Interview | Dr Emily Verstege
Dr Emily Verstege is an expert at capturing and integrating consumer voice into strategy and governance frameworks. As a (reformed) research academic, tech start up survivor and public policy analyst, she has more than 15 years experience working within the professional and healthcare sectors to put people first.
When I saw you speak at Convergence 2.0, I really resonated with your comment that technology is changing exponentially but people are not. What does this mean for business?
It means we are suffering from a lack of connection. We are obsessed with and surgically connected to our devices and to a constant stream of content, but studies show Australians are sadder, sicker and lonelier than ever. Rapidly changing technology means we are disconnected from ourselves and from other humans.
The evidence of this is everywhere. Volume is rewarded and value is lost. The professional services sector works with clients who are stressed or vulnerable, and often because we bill by the hour and need to get through a volume of work, we miss clients’ emotional needs. And of course, people in the professional services sector work long hours and, thanks to their devices, are constantly available. It means their personal needs are sacrificed. Again, volume rewarded and value lost.
Your client list is remarkable – who has been your favourite to work with and why?
I am always fired up by working with businesses that understand nothing can stay the same, who are willing to look at what they do and start turning the status quo on its head. I love organisations that invest in people’s experience: their own people, their clients and the broader community. In doing so, their impact is magnified.
I see you have received a Bachelor of Biomedical Science, Bachelor of Science (Hons) and Doctor of Philosophy (Epidemiology). You were then part of the first wholly electronic longitudinal survey in public health research. Please share what these surveys were about and why they were so important.
The studies looked at the health of nurses, midwives and doctors in several countries, including Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada. We know that the Australian healthcare system is in crisis: there is an increasing demand for healthcare, but the way it is funded rewards volume and not value. There is a very real toll on the health and wellbeing of nurses, midwives and doctors, many of whom suffer poor mental or physical health. These two studies collected important health data—which is still being analysed—to inform workforce planning.
You also spent time researching and evaluation projects in the human services sector, including housing and homelessness, health, disability and young people. I volunteer with the Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic advocating for the impacts of poverty to be decriminalised. In your experience, how could the laws and legal industry change to improve the response to homelessness?
Homelessness is a really tricky problem, as you know. It’s often tied up with mental or physical ill health and disability, lack of education or income. In my experience, our human services systems don’t ‘see’ the entirety of a person’s journey into or out of homelessness. Approaches to preventing homelessness tend to be siloed, which makes them one-dimensional and inappropriate for many people. We could do better by connecting data systems, which would require some pragmatic changes to data linkage laws and information systems across government departments.
What advice would you give to anyone reading this?
When we connect with people, we do better. Get into the habit of seeking insights—not just big data, but deep insight from a range of sources—to understand what’s important to people. Integrate those insights into your strategy, business processes and governance. When we deeply understand people we can magnify our impact through exceptional experiences.
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