat sememangnya menaruh harapan kepada kerajaan, khasnya Kementerian Belia dan Sukan, untuk memacu pembangunan sukan negara ke arah yang sepatutnya. Bagi negara kecil seperti Malaysia, pembiayaan kerajaan bagi sukan adalah perlu terutamanya apabila ia melibatkan sokongan untuk atlet yang berpotensi besar.

    Dengan berbekalkan objektif tersebut, program Kita Juara telah dilancarkan pada 2015. Atlet-atlet terpilih diberi sumber dan lebih banyak peluang untuk bertanding di peringkat antarabangsa. Ini merupakan sebahagian dari proses jangka masa panjang untuk melahirkan juara dunia lebih dari sekadar untuk Sukan SEA.

    Namun, dana kerajaan adalah terhad. Malahan UK Sport, iaitu organisasi kerajaan UK yang bertujuan memandu pembangunan sukan, terpaksa membuat potongan besar terhadap perbelanjaan bagi sukan seperti badminton, memanah, lawan pedang dan angkat berat kerana kekurangan potensi untuk memenangi pingat pada Olimpik Tokyo 2020, walaupun organisasi ini menerima sejumlah £347 juta daripada hasil National Lottery.

    Di sinilah peranan penting perlu dimainkan oleh persatuan-persatuan sukan di peringkat persekutuan mahupun peringkat negeri. Kebanyakan orang tidak sedar akan kuasa besar yang dipegang persatuan-persatuan ini. Dalam hal tertentu, mereka lebih berkuasa daripada menteri. Contohnya, mereka ada kuasa untuk memilih atlet yang akan mewakili negara, serta memberi dana kepada atlet terpilih untuk ke pertandingan luar negara dan dilatih oleh jurulatih kebangsaan.  

    Presiden persatuan sukan biasanya merupakan ahli politik dan / atau ahli perniagaan. Presiden yang juga merupakan ahli perniagaan biasanya diharapkan untuk membiayai sebahagian kos operasi pengendalian persatuan, manakala ahli politik pula diharapkan untuk mengumpul dana yang perlu melalui hubungan mereka. Selepas Sukan SEA, persatuan-persatuan sukan ini masih perlu mencari dana untuk membiayai aktiviti-aktiviti dan membangunkan atlet-atlet mereka.

    Setiap sukan menerima tahap sokongan yang berbeza dari masyarakat. Selain dari persatuan bola sepak dan badminton yang sudah pun menerima sambutan meluas dari masyarakat, persatuan sukan lain boleh lebih melakukan pelbagai usaha untuk mempromosikan sukan masing-masing.

    Tahap sokongan orang ramai terhadap sukan sebenarnya mempengaruhi keupayaan persatuan sukan ini untuk menambah baik kedudukan kewangan mereka. Sebagai contoh, walaupun larian untuk rekreasi kini menjadi makin popular di Malaysia yang boleh dilihat melalui pertumbuhan pesat acara larian di seluruh negara, persatuan yang bertanggungjawab untuk bidang olahraga iaitu Persekutuan Olahraga Malaysia (MAF) tidak mempunyai laman Facebook yang dikemaskini, apatah lagi laman web yang berfungsi.

    Pasukan balapan kita mempamerkan prestasi yang lebih bagus dari jangkaan dengan memenangi 8 emas, 8 perak dan 9 gangsa, termasuklah pingat gangsa bersejarah dalam acara Marathon Lelaki dan rekod Sukan SEA dalam lontar peluru. Namun tiada satu daripada pencapaian ini didokumentasikan dalam laman Facebook MAF, di mana kemaskini terbaru adalah dari tahun 2014. Laman web MAF yang sedia ada merupakan sebuah blog mengenai makanan dan pelancongan.

    Begitu juga dengan Persatuan Renang Amatur Malaysia (ASUM) yang tiada laman Facebook, malahan laman webnya tidak mempamerkan pencapaian perenang kita dalam Sukan SEA.

