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EXCLUSIVE – Data analytics as a catalyst for policy transformation – Keynote presentation by Duncan McIntyre at Canberra OpenGov Leadership Forum

EXCLUSIVE - Data analytics as a catalyst for policy transformation - Keynote presentation by Duncan McIntyre at Canberra OpenGov Leadership Forum

Mr. Duncan McIntyre, Assistant Secretary, Data and Digital Branch, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian Government, delivered the keynote presentation at the Canberra OpenGov Leadership Forum today. The subject of his presentation was 'Data analytics: A catalyst for policy transformation'. We present below the transcript of his speech. 

(Transcript starts)

Good morning.

Thank you for the introduction and the invitation to speak today.

I would like to begin by acknowledging that this forum is being held on the traditional lands of the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respect to their elders both past and present. I extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here today.

Data is essential for businesses wanting to achieve competitive advantage. The public sector is no different – except we use that competitive advantage to deliver better policy and programs. Data is the catalyst that can help government make more targeted, efficient and fair decisions to ensure better outcomes for all Australians.

Some context setting

Slide from Duncan McIntyre's presentation (Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian Government)

It is important to recognise that we are operating in a time of immense change, both within Australia and abroad. Geo-political disruption, falling levels of trust and tight fiscal environments are testing the resilience of economies and societies.

The World Economic Forum has concluded that we are on the brink of a technological revolution, fundamentally altering the way we work, live, and relate to each other – the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Our response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders from the public and private sectors to academia and citizens.

In that light, it is import to understand some of the broad global trends that are impacting Australia and the role of the data agenda in addressing these developments.

Declining levels of trust

Slide from Duncan McIntyre's presentation (Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian Government)

Trust in the key institutions that make up our society – business, government, NGOs and the media – is declining. Numerous studies, including the Gallop World Poll and the Edelman Trust Barometer, have noted this global trend.

Better access to data can improve efforts to make national institutions and organisations more effective, inclusive and transparent and help to regain trust.

While traditional mechanisms, such as Freedom of Information laws, still have an important role – the rise of open government has seen a shift from the passive dissemination of information (mainly upon request) to the proactive publishing of data that be used, reused, analysed and integrated on a large scale.

Tight fiscal environment – need to do more with less

Research also suggests that trust can be linked to a reaction to world events, like economic recessions and recoveries, declarations of war, moments of terrorism and political scandals. In Australia, trust has notably dropped since the Global Financial Crisis, despite a relatively sheltered impact compared to the rest of world.

In the current tight fiscal environment, we need to innovate to maximise the impact of finite public resources. Both the public and private sectors are leveraging data to do more with less. Data is being used to design more efficient supermarket layouts based on shopping habits of customers; to deliver more targeted advertising to consumers; and for machine learning to inform stock trading.

Through the integration and analysis of data that is already being collected by Government, we can evaluate and design better interventions with the information we already have. By doing this, we not only deliver better outcomes but can help public funds go further through more targeted policies and programs.

Transformative value of data

So how are we actually ensuring we harness the value of our data?

The Australian Government is working to improve Australia’s data landscape. We started with releasing the Public Data Policy Statement in 2015, which was a significant step in bringing about long-term transformational change.

In 2016, the Government tasked the Productivity Commission to undertake a 12-month inquiry into Data Availability and Use. The final report contains 41 recommendations to provide citizens with active control over their data and safely enable the sharing and release of all types of data.

A Taskforce has been established in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to lead the Government response to the enquiry, which is expected to be released later this year.

Within PM&C, the Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government (also known as BETA) is putting data and real human behaviour at the centre of policy and program design.

BETA has just released their first public report in partnership with Treasury – using Random Control Trails to look at how people respond to a new income plan for retirement. This is the first step in building an evidence base for influencing how superannuation companies present their products to members to ensure information is presented in ways that help retirees make the best choices for their needs.

Data integration is the next step

Slide from Duncan McIntyre's presentation (Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian Government)

Beyond the analysis of single datasets, we have the technical capacity to combine data from a variety of resources to deliver insights in a safe and secure manner.

Through data integration, we can gain new insights into our communities, families and industries. Data linkage can support research on important and complex questions that may be too sensitive for reliable survey collection, or where a single dataset alone is not able to deliver an answer.

This work isn’t new. Both here at home and overseas, we have seen how data integration can be used to deliver better outcomes.

New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure

New Zealand has been linking administrative data for more than a decade, seeing real benefits through its Integrated Data Infrastructure. The IDI is a large research database about people and households, and has been used to explore the different pathways and transitions of cohorts, including identifying the characteristics of young people most at risk of poor long-term outcomes.

This analysis has helped develop and inform policies and services for children and youth, including creating the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children to ensure New Zealand youth have the best chance of succeeding in life.


Another example comes from Singapore, where data on government schools is helping parents find the right school for their children. The School Picker tool combines data on all primary schools and secondary schools across Singapore, including academic and non-academic programmes, extra-curricular activities and location. The user can shortlist schools, compare performance and see travel information, like bus routes and estimated driving time.

Australian states and territories

State governments are taking a similar approach.

The New South Wales Data Analytics Centre and Victoria’s Centre for Data Insights are working to facilitate efficient data sharing between agencies and support the better use of data for decision-making.

