How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.

I set up the Smart Health Leadership Centre at the Institute of Systems Science (part of the National University of Singapore) because I saw a great opportunity to create an impact on the future of health through the use of digital technologies, data, and design. Our institute has been building IT and digital leaders for 38 years, but in healthcare, many of the people who understand what must be done to meet future health needs, do not have the technical skills to achieve it.

We build the skills of the workforce so that they can design their own solutions, mentoring them along the way to help them reach their desired future state.

In my centre, we have always had an integrated care lens, and design our programmes to be as relevant for healthcare as they are for the social service sector. In this way we are making it easier for the two sectors to collaborate around patient needs.

One of the integrated care projects we worked on was a partnership with Yishun Community Hospital, Lions Befrienders (a social service agency), and Reach52 (a digital social enterprise) to help socially isolated seniors take better care of themselves on discharge from hospital. We piloted the use of a voice controlled chatbot device in seniors’ homes, to support them in managing their health and wellbeing.

This multi-faceted project allowed us to explore the opportunities and challenges of delivering integrated care solutions, and we are able to pass on our learnings from such experiences to our students, creating powerful teaching case studies.

What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2019?

It’s been very exciting to partner with the National Council of Social Service on the inaugural Sector Design Challenge (SDC) this year. The SDC was launched to kick-start an innovation culture across the social service sector, helping those working in social sector agencies to understand how to use design thinking tools and implement innovative solutions that can create impact in a domain of such complexity.

It has been a highly rewarding journey with our participants, as we took them through skills-building workshops and mentoring clinics, and saw their concepts evolve into exciting and potentially life-changing solutions. We’re looking forward to seeing how the teams now progress as they implement their solutions, and cascade their learning.

It’s been a privilege to work with NCSS to help them build an innovation culture designed to transform the face of social services in Singapore.

What is the best thing you have experienced in your career?

One of the most challenging projects I worked on was the design and build of the New Tyne Crossing, a Public-Private Partnership in northeast England. At the time construction began, it was the largest civil engineering project in the UK.

However, the biggest challenges didn’t lie in its scale. This was a project with multiple complex challenges, from protecting the fragile fish population in one of the best salmon fishing rivers in the country whilst constructing a road tunnel beneath the river bed, to minimising environmental impact from substantial dredging and construction waste.

We had to maintain traffic volumes through the existing tolled road tunnel during construction, so that toll revenues wouldn’t drop, whilst constructing the new tunnel at the same location, even though motorists tend to do everything they can to avoid roadworks.

We had to ensure local residents could live their lives as conveniently as possible, despite the 30m deep trench we had sunk through their town, severing residential areas from shops and transportation.

I worked with highly talented teams, from the concessionaire, the contractor, and the public transport authority, and together we overcame our organisational boundaries to work as one, collaborating to solve seemingly impossible challenges. The project exceeded all expectations, and won numerous awards for the way in which it was delivered.

Standing at the mouth of the new tunnel on the day it opened, and seeing the transformative impact it was having on traffic flow, I felt immense pride. The tunnel has opened up opportunities for economic growth in numerous ways, and achieved that whilst generating unanticipated levels of public support. As Her Majesty the Queen said at the official opening ceremony, “You can all be proud of a job well done.” We certainly were.

If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2019, what would it be?

Treat every problem, obstacle, and constraint as an opportunity. It’s amazing how you can find even better solutions when you flip a problem on its head!

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2020?

I am keen to further explore the role of digital technology in nudging behavioural change, and how we might tailor engagement more effectively for different personality types in order to achieve improved health behaviours.

What are your priorities for 2020?

I will be taking on a demanding new running challenge this year, in the form of a hilly and awkward marathon course, so my priorities will be to get enough rest and train well so that I can cope with it, and enjoy it!

What is one challenge you would like to take on in 2020?

I believe that to drive digital transformation, we need to start with human-centred and impact design skills — and we need as many people as possible understanding the role they can play in the transformation journey.

I would like to bring a far more diverse audience into our design thinking programmes. I hope to get them started on their transformation journeys, and to build design capabilities across the broadest group of stakeholders, from C-suite to grassroots, to open up new opportunities and really drive change.

What has been your fondest memory from the past year?

I was delighted to see the inaugural students from our Professional Diploma in Smart Health Leadership graduate this year. As part of their studies they had to research, design and implement a project that would contribute to their organisation’s transformation agenda. I was astounded by the outcomes they generated in such a short period of time.