23/11/2020

Researchers at Adelaide’s MIT bigdata Living Lab want to use the power of data to identify growth and development opportunities for South Australia.

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The research collaboration, based at Lot Fourteen, is led by the South Australian Government together with Bank SA, Optus, mobile telephone data analytics specialist DSpark and global leader in data science, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It is harnessing the partners’ data and world-leading know-how to pinpoint economic and social opportunities, problems and gaps.

Ultimately, the interactive data platform created will support decision-making for government and business.

It could be as simple — and difficult — as letting you know where the best place is to set up a new business and how much revenue you’re likely to generate, or perhaps identifying tourism drivers to carve out new markets, or showing how linking different areas of SA will grow jobs, or managing COVID-19 as the country reopens.

An eminent data scientist, MIT’s Professor Alex “Sandy” Pentland, was instrumental in devising the European Union’s data-privacy regulations, is an adviser to the World Economic Forum and the UN on big data, and heads up the MIT Media Lab.

“The part I’m most excited about is something you could almost call a recipe for growing the economy of specific neighbourhoods,” he tells Future Adelaide.

“We’ve found we will predict what will cause neighbourhoods to become more wealthy.

“In one sense it is simple: you have to have diverse amenity, diverse stores and things to do, and that attracts diverse people.”

The research uses data insights to drive growth opportunities, improve government decision-making and planning, and improve socio-economic outcomes.

In developing the lab, Adelaide joins half a dozen other Living Labs around the world that have also built on MIT’s expertise in data analytics and security structures to bolster data management and security.

“[That structure] is more and more important,” Pentland says.

“A lot of people never thought about it before and now data is getting more and more valuable. That’s what we bring, a lot of experience in structuring things right.”

The professor compares the datasets to a national census, but more up-to-date and relevant, with information de-identified and averaged out across neighbourhoods to ensure privacy.

“What we’re trying to do is make rich data, and instead of doing it every 10 years or so [like a census] you do it once a month,” he says.

“You can see, is this place doing better or is it going off the edge? By knowing more, you can manage the economy better, you can manage transportation better, and you find that you can do much better planning.”

Projects, so far, include gaining insights to drive a revival in the tourism industry and working with The University of Adelaide to identify future skills demand, to create a more resilient SA workforce.

Identifying job skills in populations that have lost employment and attracting workplaces to use those skills is a priority of the MIT Bigdata Living Lab.

Researchers’ topic area, progress and impacts are being overseen by representatives from the State government, Bank SA, Optus and DSpark. They will also review potential expansion of its capability, while a research advisory group also adds expertise in specific areas.

Pentland says using data sets to create opportunities means changing a mindset from leaders.

Instead of the way society has traditionally aimed for solutions — by seeking advice from experienced experts who do things the way they have always been done — people can look to hard data to guide their decisions.

Planners can then assess how effective their strategies are by ongoing monitoring.

“Future planning will use more data and less ‘rule of thumb’,” Pentland says.

“One way we will know it’s a success is more job creation, helping out less fortunate parts of the area, better jobs and more robust jobs — seeing green shoots in all those areas.”

This article originally appeared in The Australian's Future Adelaide Special Report.