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

I’m part of GovTech Singapore’s Government Digital Services, where we look at how tech (with a focus on software) can be used to solve citizens’ pain points.

As a product designer, I use design in three main ways:

i) understand the challenges that users face,

ii) create solutions that are accessible and easy to use, and

iii) work with stakeholders on product strategy, execution, and constant product improvements.

But tech is not a perfect tool; I’m grateful to be working in an organisation that is concerned with the dangers of tech. One of my favourite projects was a deep-dive into the future of “classrooms”, where we analysed emerging trends among tech and human beings. With the Education ministry, we designed and prototyped “classroom” concepts that leaned on the strengths of future tech, to create stronger self-awareness and relational skills among youths.

What was the most impactful project you worked on this year?

TraceTogether, the first nationwide deployment of a privacy-preserving, digital contact tracing system. The open-sourced code for the app served as a beta for other governments which wanted to launch Bluetooth-enabled contact tracing solutions in the early months of Covid-19. In Singapore, TraceTogether and other digital improvements helped our Health ministry reduce average contact tracing time from four days to less than two.

Personally, this was also the most impactful experience of my year. I saw what a committed bunch of volunteers could do. I met a team that held space for honest conversations. I was stretched in ways like never before — for a few months, I juggled being the team’s design lead, delivery manager, marcomms and operations rep. It was the first time I experienced extreme burnout, and all of a sudden it became easy for me (a workaholic) to have a work-life balance.

Don’t get me wrong — GovTech cares about employee well-being! It was the mission at hand and time urgency that caused inevitable burnout for many officers.

What is one unexpected learning from 2020?

The paradoxical theory of change — that I got to genuinely accept the things that I disagree with, to be able to change it.

When my ex-boss first shared this advice with me, it was really hard to stomach. How can I accept something that I feel strongly against? But slowly, I realised that it’s empathy to the highest level. Acceptance allows me to see the benefits of the current system, and helps me better communicate with those who are helming it.

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2021?

Online deliberation. I haven’t decided on particular tools or techniques, but I’m looking to combine it with psychological safety.

Governments have been doing many things to improve government-citizen discussions. I hope to explore what could make these discussions more accessible (i.e. easier for the general public to understand), what could create a safer space for government and citizens to share their dilemmas, and how tech could help to scale it.

What are your priorities for 2021?

In no order of priority:

  1. Run small online deliberation experiments between government and citizens.
  2. Learn about green tech.
  3. Set up a video call system for my grandma, so that she can share my extended family’s everyday experiences. She’s a jovial 94-year-old; the most tech thing that she has used in her life is the TV remote, and it’s becoming harder for her to move around.

What advice would you give to women looking to start a career in GovTech?

GovTech is rather female-friendly! So I’ll share an advice with youths who are looking to improve lives and livelihoods by joining the public service.

Change is made up of 10,000 (basically many) steps. You can take one step everyday. Even if you don’t agree with the broader direction, there are many things that you can do within it, to make things better.

And it’s ok to lose heart. Rest, find like-minded company, and if you feel that that’s still what you want to achieve, give it a go again.

Write a message for your future self.

“Dear Joyce, I hope you’ve learnt to accept yourself for who you are. I hope you took a leap of faith to try things even if they were filled with uncertainty. I hope you know that even if you didn’t change the world, you lived a good life, loving and being loved by the people around you. XOXO.”