AUT Ventures works to streamline AUT's engagement with government, industry and the public sector by making the process of consultancy easier for AUT academics. That means people like Professor of Economics Rhema Vaithianathan can focus on their work, while the legal and financial aspects are handled by the AUT Ventures Team.
Rhema, who is also Co-Director of the Centre for Social Data Analytics at AUT, has secured funding for, and led, numerous large international research projects involving multidisciplinary research teams, including the Singapore Life Panel and development of the Allegheny Family Screening Tool. She is known for her ability to design research that delivers important academic and translational outputs.
Rhema led an international multidisciplinary team to develop a child welfare predictive risk model, the Allegheny Family Screening Tool, implemented by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, Pennsylvania, in August 2016. The tool aims to support call screeners to ‘triage’ calls alleging maltreatment more accurately. Rhema explains:
“The algorithm measures risk by going through all the existing data to look at the pattern of contact with social services and give each piece of information appropriate weight. For example, how many calls have been received? What type of calls? Were they investigated? Has the person previously come into contact with the system either as a perpetrator or victim? Staff members already have access to this information but they often don't have time to sift through it all.”
Rhema has recently taken on two additional analytics projects for Allegheny County: building predictive risk models to support the allocation of homelessness services, and exploring the use of an ‘at birth’ predictive risk model to identify children at the highest risk of maltreatment. In Douglas County, Colorado, Rhema is leading the design and implementation of a second purpose-built child welfare predictive risk model, the Douglas County Decision Aid.
Other consultancy work includes assisting the Children’s Data Network (University of Southern California) to build a child welfare predictive risk modelling proof of concept for the State of California, US.
“There’s a lot of hype around big data with companies like Facebook using it for marketing and profit but there hasn't been a lot of work on how to use big data to improve social justice and equity. It's a challenging area. You can't just helicopter drop the methods used by business into the social services space. There are only a few research centres like ours worldwide which is why we do a lot of international collaborations.”