Students and Alumni

Deep Thinkers

Dr Glenn Hui (centre) leads Isaac Pang (left) and Gabriel Chan (right) in experiencing the inner workings of election campaigns.

Imagine having the chance to experience first-hand the inner workings of an intense election campaign. Precisely that opportunity was offered to students participating in the “Go Discovering and Experiencing Election in Practice” (Go DEEP) of the Department of Public Policy (POL).

According to Dr HUI Kwok-hung Glenn, an instructor in the Department of Public Policy, the Go DEEP programme was developed in response to a change in students’ learning orientation. Implementing it also tied in with the university’s core philosophy of providing a “discovery-enriched” curriculum.

“Dr CHEUNG Chor-yung and I first decided to engage students in the 2015 District Council Election because many of our alumni were standing in the election or working for candidates from various parties who were running for office,” Hui says. “The parties were from across the spectrum with different ideologies, so we got in touch with the candidates and let the students choose where they wanted to work. We found they had no issues with the candidates or their political views.”

The students got fully involved right from the outset. Having come up with the concept, Hui and Cheung then left five student organisers to handle the overall coordination and liaison with all the participants.

“We monitored progress and evaluated the programme afterwards,” Hui says. “To provide a holistic learning experience, we suggested the students take part in rallies for the DAB (Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong) and visit the office of independent candidate Christine FONG. We also joined a talk hosted by LEE Wing-tat of the Democratic Party who coordinated the District Council Election. Alumni involved in the election were invited to give a talk, sharing their experiences of campaigning and engaging with the community.”

Students PANG Yuen-for Isaac and Gabriel CHAN duly threw themselves into all the activities associated with intensive local electioneering.

“It was an immersive experience, way beyond anything you could learn from textbooks or newspaper articles,” says Pang, a third-year student of public administration. “I had a front-row seat, witnessing the well-structured campaign of HO Chun-yan Albert, the Democratic Party’s candidate in the Tuen Mun district and the intricate behind-the-scenes operations. I saw how they approach advance preparation to win supporters and maximise the number of votes and how they decided to convey key strategic messages.”

Pang says the Go DEEP scheme allowed him to help out like a full member of the campaign team. He was able to engage in conversations with Albert Ho and develop a better understanding of the rationale behind his manifesto. He also got an insider’s view of how the Pan-Democratic candidates had put considerable time and energy into community affairs to lay the groundwork for the election.

“Mr Ho had helped Tuen Mun residents solve various practical problems,” Pang says. “So, when he approached them on the street, many remembered this assistance and said they would vote for him. I came to appreciate the importance of long-term community work.”

Although Ho lost the election, he made a very positive impression on Pang.

“He is humble and down-to-earth and was willing to share his insights on suitable ways to speak and behave in different situations, such as when taking criticism from rival supporters. He was also very rational about the result and never shifted the blame to others.”

Pang had some involvement in almost every aspect of the campaign from planning and preparation to executing strategies and projecting results. He also saw how the different political parties and stakeholders interact, in particular how the Pan-Dems help the disadvantaged, how pro-establishment candidates mobilise resources, and how the more radical types sought to harness social media and use gimmicky tactics.

Gabriel Chan chose to work for HO Kai-ming Kalvin, a candidate from the Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood (ADPL) who ran in the Sham Shui Po district. “He was an underdog in that election and just a few years older than me,” says Chan, who is now a fourth-year student of public policy, management and politics.

In-depth engagement in the campaign completely changed Chan’s preconception about campaigning.

“I was surprised by how detail-oriented they were,” he says. “Every residential building, every unit, and every vote mattered to them. I noticed how much the candidate valued building relationships and networking, and I was impressed by how he interacted with people from all walks of life and every age group. For instance, even when handing out leaflets, you can maximise the impact by making good eye contact and employing the right attitude.”

Initially, Chan was slightly intimidated by Kalvin Ho’s status as a CityU alumnus who was running for District Council office only a few years after graduation.

“But I found him warm and friendly and saw how he would give serious thoughts to suggestions and discuss them with seasoned campaigners,” says Chan, who works for the Civic Party and hopes to devote himself to social service. Chan is inspired by Ho and believes that running for office is not an unreachable dream. “I saw that it is possible for a young politician to get elected, though caution definitely helps.”

Hui believes the students’ active participation in election campaigning helped to change many preconceptions. They saw how the different parties had spent years laying the groundwork, building networks, and engaging residents by addressing concerns in the community.

Subsequently, there were a number of focus group discussions and surveys to evaluate what the students had learned. In terms of the overall experience, they gave the programme an average 7.3 out of 10.

“Many students said they really enjoyed the activities and experience,” Hui says, pointing out that POL also organised a Go DEEP scheme for the 2016 Legislative Council Election. “We will continue to communicate with the students on ideas and specific tasks to be accomplished. We will then try to get some additional funding so that we can continue the Go DEEP programme.”