    Dalam satu soal selidik ringkas terhadap 37 persatuan sukan yang menghantar atlet ke Sukan SEA, hanya terdapat 21 laman Facebook yang wujud (sama ada berbentuk page atau group) dan tidak semua daripada laman ini berstatus aktif. Pujian perlu diberikan kepada Persatuan Luncur Ais Malaysia (ISAM) dan Persatuan Bola Keranjang Malaysia (MABA) kerana aktif di Facebook dan memaparkan pencapaian atlet mereka. Ironiknya, walaupun Persatuan Polo DiRaja Malaysia (RMPA) mempunyai seorang pemain yang aktif dalam media sosial, namun laman Facebook persatuan tersebut seperti kurang menyerlah.

    Walaupun laman Facebook yang aktif tidak menjanjikan kejayaan sukan, namun ia merupakan petunjuk sejauh mana hubungan antara persatuan sukan tersebut dengan peminat-peminat mereka serta masyarakat. Bagaimana sebuah badan korporat mahu menaja sukan tersebut jika dilihat amat sedikit peminat dan hubungan yang dibina dengan orang awam? Dalam hal ini, adalah lebih berbaloi jika penaja korporat ini menghubungi atlet individu yang sudah pun menjadi tokoh awam berbanding menaja persatuan sukan yang dianggotai atlet tersebut. 

    Kekurangan aktiviti media sosial bermakna bahawa persatuan-persatuan ini kurang berusaha untuk mengembangkan kelompok penyokong melalui cara menyebarkan maklumat mengenai pertandingan tempatan dan menyoroti profil atlet-atlet. Sekali lagi, berbalik kepada sukan olahraga yang lebih saya kenali, dilihat bahawa agak kurang publisiti dilakukan untuk Olahraga Terbuka Malaysia yang berlangsung sebelum Sukan SEA walaupun ia merupakan pertandingan utama bagi kategori balapan di negara ini.

    Nampaknya, lebih banyak maklumat yang dihebahkan di sosial media berkenaan acara larian yang disertai ramai, berbanding Malaysian Open bagi acara balapan. Walau pun acara balapan tidak sepopular sukan teras lain seperti badminton dan bola di Malaysia, hakikat bahawa persatuan yang bertanggungjawab dalam mempromosikan sukan itu nampaknya tidak melakukan tugasnya hanya akan menambah cabaran kepada atlet kita. Semakin kurang dana dan sokongan untuk persatuan, maka semakin kurang sumber untuk menggaji jurulatih-jurulatih yang bagus dan menghantar atlet-atlet yang berpotensi untuk berlatih dan menyertai pertandingan di luar negara.

    Selepas gembar gembur Sukan SEA, apabila sukan bukan teras tidak lagi menerima tumpuan ramai, dapatkah atlet-atlet kita mengambil langkah seterusnya untuk bertanding dalam Sukan Asia 2018 di Jakarta? Mampukah persatuan sukan menjadi lebih aktif dalam mempromosikan sukan dan mendapat lebih banyak perhatian dari masyarakat?

    Mari kita tunggu dan lihat. Pada masa yang sama, saya akan turut serta menjadi sebahagian rakyat yang bersorak di Stadium Nasional Bukit Jalil semasa majlis penutupan Sukan SEA demi meraikan pencapaian Malaysia!

    Dr Ong Kian Ming adalah Ahli Parlimen Serdang, Selangor dan juga Pengurus Besar Institut Pulau Pinang di Kuala Lumpur. Beliau memegang ijazah PhD dalam bidang Sains Politik dari Duke University, MPhil dalam Ekonomi dari University of Cambridge dan BSc dalam Ekonomi dari London School of Economics.

     

  • Sustaining Malaysia’s SEA Games performance

    (This article can also be read at the Penang Institute in KL Column in the Malaysian Insight, 2nd Sept 2017)

    AT the time of writing, Malaysia was leading the 29th SEA Games medal standings with 140 gold, 91 silver and 84 bronze. We have twice as many gold medals as second-placed Thailand. We demolished our previous record of 111 gold medals, achieved during our last hosting of the SEA Games in 2001.

    This is an incredible performance and our athletes should be applauded for their efforts. But is this sporting achievement sustainable? Can our athletes go further and compete at the Asian and for some, the international level?

