Data science helping government: three case studies

By The Mandarin

November 21, 2016

EVENT: Can data science help reduce police violence and misconduct? Or help catch the bad guys? Or improve targeted intervention programs within school, primary care, mental health and drug treatment settings? Academics and boundary spanners will be helping government find out how in Melbourne next month.

According to the recent Australian Productivity Commission draft report, Data Availability and Use, there is enormous untapped potential in Australia’s data. The draft calls for major changes to the way Australia handles data in order to take advantage of the unprecedented opportunity that big data sets represent.

While such systemic change will take time, we can’t afford to sit on our hands. To achieve a mature, successful data science capability, agencies need to establish the right environment.

How can governments and other organisations use data science to improve policies and operations? How can you effectively train and build cross-disciplinary teams to do practical data science, and what machine learning and social science research challenges need to be tackled?

These are just some of the questions that will be be posed and answered by speakers at the Data Science for Good Governing Symposium in Melbourne on December 5.

The keynote speaker at the symposium, Rayid Ghani, is is the Director of the Center for Data Science and Public Policy at the University of Chicago.

Under his leadership, the university partnered with police departments to identify officers and police call-outs at a higher risk of producing adverse events. Machine-learning methods were applied to police department data to create predictive models that can be used to guide personalized interventions for at-risk officers or adjust dispatch procedures to reduce over exposure to high-stress situations.

By building an early-intervention system that is transparent, user-friendly and reliable, Ghani’s research is helping police departments improve training and better protect their officers.

Ghani was also the Chief Scientist for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, where he successfully led the integration and automation of data analytics into every aspect of the operation.

“We were part of every campaign function ranging from fund-raising, recruiting and mobilizing volunteers, messaging, polling, social media, tv ads, online ads, persuasion efforts, getting out the vote. We informed almost every department in the campaign and helped them be more efficient and effective,” he said in an interview after the election.

Ghani is passionate about developing data science driven solutions to policy and social problems in health, public safety, criminal justice, urban infrastructure, education, and economic development, and will speak about the lessons he’s learned while collaborating with governments and non-profits on dozens of projects.

Professor Dan Lubman is the Director of Turning Point and Professor of Addiction Studies and Services at Monash University. Prof Lubman’s research is wide-ranging and includes investigating the impact of alcohol and drug use on brain function, the relationship between substance use and mental disorder, as well as the development of targeted intervention programs within school, primary care, mental health and drug treatment settings.

He works closely with Monash’s Centre for Data Science, and will speak about the challenges of using data for evidence-based policymaking as well as potential opportunities.

The final presentation at the symposium is by Dr Tania Churchill and Gavin McCairns from AUSTRAC. Both Dr Churchill and McCairns previously worked in the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, before transferring their skills to the financial intelligence agency.

Their talk will outline some of their successes as well as the lessons learnt in establishing an environment in which data science can thrive, across two agencies with very different cultures. Through case studies, they will detail how machine learning algorithms are being used to predict risk and identify the bad guys.

Professor Geoff Webb from the Centre for Data Science at Monash University said that the symposium will provide insights into effective use of data across the spectrum of Government policy and administrative functions.

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