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Professor Diane Finegood

International Scientific Advisory Committee member

April 2017

Professor Diane Finegood

Please describe your role: My current role is as a professor at Simon Fraser University, Canada, after recently stepping down from a leadership position as president and CEO of a provincial health research funder. I am now thinking about what happens next and where I use skills to ‘move the needle’ as it relates to complex problems.

My connection with the Prevention Centre is … on a technical level, as an international member of the Scientific Advisory Committee where I provide provocateur advice. On a more emotional level, I am passionate about recognising that there is a difference between complex, simple and complicated problems. The Prevention Centre is at the cutting edge of trying to address the complex problem of prevention in different ways, such as through partnerships and building trust within these relationships. I hope that through my role as an advisor, I can encourage and support this cutting-edge effort.

I am always thinking … about how to help people embrace rather than retreat from complex problems. Often when people are shown maps and diagrams of complex problems, their inclination is to shut down and assign blame, unable to cope with the fact that it is complex. We can’t afford to do that when dealing with all the complex problems we face.

My favourite holiday … no longer exists. It was a music festival that took place for 40 years in a little place called Hart near Western Michigan. It was a women-only, off-the-grid week of camping with live music on three stages a day, which sadly no longer takes place.

Most people don’t know … that my undergraduate and masters degrees are in chemical and biomedical engineering. As engineering is also about solving complex problems, this has played a significant part in how I work now. And even though I went on to study physiology, I have applied the core element common to both engineering and science to my work at a national health institute. Another fun fact unknown to others is that I can ballroom dance. I took six years of lessons as a child and these have never left me. It is a love that I share with my father who still takes me for a spin around the dance floor at more than 90 years of age.

My motto is … complex is not the same as simple or complicated.

Professor Finegood was in Australia in April 2017 to take part in Prevention Centre activities at the World Congress on Public Health and in a knowledge mobilisation workshop and webinar. You can learn more about her insights on systems thinking for complex problems in this webinar.