Empathy – Keeping the End User in Mind is key to improve Quality of Life


Data is providing us with the tools to make better, smarter decisions, in real time. But are businesses, governments and city agencies embracing the power of data to take urban planning to the next level? Are they using the insights provided by data to put citizens at the heart of decision making?

Design thinking is an approach tech companies have been using for years. At its core, it’s about empathy – seeing the world through the eyes of the end user, stepping into their shoes, and setting aside personal assumptions to gain the insight needed to create products and services that we can’t live without. Now traditional industries are starting to catch up – and good news too. Its potential to benefit citizens, business and the environment should not be underestimated.

Sarah Kuijlaars is a British national and Chief Financial Officer at Arcadis. She holds a master’s degree in mathematics from Oxford University and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (FCMA).

In 1989, she joined Royal Dutch Shell in London as Regional Treasury and Banking Management Assistant, followed by financial planning, advisory and treasury roles at Shell Trading and Shipping Co and in, inter alia, Brazil, Argentina and the Netherlands. She subsequently took on larger financial leadership roles, including Finance Manager Shell Exploration and Production International in the United Arab Emirates, Finance Director Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production, and Vice President Finance Upstream CIS in Russia.

In 2015, Ms. Kuijlaars was appointed Senior Vice President Finance Downstream Global Controller in the United Kingdom. She moved to Rolls-Royce Holdings in 2015, where she became Chief Financial Officer of Rolls-Royce’s Civil Aerospace Business in 2017.

The real game changer

Data tells us exactly what’s happening. When we take data and apply predictive analytics, we can predict what will happen. This, coupled with the insights derived from design thinking, is the key. It provides more than a business case or a feasibility study. The data each of us produces paints a picture of how we live, move, work and play. When analyzed, organizations can draw parallels, uncover trends and understand the cause of events – insight that can enable them to make meaningful changes that will enhance our day to day experiences. The question remains, is data being maximized in this way?

Data driven decision-making

By analyzing the data available, and using the customer insights gained through empathy, we have the power to tell a compelling story that can influence decision makers and introduce positive change. We have found this ourselves in working with our clients – we are technical people who understand assets. When we combine this asset knowledge with data analytics, we can have a significant impact on cities and their citizens, as we have in Sydney, when we helped transport planners to refine the layout of the city’s metro scheme to optimize the customer experience.

Decisions for the next generation

The decisions we make today will affect our lives tomorrow. How we do that is important. Using data and analyzing it effectively, keeping the end user in mind, is key to improve quality of life, for us now and for the next generation.

If you’d like to learn how to use design thinking to truly understand your end users, join our interactive workshop, The Power of Citizen Centric Thinking: why data is key to improving quality of life, in room LINDENZIMMER at Global Female Leaders 2019.

Arcadis. Applying our deep market sector insights and collective design, consultancy, engineering, project and management services, we work in partnership with our clients to create exceptional and sustainable outcomes throughout the lifecycle of their natural and built assets. We are 27,000 people working in over 70 countries to improve quality of life. Find out more at www.arcadis.com.


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