2019 John Western Public Lecture

This event is organised by The University of Queensland’s School of Social Science and Institute for Social Science Research in honour of former UQ Professor of Sociology John Western AM.

The late Emeritus Professor John Western became the first professor of sociology at UQ and Head of the Department of Anthropology and Sociology in 1970. Some 26 years later, John retired but continued to be an active researcher, writer and doctoral supervisor. He was made a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia in 1984, and was elected to the Swiss Academy of Development in 1989. In 2009, John’s dedication to tertiary education and more specifically the development of sociology nationally and internationally was recognised when he became a member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia. John Western passed away on 6 January 2011. 

2019 John Western Public Lecture: Data analytics in the public sector - the tortoise or the hare?

Tue 10 Sep 2019 5:15pm7:30pm


Customs House
399 Queens Street, QLD 4000
Long Room


All are welcome to attend. For catering purposes, please register by 5 September 2019.

About the lecture 

Data analytics techniques like predictive risk modeling offer incredible opportunities to learn from rich data sets. Whatever service or product you are ‘selling’, whoever you are serving, data analytics offers the chance to connect with the right person in the right way at the right time. But while the private sector has been quick to realise the benefits of analytics, the public sector, besieged as it is with intractable and ‘wicked’ problems, has so far been the tortoise. So why isn’t the public sector keeping up? Despite best intentions, many organisations that have tried to use data analytics for good have delivered cautionary tales rather than inspiring case studies. The failures often stem from inadequate considerations of elements including ethics, transparency, fairness, racial disparities and social license. There is an emerging set of ground rules about what the community deems acceptable uses of data analytics for social good. Rhema will share a short history of data analytics for social good, talk about the emerging ‘rules of engagement’ and share her own experiences in implementing the Allegheny Family Screening Tool – a child welfare decision support tool – in Allegheny County, PA (United States).

About the presenter 

Professor Rhema Vaithianathan

Professor Rhema Vaithianathan holds a partial appointment at the Institute for Social Science Research as a Professor of Social Data and Analytics. She is also a Professor of Economics at Auckland University of Technology (New Zealand) where she is director of the Centre for Social Data Analytics, a research centre focused on using data analytics for social impact. Additionally, Rhema is Director of the Singapore Life Panel, a large population-representative monthly survey run from Singapore Management University. Rhema is internationally recognised for implementation of machine learning tools in high stakes government systems such as child welfare. Her work has been published in top journals and profiled in The New York Times and Nature. Her methods for screening child abuse calls using machine learning tools are being adopted internationally. She is frequently invited to speak to government agencies, researchers and practitioners around the world about ethical use of machine learning tools in public policy. Rhema has held research positions in Australia, Singapore and the United States, including a Harkness Fellowship at Harvard University.

Program and timings

Registration: 5.15pm for a 5.30pm start

Public Lecture: 5.30–6.30pm

Reception: 6.30–7.30pm


Long Room, Customs House, 399 Queen Street, QLD 4000

Find directions and parking information. 


Contact the Institute for Social Science Research via email - issr@uq.edu.au