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Syinc Blog

Here we muse about creativity & innovation, and document (some of) the work we're doing about it in Singapore.

Filtering by Tag: innovation

Can you hack urban poverty?

Bernise Ang

Auntie Alana*, a Bukit Ho Swee resident we spoke with

Auntie Alana*, a Bukit Ho Swee resident we spoke with

For the last 5 months or so, we've been working on a small project in a tiny part of Singapore. Small in scope - or so we thought. What started out as an idea to "come up with some ideas" for low-income families has grown into a project that's part anthropology, part data, part design.

The Syinc team synthesising findings for the community brief

The Syinc team synthesising findings for the community brief

Under The Hood is a civic experiment to crowdsource hyperlocal solutions for urban transformation. We seek to better understand urban poverty and struggling neighbourhoods in Singapore - and co-design solutions with the wider community. And in this case, we're focusing on one particular neighbourhood - Bukit Ho Swee.

From the design process

From the design process

The project brings together motivated geeks + designers + citizens (and more!) to tackle the critical issues underlying urban poverty. Starts with ethnographic research and data analysis, then online brainstorming, which leads to a 2-day hackathon in the heart of Bukit Ho Swee. 

Hackathon weekend is Nov 22-24, and selected teams will present at Social Innovation Camp Asia Nov 29 - Dec 1.

Also, this is our first partnership with the UNDP and partners in tech, higher education, social services, government sectors, and more. We're excited!


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Awesome graphic design by Monique Ang

Awesome graphic design by Monique Ang


Hackathons are great, and we love them - and been mentors at UP Singapore and Lean Startup Machine ever since they first started in Singapore. We love them because of the creativity they harness from the community, and the great sense of collaboration they generate. We would love for there to be more context, more analysis, and better problem definition. 

On the other hand, professionally we practice a kind of consulting that uses empathy to get emotional/behavioural insights which we innovate around (for products, services, sometimes social policy). It's good for getting deep insights about users, and to actually define clearly the problem/s people will be trying to solve. But this closed process doesn't benefit from everyone's crazy ideas bouncing off each other.

And so it hit us: why don't we apply what we do - like the investigative bits and problem identification - and integrate it with the creative, open bits about hackathons? Enter Under The Hood.

On the backend of this is an attempt to develop a process/method/approach to make ideating and innovation informed by behavioural insight, data-driven, and hyperlocal to any particular city's context. We invite you to explore with us how such a process could be understood, and then adapted, for other communities in Asia (or beyond). Talk to us.

*name changed to protect identity.

UP Singapore, Part 2 (2013)

Bernise Ang

NB. This is Part 2 of a post on reflections about UP Singapore. The first part is here.

This year's Environment UP was great. It had the energy you would expect at an event by the good folks at Newton Circus, and a motley crew of students, geeks, educators, and even a professional design team who flew in from Melbourne specially for it. Talk about commitment!

The super slick Bonobo Labs team demo-ing their app

Similarities and differences between 2012 and now:

  • Obviously themed for environment-related ideas this time
  • SAP was still a huge partner for the data sandbox
  • Less pomp & circumstance on Friday night launch, and more focus on the teams
  • Team sizes tended to be smaller (between 3-5 as compared to 5-7 last year)

On the use of the data sandbox

Also, this time round, as opposed to several mentors last year, there was just 2 of us from Syinc. We didn't realise that, and when we did descend upon the teams on the Saturday afternoon, we had to cover ground quickly.

We shared with a team about using Pop app for prototyping

 We found that: 

  • Many teams didn't use (or didn't have to use) the data sandbox, relative to last year anyway (seeing from the sheer number of taxi apps last year)
  • Teams experienced more ups and downs in the process of developing their concepts (no single generalisable cause though)
  • Teams seemed less personality-driven (it's possible there were less overtly dominant personalities this time)

The biggest difference though, was in the whole set-up and context of this particuarly UP. This one was backed by WWF Earth Hour, and seemed commissioned by them to produce apps specifically related to their "I will if you will" campaign. It's the idea of going social via peer challenge - I will jump off a hot air balloon if you will switch off your aircon, for example. Has to be documented with pics etc. 

The winning team was .. *drumroll*...  5 Degrees! Feat. Soh Ju Hu, Loh Chuen Lum, and Lilin Phng. The (very rough) notes I jotted on their app was: I will if you will. Create challenge / select from list of challenges, invite, participants submit pic, challenger verifies ("Well Done" / "OK" / "Er..")

Congrats guys! 

5 Degrees, the winning team from Environment UP

We're impressed by Newton Circus' ability to pull off events spawning innovation from a community of Sg-based folks, and ability to pull together large institutional partners that makes this whole thing real. More importantly, the (increasing) presence of such events is something that we see as not only fun, and makes for a more vibrant community, but is also something that provides more space for hacker/geek culture and social sector to intersect. Coz it's really at the crossings of different worlds that you begin to take in different mindsets and philosophies, and create something new and of value.

We're looking forward to the next one - Health UP!  


UP Singapore, Part 1 (2012)

Bernise Ang

Back in June 2012, the fabulous folks at Newton Circus did a pilot of what has become a very interesting social innovation event series in Singapore: UP Singapore. We were involved as mentors, and also gave a presentation on community-driven innovation. (Serendipitously, that was followed by another collaboration on a similar theme, with IDEO.)

Images from UP Singapore except where they obviously aren't.


On the nature of community-driven innovation

This year, we were involved as mentors once more, and got to see yet another batch of great ideas come outta it. 

So this time, we thought we'd do a comparative reflection on our experiences there, from the perspective of mentors (a rather peripheral role!). (Yes, this is overdue, but hey as they say, better late than never!) This post is Part 1 of 2.

What it is: a weekend of geeks, designers, researchers, etc coming together to form teams and build an app over the 2 days, and sharing them to everyone at the end. The whole process is supported by big data from big partners (eg. SAP, Singtel, Comfort Cabs, etc), as well as mentors, and pizza+beer (of course). 

Hacking away

The first one was on various themes - well actually, it was unthemed. So people could just bring all sorts of ideas and rock up, and see what comes up. Which is what happened. 

In particular, there was a lot of pivoting around many ideas, and several of them went through some major evolution over the 2 days. The way we saw it, the mentors were a sounding board, but also a source of tough questions - the toughest of which were typically around challenging the very need for what the team was offering. But well, gotta push if you want quality ideas coming out yeah?

The ideas: lots, and lots, of taxi booking apps - but also a bunch of other pretty unique ones too. We particularly liked:

ClimateRight: crowd-adjusted aircon temperatures that uses real-time data from in-building users, via an app, to save energy on unnecessary chill. 

SurePark: Find a parking lot in the city, before you even head out. Lets you know how many lots are available in a major building, predict how many will be free at your estimated time of arrival and help you reserve a lot in advance.

Postcode Postcard: lets you visualize the local mobile network data (and other datasets), render it, and print to physical postcard on the spot. They have a working prototype (mad props guys!) - check it out here.

Visualise cellular mobile data, transport network data, etc - and BOOM! there's your cool postcardGranDate: A web app that helps you plan a date with your gramps! The app uses crowd-sourced data to identify the best venues and activities catering to the older generation.


We are particularly proud of GranDate - they started out with a pretty disparate group and not much of an idea, but pivoted majorly at least once, if not twice. They ended up with a really clever concept that isn't terribly techincally difficult to put together, yet could really help the young professionals in their 20s and 30s make spending time with their folks way easier. Also, they were the winning team from UP Singapore 2012! w00t!