Data analytics in the public sector: 2019 John Western Lecture, Brisbane

19 Sep, 2019
JW Rhema Smiling photo

Professor Rhema  Vaithianathan delivered a public lecture - Data analytics in the public sector – the tortoise or the hare? – in Brisbane in September.

Her talk was the 2019 John Western Lecture, a biennial event proudly hosted by the University of Queensland’s Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR) and School of Social Science.

Professor Vaithianathan, who holds a partial appointment as a Professor of Social Data and Analytics at ISSR,  contrasted the largely cautious use of data analytics in the public sector with the comparatively quick (and profitable) uptake of data analytics seen in the private sector.  She also shared lessons from her own work using predictive analytics to address social challenges, focusing on the Allegheny Family Screening Tool, a decision support tool for child welfare call screening.

She told the audience that while it could seem at first glance that the private sector is leading the way with data analytics, several recent high-profile controversies contradict that idea.  Professor Vaithianathan went on to highlight six elements of a successful data analytics strategy for the public sector: agency leadership, transparency and fairness, a community voice, multi-disciplinary team, ethical review and independent evaluation.

Director of ISSR Professor Mark Western said the vision of the Institute is to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives, and this is done by partnering to carry out transformational research to solve critical social challenges.

“Emerging data analytics techniques like predictive risk modelling offer new opportunities to learn from data, and improve the delivery of services and products, to consumers and citizens,” Professor Western said.

“Rhema is at the forefront of international research and implementation in this field, and her appointment is a central part of ISSR’s strategic planning to build social data science at UQ in a way that harnesses the potential of tools like machine learning and artificial intelligence to do social good.”

The John Western Memorial Lecture is held in honour of former University of Queensland  Professor of Sociology John Western AM – the first professor of sociology at UQ and Head of the Department of Anthropology and Sociology in 1970.

Link to more information about the lecture, including presentation slides and video