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Data could be social policy 'game-changer'

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 19/06/2017

Collecting "big data" may be the answer to solving some of New Zealand's social ills, but a warning has been sounded about the responsibility that goes with assembling a large amount of information.

Sir Peter Gluckman, the chief science advisor to the Prime Minister, released a discussion paper on Monday, the first in a series on the use of big data in social policy development.

The paper is part of collaboration between New Zealand and the European Commission.

He says New Zealand is unique in the world for "the quality, depth and integration of administrative datasets, from a range of social sector services over a long period of time" but a culture change is required to make his approach work.

Collection of client-level data in a more organised way - and proper analysis of it - will allow for better decision-making in social policy areas such as unemployment, mental health, social housing, social welfare and justice services, Sir Peter said.

At a conceptual level, this is not new he said. But having a more data-driven approach could change lives.

"One particular benefit is the capacity to take a more holistic view by merging domains of policy that previously have been treated separately," he said.

"In theory one could use a number of analytical techniques to see which inputs might explain significant effects on outcomes... guiding where the largest potential gains from investment for social returns might be made.

"It can be a game-changing tool for governments seeking to better support citizens' needs."

Sir Peter said safeguards are crucial to ensure the information collected is being used correctly.

"It is important that analytics are supported by appropriate governance and safeguards, accountability and oversight."

Issues such as transparency, quality and the right system to collect the data are discussed in the paper.

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