Rachel makes her mark with new public sector research

Posted 10th December 2020

Carnegie Mellon University Australia (CMU-A) public policy student Rachel Bukowitz has presented her research into the use of data analytic tools in areas such as child protection at a prestigious US conference.

Ms Bukowitz presented the research, which she started with Professor Tim O’Loughlin while studying her Master of Science and Public Policy and Management in Adelaide, at the Northeast Conference on Public Administration in November.

The Conference was created in 2010 at the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University in Newark. It has since grown to an annual academic forum attracting hundreds of participants and featuring more than 100 presentations of academic papers and workshops.

‘’Tim and I had done some desktop research on the successes and failures governments have had with the use of data analytics tools,” Ms Bukowitz said.

“Our specific interest is when tools are used to predict outcomes and those predictions are then used to support the exercise of coercive powers by governments. We focussed in particular on two examples in the areas of child protection and applications for bail.

“The reason for using this perspective is that it is here where the democratic values that need to underpin the use of any data analytics by governments are put to their toughest test. Typically, the operation of these tools is necessarily opaque yet when used for purposes such removing children from their families or denying defendants bail, the need to be able to explain the reasons for such decisions is at its most acute.

“The record of use of these tools so far is mixed. Some have enjoyed support in some jurisdictions, others have drawn significant controversy while still others have been killed off by the political reaction.

“It is interesting that the predictive accuracy of the tools has been an overwhelming pre-occupation of the developers but largely absent as a consideration in the political debate where they have struck trouble. Our paper was designed to suggest some new ways that governments might use to generate confidence in the use of these tools while protecting democratic values.

“It was a thrill to have the paper selected for the conference and to present on it.”