Public sector professionals with an entrepreneurial digital mindset can harness big data to improve service delivery, build social acceptance of new technologies, and avoid disastrous ‘own goals’ such as the Federal Government’s Robodebt scheme.
Carnegie Mellon University Australia Head Emil Bolongaita said there is enormous public value in marrying data science and public policy. Helping future leaders develop a strong grasp of data analytics and policy effectiveness is at the heart of the university’s new masterclass series.
The series comprises short, online classes delivered at no-cost to participants and covers cutting-edge developments across the IT and public policy sectors. Prof. Bolongaita said it is ideal for public sector employees looking to expand their knowledge on how to source, store and use data and how this can be applied to evidence-based policymaking.
“Governments everywhere, including in Australia, are well-advanced with exploiting big data to improve service delivery, generate efficiencies and make better policy decisions. There have been many successes, but the list of failures is increasing. These failures can have serious consequences.
“The Robodebt example, which cost the Government more than AUD $1.2 billion in settlement and reportedly led to several suicides, shows how you can create a disastrous ‘own goal’ when projects are poorly designed and executed.
“To manage these risks, policy actors need to understand the technology, data analytics, public policy and politics. Too often, IT developers fail to understand policy objectives and limitations while policy actors do not get close enough to the technology to truly understand how it works and where the mines are laid.”
Prof. Bolongaita said the COVID-19 pandemic has created a shift in the type of leadership skills those in the public sector require and an understanding of data and its uses was more important now than ever before.
“Our masterclasses have been designed to provide exposures to these areas within the context of developing a digital mindset for public sector applications,” he said.
Hosted by faculty at the university’s Adelaide campus and delivered at no-cost, each Masterclass includes a one-hour lecture and 30-minute Q&A. Participants can choose to attend one or more of the Masterclasses and select from one of two timeslots for each class.
Faster, cheaper and more reliable decisions
Professor Tim O’Loughlin said his masterclass, Government and Big Data: Strategies for Success on March 11 and 12, will look at elements in some of the failures and the common lessons to be drawn from them.
“We’re developing an inventory of failed projects such as the UK Government’s decision to use a data analytics tool to forecast final year school exam results in lieu of holding actual exams at a time of COVID,” Prof O’Loughlin said.
“There are other cases where the use of such tools has been highly contested such that they survive in some jurisdictions and not others. The use of predictive policing in the US is one such example where several jurisdictions that were early adopters have now dropped it”.
“Some clear themes are emerging. Our research interest is not so much on the reasons for failure but on strategies for success. The potential for data analytics to contribute to better government is still far from being realized. The need now is for rapid catch-up in the maturity of the broader decision-making and administrative frameworks that these tools need to operate in.”
Prof. O’Loughlin said successes in this space include tools that have provided for direct democracy through e-participation and allowed retrospective expunging of criminal offences following decriminalization of certain offences.
Carnegie Mellon University in Australia’s Masterclass Series
Big Data and Government: Strategies for Success
When: March 11 and March 12
Presenter: Prof. Tim O’Loughlin
Machine Learning and Data Analytics
When: March 17 and March 18
Presenter: Prof. Murli Viswanathan
Public Entrepreneurship and Grand Corruption in the Digital Age
When: March 25 and March 26
Presenter: Prof. Emil Bolongaita