‘No matter how senior we get, we must be open to hearing views across the table’: five minutes with GovTech Singapore’s Karen Kee  

By on 29/08/2022 | Updated on 29/08/2022

Karen Kee, deputy director, international and community development lead at GovTech Singapore, tells GGF about her agency’s data exchange platform, the importance of ‘intellectual humility’, and why her dad is her hero

What drew you to a career in the civil service?

I started my career in the private sector as a developer in Accenture. While the job was challenging and I enjoyed what I did, I wanted to work on projects where I could see the impact and results of what was developed. It’s always exciting to share how the services we’ve developed for citizens have helped improve the way they interact with government.

What barriers or challenges have you overcome in your career?

Things move really quickly in tech and you have to keep up or be made redundant. While this is not easy, the challenge to keep up and learn new things excites me.

I believe that I should own the responsibility to learn and keep up, and not expect my organisation to do so. I do that by reading up regularly and taking courses on my own during my free time. There are many free or low-cost options online so that helps.

I’m also lucky that GovTech as an organisation supports training. That has allowed me to embark on a few related professional certifications. In fact, I’m now on a Stanford University product management and marketing course.  

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your working life?

That ‘intellectual humility’ is important. I’m fortunate to have met a good boss and mentor. He constantly reminds us to always be hungry to learn and have intellectual humility. No matter how senior we get, we must be open to learning and hearing views across the table. That advice has helped me gain new ideas from the team and to regularly improve the way we do things.

What do you like most about working in the civil service?

You’ll never get bored as there’s always an interesting problem to solve. Seeing the impact of the work you do is really rewarding.

Can you name one lesson or idea from abroad that’s helped you and your colleagues?

It’s hard to just name one. We learn from various sources, both in industry and the public sector. Each country is different – in size, structure of government etc – and practices differ. No one has all the answers. We consult widely and are always keen to learn from fellow counterparts globally. One of the ways we do it is through the Digital Government Exchange (DGX) platform. It has been held annually in Singapore since 2016 (for two years virtually during the pandemic). DGX really enables honest and open conversations – it brings together a group of like-minded leading digital government officials to exchange ideas, and more importantly, share what didn’t work; there are plenty of platforms where participants share what worked. We’re excited to conduct the seventh Digital Government Exchange next month.

Are there any projects or innovations in Singapore that might be valuable to your peers overseas?

GovTech developed a centralised and secure data exchange platform, API Exchange (APEX). It supports the increasing role of data-driven decision-making in government and enables agencies to publish, monitor and discover available data across government. Since its launch, it serves over 100 million API calls monthly across 30% of our agencies. We’ve open sourced the codes on the Singapore government developer portal – check it out here.

We also developed the Whole of Government Application Analytics (WOGAA). With more people interacting with the government through websites and mobile applications, it is increasingly important for the Singapore government to understand the user experience and impact of its digital services. This inspired the creation of WOGAA, which monitors the performance of government websites and digital services in real-time in a convenient and user-friendly manner. It presents key information such as website traffic, user feedback, recommendations to improve site performance as well as benchmarks against whole-of-government averages in a single dashboard. These useful data points, coupled with a fuss-free user interface, allows public officers to conveniently access the information they need so that they can make effective data-driven decisions and proactively improve their services. Details can be found here.

What attributes do you most value in people?

I am a bit of an introvert and enjoy engaging in an intimate environment. So honesty and integrity in friends, and people who are genuine, are important to me.

What is your favourite thing to do at the weekends?

A mix of outdoor and indoor activities. I love running as it allows me to think and I love the feeling after a good run. I also love cooking for my family. Simple meals to get together and talk after – that is priceless. Chicken curry and ginger chicken are hot favourites.  

What is your favourite book?

The Last Lecture by professor Randy Pausch. A true story, it is the last lecture by professor Pausch, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It reminds me of the importance of overcoming obstacles and seizing every moment as you may have less time than you think; and the importance of living and treasuring your loved ones. I cried many times reading it and highly recommend the book.

Who is your hero?

Undoubtedly, my dad. He just celebrated his 84th birthday. His selfless love and sacrifice for the family through little daily actions like ferrying us around and appearing at my place with cut fruits.

Read more from our ‘Five minutes with’ series:

‘It’s impossible to lead people who don’t trust you’: five minutes with Slovenia’s public administration chief Peter Pogačar

‘Characters of all types abound in the Public Service’: five minutes with The Bahamas’ deputy director of transformation and digitisation, Carol Roach

‘Don’t fade into the background’: five minutes with GovTech Singapore’s chief executive, Kok Ping Soon

‘Ask yourself where you want to be three jobs from now’: five minutes with Ontario’s deputy minister of finance, Greg Orencsak

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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