    These days, sports is more an industry instead of the supposedly amateur undertaking it was pre-1990s. Beyond talent identification, there is now a whole other universe that includes financing, training and coaching, nutrition and competitions, just to name a few.

    The public obviously looks to the government, specifically the Ministry of Youth and Sports, to chart the course for sports development in the country. In a small country like Malaysia, government funding for sports is essential especially when it comes to supporting our athletes with the greatest potential.

    The ‘Kita Juara’ (We are Champions) programme was launched in 2015 with this specific purpose in mind. Chosen athletes are given resources and greater opportunities to compete at the international level. This was part of a long-term process to produce global champions beyond just the SEA Games.

    But government resources are limited. Even UK Sport, the UK government’s organisation for directing sports development, was forced to make serious funding cuts for sports such as badminton, archery, fencing and weightlifting because of the lack of potential to win medals in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, despite receiving a massive £347 million from National Lottery proceeds.

    This is where the various sports associations at the federal and state levels have an important role to play. Most people are not aware of the tremendous power wielded by these sports associations. In certain respects, they wield more power than the minister. For example, they hold the power to select those athletes who will represent the country, as well as providing the funding for selected athletes to compete in overseas competitions and be trained by national coaches.

    The presidents of these sports associations are usually politicians and/or businessmen. Presidents who are businessmen are expected to fund some of the operational costs of running the sports associations while politicians are expected to raise the necessary financing through their connections. Post-SEA Games, these sports associations still have to find the money to fund their activities and to develop their athletes.

    Every sport has different levels of public support. Apart from the football and perhaps badminton associations, whose sports already enjoy great public attention, the rest of the sports associations could do more to promote their own sport.

    The level of public support affects the ability of these sports associations to improve their financial positions. For example, even though recreational running has become tremendously popular in Malaysia, as evidenced by the proliferation in the number of races around the country, the association in charge of athletics, the Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF), does not have an updated Facebook page, let alone a functioning website.

    Our track and field team performed better than expected by winning 8 golds, 8 silvers and 9 bronzes including a historic bronze in the men’s marathon and a SEA games record in the men’s hammer throw. Yet none of this was documented in the MAF’s Facebook page, where the most recent entry was in 2014. The supposed MAF website is actually a food and travel blog.

    Likewise, the Amateur Swimming Union of Malaysia (ASUM) does not have a Facebook page and its website has not been updated with the SEA Games performance results of our swimmers.

    In a brief survey of 37 Malaysian sports associations which sent athletes to the SEA Games, only 21 have a Facebook presence (either a page or a group) and not all of these pages are active. Credit must be given to the Ice Skating Association of Malaysia (ISAM) and the Malaysia Basketball Association (MABA) for their active Facebook engagement and in showcasing the achievements of their athletes. Ironically, despite having a very social media savvy player within its midst, the FB page for the Royal Malaysian Polo Association (RMPA) does not seem particularly engaging or engaged.

    Although having an active FB page is no guarantee of sporting success, it is an indicator of how engaged these sports associations are with their fans and the larger public. How likely, for example, are corporate sponsors willing to support these sports associations if they can see that there is very little public engagement or fan support behind these associations? It would be far more worthwhile for these corporate sponsors to approach individual athletes who are already public figures, rather than to support the associations which these individuals belong to.

    The lack of an active social media presence also means that these sports associations are not doing much to grow their fan base by giving information on local competitions and profiling athletes within the sport. Again, going back to athletics, which I am more familiar with, there was hardly any publicity for the Malaysia Athletics Open, which took place just before the SEA Games, and is the premier track and field competition in the country.

    There was probably more information circulating on  social media about  running events with mass participation, compared to the Malaysian Open for track and field. While track and field will never be in the same league as football or badminton as a mainstream sport in Malaysia, the fact that the federation in charge of promoting the sport does not seem to be doing its job only adds to the challenges faced by our athletes. Less money and support for the federation means less resources to hire good coaches and send our promising athletes overseas for training and competitions.

