UTS students collaborate on vice-regal data analysis

Governor of NSW David Hurley (centre) with, from the left, UTS students Tommaso Armstrong, Fiona Li, Victoria Oh and Katherine Wearne, holding a sheet with some of the thousands of lines of data that were analysed. Picture supplied

Governor of NSW David Hurley (centre) with, from the left, UTS students Tommaso Armstrong, Fiona Li, Victoria Oh and Katherine Wearne, holding a sheet with some of the thousands of lines of data that were analysed. Picture supplied

In summary: 
  • A team of four UTS students mentored by four UTS academics has undertaken an extensive analysis of the activities of the NSW Governor's office at the invitation of Governor David Hurley
  • The project involved analysing all available data on ceremonial, constitutional, and community engagement events and activities to assist the Governor in planning the best use of his time

A mathematician by training, NSW Governor David Hurley could see the value of a detailed analysis of the complex operations of his office and it's been a team of UTS students and staff that has delivered the results.

Four UTS undergraduate students and four UTS staff undertook the challenging data analysis and data visualisation project at the invitation of the Governor. The team presented its findings personally at Government House Sydney earlier this month.

The project originated when His Excellency asked UTS Vice-Chancellor Professor Attila Brungs if some UTS students could analyse the myriad activities undertaken by the Governor of NSW to help him develop a plan to strategically and equitably distribute his time. Professor Brungs assured His Excellency that UTS students can do anything – and asked Professor Jim Macnamara, Associate Dean (Engagement and International) in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences to coordinate the project.

The four students who volunteered to undertake the project were Tommaso Armstrong from the Faculty of Engineering and IT and the Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation who is specialising in data analysis; Fiona Li from the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building (DAB), who specialises in data visualisation; Katherine Wearne who is studying communication, social inquiry and the Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation; and Victoria Oh also from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), who is studying communication and social media.

Because of the complexity of the project and the high-level "client", the students were supervised and mentored by four UTS academics: Professor Jim Macnamara from FASS; Associate Professor Louise McWhinnie, Associate Dean (Teaching and Learning) and Head of the Department of Creative Intelligence and Innovation from DAB; Dr Kate Sweetapple, Associate Head of the School of Design in DAB; and Dr Paul Brown, Senior Lecturer in the Accounting Discipline Group in UTS Business School.

The project involved analysing all available data on the ceremonial, constitutional, and community engagement events and activities attended and undertaken by the Governor, with the aim of identifying the extent to which his time is equitably distributed geographically, demographically, and culturally, and how well it matches the personal interests and commitments of the Governor and Mrs Hurley.

A challenge was that data available from the Governor's office were in the unstructured form of text in official appointment diaries, lists of patronages, and itineraries of regional visits.  However, the students set to work exporting data from systems such as MobileX diary software, setting up coding categories and themes, and coded thousands of lines of unstructured data. They then overlaid this with Australian Bureau of Statistics population data, local government area data, and other information such as lists of organisations and community groups. Finally, the team transformed the data and interpretations into data visualisations illustrating patterns, themes, and distributions of time and focus.

Being a retired Army general and former Chief of the Defence Force Staff, and a mathematician by training, the Governor could be described as having exacting standards. However, on being shown the findings in a one-hour presentation at Government House, he said he was "very impressed and delighted" and described the presentation as "an extremely valuable and useful set of reports and visualisations".  

UTS Provost, Professor Peter Booth, and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Professor Mary Spongberg, who attended the presentation, added their congratulations to the four "student stars".

"The project was an exemplar of the benefits available from trans-disciplinarity and collaboration," Professor Macnamara said. "The students commented that they had learned so much from working collaboratively with others from fields such as data analytics, design, communication, and social research. The insights gained could never have been achieved by any single discipline," he said.