Curiouser and curiouser! Jumping down the Rabbit Hole with Good Lab

Curiouser and curiouser! Jumping down the Rabbit Hole with Good Lab

Good Lab alumna and former Project and Communications Manager Lydia Sung left Good Lab to pursue a Master’s Degree in Public Policy in Berlin. We caught up with her before her departure as she reflected on her 2.5 years of curious experiences and how it opened her eyes to things we can do to make our city a better place.

Lydia joined Good Lab back in 2019, which seemed like a lifetime ago.

Quick, curious, and observant, Lydia was known among the team for her insatiable thirst for challenges. Unsurprisingly, then, her career has been varied: prior to joining Good Lab, she has worked as a TV producer, a journalist, and has spent a short stint in the civil service for a taste of public administration.

Despite frequently moving across multiple roles and organisations, one thing remained constant: her passion and purpose of being a positive influence in society and encouraging more citizens to ‘be the good’ in society.

This passion was developed during her study at the University of Hong Kong, where she majored in Journalism and Politics. By serendipitous chance, Lydia met her mentor and Good Lab’s Executive Chair, Ada Wong, who introduced her to Good Lab and sparked her interest in its work.

“Initially, I just wanted to help out in a project or two,” she revealed. However, as she got more involved, she found herself drawn into a rabbit hole.

“I find social innovation fascinating – as it often involves collaboration and engagement among the most unusual suspects, turning the unthinkable into realities.” These new processes and ways of thinking are so different from what she was used to, but it also made her “want to keep digging to learn more.”

Witnessing the Power of Changed Mindset

In her first project, YouthCreate, she and her team worked with social workers from 16 Youth Centres to re-envision how to empower young people to become future-ready changemakers in the fast-changing social landscape.

“It started to click,” she recalled, “and I questioned, what was possible when you approach things with a different mindset – for example, when you change the foundational paradigms of ‘engagement,’ in this case, when you change the role of a social worker from being a direct provider to an enabler.”

She remembered fondly that one centre decided to have the youth in the community centre plan THEIR OWN summer programme, designing it based on THEIR criteria and needs. The social workers were there to facilitate the dream. “It led to more attendees, more engagement and a new way to service provision,” Lydia said in recollection of the later stage of the project, “these simple changes in mindset can lead to a whole new, better way of doing things!” She could only wonder what was possible if it was tried with elderly or disabled services.

“I realised, with a bit of imagination and more collaboration, better outcomes can be achieved with less money and fewer resources”

Concrete Learning by Experimenting and Reflecting

Another project she is proud to have contributed to is the Community Design Lab@Yuen Long. It was a co-creation project in partnership with the Drainage Services Department (DSD), and focused on designing the future of the Yuen Long Town Nullah. It sought to bring together different stakeholders to reimagine the dull nullah for a better quality of living in the town. Turned out, it was no easy feat – navigating the complex dynamics in Yuen Long can be tricky, and the COVID-19 pandemic just complicated everything. Still, for Lydia, it was nonetheless an eye-opening journey.

”Most of the engagements were done during the COVID-19 pandemic when social distancing restrictions were in place, so we had to be very inventive,” Lydia laughed, citing a Zoom live virtual tour of the nullah as an example. “It’s something I am so proud to have been a part of,” she expressed.

The pandemic may have kept us apart, but with technologies and a dose of creativity, we can still connect and engage with the community.

Proud moments aside, the journey was mostly an experience of unlearning how things have always been done, reflecting and reimagining what is possible.

“I realised, with a bit of imagination and more collaboration, better outcomes can be achieved with less money and fewer resources,” she said. “In the case of Yuen Long, the stakeholders’ engagement and co-creation process gave birth to ideas that were both feasible and agreeable from all sides, mainly because the residents and stakeholders saw the process as respectful and transparent.”

“Kai-fongs” sharing their feelings, memories, and stories about the place. These are voices that traditional public engagement methods often fail to capture. 

“Probably none of these ideas would have emerged if traditional public engagement methods such as town hall meetings or ‘mail-in’ consultation were used,” she remarked in regards to her learnings from the two-way citizen-government communications and collaboration. “There aren’t many of these examples these days, but I believe this one was a win-win for everyone involved.”

“The work at Good Lab, doing social innovation in the public sphere, is about getting to the core of social issues using structured methodologies and human-centric lenses,” she said. And, this knowledge remains valuable and relevant to this day. She was especially thrilled that she can relate her Good Lab experience to her current study in sustainable policymaking and implementation, particularly in enhancing the participation of stakeholder groups of low-power and high-interest.

Sowing the Seeds of Hope for A Better Tomorrow

“At Good Lab, we stay hopeful by taking actions”, she said. “Impacts may be invisible in the short term, but whatever we do, we are planting a seed and preparing nutrients for a better society in the future.” Indeed, we’ve been planting seeds in people, too, and we work to help them grow into changemakers. It seems Lydia is already one.

“What I learned at Good Lab will always stay with me,” she said. With each Good Lab project, new viable outcomes or recommendations came from changing how we think about an issue. For Lydia, it has made her not only believe that positive change is possible, but she’s also now seen it with her own eyes! “I will always be reminded of what is possible when we encourage new mindsets.”

Lydia is now off to a new adventure. We encourage her to keep digging, and we’re sure she’ll continue to make a positive impact wherever she goes.