    After the SEA Games hype, when the spotlight is no longer on non-mainstream sports, can our athletes take the next step to compete at the Asian Games in 2018 in Jakarta? Can our sports associations play a more active role in promoting their sports and garner more public support?

    Let’s wait and see. In the meantime, I will be part of the cheering crowd at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium to enjoy the closing ceremony for this Sea Games and to celebrate Malaysia’s achievement!

    Dr Ong Kian Ming is the Member of Parliament for Serdang, Selangor and is also the General Manager of Penang Institute in Kuala Lumpur. He holds a PhD in Political Science from Duke University, an MPhil in Economics from the University of Cambridge and a BSc in Economics from the London School of Economics.

  • Of wildlife sanctuaries and semiconductor production

    (This article can also be read at the Penang Institute in KL Column in the Malaysian Insight, 23rd July 2017)

    WHAT does an elephant wildlife sanctuary have in common with semiconductor production? Both require a supply of clean water to be sustained. Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the Sungai Dua Water Treatment Plant which is run by the Penang Water Supply Corporation (Perbadanan Bekalan Air Pulau Pinang or PBA for short). This water treatment plant supplies more than 80% of the water used by residential and commercial users in Penang.

    The Sungai Dua water treatment plant’s water source is the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve, which is where I also spent a few days. The reserve also serves as the water catchment area for the Muda dam as well as the Pedu and Ahning dams. (See below)

    Most Malaysians have never heard of Ulu Muda, let alone visited this national treasure. It is home to 50-60 wild Asian elephants (the estimated total population in Peninsular Malaysia ranges between 1200 to 1600).

    I was fortunate enough to spot two schools of elephants during my first evening in Ulu Muda as our boat was slowly gliding down the river. Other than the Asian elephant, Ulu Muda is also inhabited by other large mammals including tapirs, sambar and barking deers, spotted leopards, sun bears and the agile gibbons, as well as 10 species of hornbill including the helmeted, great and rhinoceros hornbills. We spotted many groups of hornbills flying in majestic formation during our evening rides down the river.

    Apart from the animals, there are vast varieties of plants and insects in the forest including the tualang tree, which can hold over a hundred beehives and the kundur trees with their massive buttresses (see below).

    Sadly, logging of the secondary forest, which has been ongoing for many years, is starting to edge closer and closer to the areas critical to the elephant habitat, namely the salt licks. These are areas in the forest that produce minerals consumed regularly by the elephants and other large mammals to supplement their diet.


    (The Ayer Hangat Salt Lick, the only salt lick which is also a hot spring. Notice the elephant droppings all around the place)

    We spotted an old logging road skirting the bank of the Muda dam and upon visiting the area where the logs were collected before being transported out, we found plans for a new road going into the heart of the Ulu Muda forest reserve, very close to the eco-resort where we were putting up.

    This sort of irresponsible logging not only has a significant impact on the animal and plant life in Ulu Muda, but it also will have an impact on the quality of water supply to the residents in Kedah and Penang.

    As it is, the many years of logging on the outskirts of Ulu Muda have turned the river brown with sand and sediment. If more and more logging is allowed, it is possible that the quality and quantity of water taken in at the Sungai Dua treatment plant may be jeopardised.

    Of course, the state government of Kedah will argue that it needs revenue from logging for its coffers. One way in which the Kedah state governments (or any state government in Malaysia, for that matter) can be compensated for keeping its forests intact is through international funding under the Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (or REDD+) initiative. Funding, for example, is available through the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and in South-east Asia, our neighbours Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam are part of this initiative but sadly, not Malaysia. The federal government needs to work together with the relevant United Nations bodies under the UNFCCC framework so that a clear and transparent path towards obtaining funding through REDD+ can be obtained. Strong leadership from federal government on this matter has become even more urgent given that irresponsible parties and companies are trying to dupe certain state governments into participating in so-called REDD schemes.

    A semiconductor plant, which requires a regular and clean supply of water, may seem very far removed from the elephant sanctuary in Ulu Muda, but in fact, they are part and parcel of a larger ecosystem. The preservation of the Ulu Muda water catchment area, which is part of the elephants’ habitat, is crucial to ensuring a clean and regular water supply to the largest water treatment plant 200km downstream in Penang.