Western Australia has been linking health information since the 1970s to improve the social well-being of citizens. Over 800 projects, originating from academia, government, and hospital-based settings have made use of WA’s linked data since 1995.

This data has been used to evaluate services such as medical and hospital care, from monitoring flu-related deaths to forecasting future hospital activity.

Data Integration Partnership for Australia

Slide from Duncan McIntyre's presentation (Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian Government)

As I said before, this is not new. Governments across the world are trying to harness the power of data to deliver better outcomes for citizens.

However, traditionally, governments – at all levels – have taken a siloed approach to commissioning research and using its findings to inform policy and program development.

This is now changing – we are transforming how data is used across agencies to make sure that we harness this vital resource and embed its use in the policy development process.

The Government’s $500 million investment in the Public Service Modernisation Fund puts innovation into practice by supporting initiatives that enhance productivity, boost innovation and enhance program and service delivery.

A key initiative of the Modernisation Fund is the injection of $131 million for the establishment of the Data Integration Partnership for Australia, what we call the DIPA. The DIPA is a catalytic investment aimed at driving further change throughout the APS. It is a coordinated, APS-wide approach to maximise the use and value of the Government’s vast data assets and enable faster, cheaper and more secure integration of data to support better decisions by policy makers.

There are a number of elements to the DIPA, which I will briefly outline now.

DIPA Assets

Slide from Duncan McIntyre's presentation (Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian Government)

The DIPA will generate new, improve existing and make available more data assets for use.

We are doing this in a number of areas from Health expanding its Enterprise Data Warehouse to improve the value of health and aged care data, to Education drawing together data from the four education sectors—early childhood education and care, schools, vocational education and training, and higher education.

Importantly, data assets created as part of the DIPA will be de-identified, and analysed in secure and controlled environments. To ensure the strongest controls are in place, data integration and linkage will only be done by Accredited Integrating Authorities. In this case, our data gurus at the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Slide from Duncan McIntyre's presentation (Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian Government)

Commonwealth integrated data assets: MADIP and BLADE

The DIPA will enable us to build enduring, longitudinal data assets to transform the way we can understand our businesses and community. This will include improving our existing integrated data assets, such as BLADE and MADIP.

BLADE is the Business Longitudinal Analysis Data Environment, and integrates administrative and survey data at the firm level, with data available from 2001 to 2015.  As such, it provides a rich evidence base for productivity analysis, policy development and evaluation.

BLADE has been used by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science to research the dynamics of employment in Australia. This research revealed a disproportionate contribution of young firms to employment growth and of innovative firms to overall growth in sales and employment.

Another example is MADIP, the Multi-Agency Data Integration Project This is a feasibility project bringing together existing administrative information and is addressing gaps in our knowledge about how government policies and programs affect individuals and communities in Australia, enabling better decisions in areas such as health, welfare and education. DIPA will bring this dataset into production and allow views of changes over time.

Ambitious plans seeking early wins

One of the most exciting elements of the DIPA is the establishment of the data analytical units. This is where we will leverage the data assets I have just described to deliver real, tangible change.

Slide from Duncan McIntyre's presentation (Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian Government)

We are establishing five analytical units – a central whole-of-government hub, and four issue-specific spokes to look at cross-portfolio policy issues in the following spaces:

  • Economic, business and industry;
  • Environment;
  • Social, health and welfare; and
  • Government business.

The units will develop ambitious plans to address complex policy questions, such as analysing the drivers of productivity and understanding changes in gas use by large Australian businesses.

Through the DIPA, we are building our capacity to undertake rigorous assessment of the impacts, costs and benefits of the different forms of government assistance, and improve our understanding of the impact of these interventions to better and more confidently design successful government programs and services.

Underpinned by privacy protection and trust

Slide from Duncan McIntyre's presentation (Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian Government)

At the heart of this work is ensuring that we have the public’s trust and confidence.

However, there have been recent examples that have not helped build community trust. The latest Medicare data incident, accidental publication of MPs’ phone numbers, the census, MBS/PBS and robodebt are just a few. While these are isolated incidents, they bring attention to the way Government uses and handles data and these stories drown out the great work that is being done.

We need to not only demonstrate the power of data in improving lives, but also be transparent about the way we use data, and give Australians confidence that their data is safe and secure. So last year, we committed to building a strategy for Government to open up a dialogue with the community about data through Australia’s first Open Government National Action Plan.

DIPA will help us build this social licence – a key component of this is that data will only be used for statistical and research purposes, never for compliance or enforcement. 


As the Fourth Industrial Revolution gathers pace and we’re facing disruption in all facets of our lives, we are all experiencing challenges and opportunities at a speed and scale not seen before.

The best way to adapt to this period of change, is by having the right information at hand and knowing how to use it. Fully harnessing the value of data requires every part of government to understand the opportunity and embrace the challenge. The DIPA is exactly that – a forward looking, cross-government initiative that seizes the opportunities presented by better data analytics and use.  

Through the DIPA, we can answer our most challenging policy questions in areas such as the environment, industry and social welfare. These are issues that impact all of us, and the DIPA will help to provide the answers both now and in the future.  

(Transcript ends)


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