    * Dr Ong Kian Ming is the Member of Parliament for Serdang, Selangor and is also the General Manager of Penang Institute in Kuala Lumpur. He holds a PhD in Political Science from Duke University, an MPhil in Economics from the University of Cambridge and a BSc in Economics from the London School of Economics.

  • Open data and policy-making in Malaysia

    (This article can also be read at the Penang Institute in KL Column in the Malaysian Insight, 26th June 2017)

    EARLIER this month, at the launch of the June issue of the World Bank’s Malaysian Economic Monitor, country director for Southeast Asia Ulrich Zachau called for more data to be disclosed to be used for better policy-making. He gave the example of how GRAB, an e-hailing service provider, was sharing its data with the government in order to find ways to better manage traffic flows.

    With the advent of big data coupled with behavioural economics, “nudge” units have been set up by governments around the world with the specific aim of using policy incentives to change behaviour and using data drive approaches to analyse the effectiveness of these policies. Cass Sunstein, co-author of the best-selling book “Nudge” was recruited by President Obama to run a nudge unit under his administration and is probably the best-known advocate of this policy approach.

    While “Big data” is often used as a buzzword by policy makers and politicians, many do not know what big data is and how it can be utilised. In fact, many of these policy makers don’t realise that the data ecosystem in Malaysia, especially when it comes to data analytics, is very under-developed.

    While the various government agencies do collect a lot of data and information, not all of it is published. A study by the World Bank shows Malaysia underperforming in relation to its GDP when it comes to our open data ranking. The same World Bank study also shows a correlation between a country’s open data score and its publication and citation ratios. The higher the open data score, the higher the number of academic publications (See Figure 4 below).

    This corresponds to the experience which many academics in Malaysia have in terms of accessing data especially at the more granular level. For example, even though the Department of Statistics (DOS) has individual level data in its Household and Income Surveys, it does not release this information to the public so that academics can study the figures in more detail and publish their findings. Concerns about the privacy of individual level data being released can be easily overcome by anonymising the data.

    Even in cases where some of this data can be released to the public, it is often costly to purchase. In contrast, the individualised data for the decennial census in the US is released publicly and is a very useful tool for social scientists to use in their academic writings and analysis.

    There have been some recent steps to improve the data ecosystem in Malaysia. The Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) is on the vanguard in pushing for the use of big data especially in the private sector. The Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (MAMPU) is spearheading an initiative to consolidate the publication of government data in one location (www.data.gov.my). At the recent World Bank Event, the Minister in charge of the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), Rahman Dahlan, has called for the collection of data at a more refined and localised level including by parliamentary district.

    The Penang state government is doing its part by releasing detailed information at the state level in the data.gov.my including a list of all 201 nasi kandar outlets in the state! The Penang GIS center (PEGIS) was also established to make GIS and mapping more accessible to users including businesses who want to ‘tag’ their location on PEGIS maps and cycling enthusiasts who want to ‘tag’ their favourite cycling trails.

    In addition to data accessibility, Malaysia is also behind the curve in terms of knowledge workers who can adequately understand and analyse big data. Analysis by the World Bank shows that only 13.4% of the statistical workforce is at the ‘managerial’ level in Malaysia compared to 67.5% in advanced economies (See graph below).

    To build a more conducive data ecosystem, one not only needs more data but also more people who can put the data to good use and to make better policies. For example, a team of data scientists, academics and social workers can work together to evaluate the effectiveness of BR1M payments over the past five years and to see how it can be improved. The local government can make use of information provided by WAZE so that it can repair potholes in a more timely manner.

    So the next time a politician or policy-maker talks about big data, ask him or her how this data can be analysed and used to improve public policies. – June 26, 2017.

    * Dr Ong Kian Ming is the Member of Parliament for Serdang, Selangor and is also the General Manager of Penang Institute in Kuala Lumpur. He holds a PhD in Political Science from Duke University, an MPhil in Economics from the University of Cambridge and a BSc in Economics from the London School of Economics.

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