Tuesday, April 27, 2010

World Bank open data initiative

In an enormously important development for researchers worldwide, the World Bank has launched an Open Data Initiative under which it has opened up its databases for free public access.

For an extraordinarily rich array of data and research, go to http://data.worldbank.org/ . From this front page you can access country profiles for over 200 countries, view data for over 300 indicators.

At http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog you can access the data catalogue, a listing of available World Bank data sources. This listing will continue to be updated as additional data resources are added. These resources include databases, pre-formatted tables and reports. Each of the listings includes a description of the data source and a direct link to that source. Where possible, the databases are linked directly to a selection screen to allow users to select the countries, indicators, and years they would like to search. Those search results can be exported in different formats. Users can also choose to download the entire database directly from the catalogue.

At http://data.worldbank.org/topic you can access data organised in accordance with sixteen topics – environment, financial sector, health etc.

At http://www.worldbank.org/reference/ you can access formal World Bank publications through the Online Bookstore, download over 65,000 free documents including operational documents (project documents, analytical and advisory work, and evaluations), formal and informal research papers, and most Bank publications, and access the Archives.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Robyn Archer on resilience

One of the highlights of Australia 21’s National Conference on Resilience was an entertaining and thought provoking address by our after-dinner speaker Robyn Archer AO, who in 2009 was appointed the Creative Director for the Centenary of Canberra in 2013.

She spoke about the application of resilience thinking in her field of expertise, the arts – what resilience means in the life of an individual artist, how to ensure the resilience of the arts, and what the arts and the creativity of society contribute to the resilience of the society itself.

Robyn’s address may be accessed here.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bob Montgomery’s Next Big Question

The Next Big Question is the title which Australia 21 has given its global online space for eminent Australians to ask the questions designed to create a new conversation about the future. 

Prof Bob Montgomery is the current President of the Australian Psychological Society. He is in full-time private practice on the Gold Coast, in clinical, health and forensic psychology, and is a member of three APS Colleges.  

Bob's next big question is "Is human nature intrinsically flawed?" (70Mb).  

If you would like to submit your next big question — please do so here.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Michael Ward Symposium on Resilience and Health

On 12 August 2009 the Menzies Centre for Health Policy and Australia 21 held a symposium at the University of Sydney to honour Michael Ward, a Founding Director of Australia 21 and a Board Member and Associate of the Menzies Centre for Health Policy. Michael’s personal resilience in the face of enormous health adversity has been an inspiration to his many friends and colleagues.


-  Dr Brian Walker, Chair of the (International) Resilience Alliance, and Director, Australia 21
-  Teresa Burgess, Manager, Australia 21 Project on Resilience in Early Childcare Systems
-  Emeritus Professor Bob Douglas AO, Board Chair, Australia 21 and Leader of A21 Project on Resilience of Health and Education Systems
-  Professor Stephen Leeder AO, Director, Menzies Centre for Health Policy
-  Michael Ward

Presentations and Notes:


Click on the links below to listen to:

Friday, April 9, 2010

Violence in Public Places

Project team: Richard Eckersley, Australia 21 Director and Fellow
Lynne Reeder A21 Executive Officer

Australia, like some other countries, has experienced in recent years a marked increase in the frequency and severity of violence in public places, a problem that is attracting massive public and political attention.

In response to this situation, Victoria Police commissioned Australia 21 to conduct a roundtable on antisocial behaviour and public safety and to prepare a report on the discussions and outcomes.

The roundtable addressed the question: What are the precursors and triggers of antisocial behaviour and the options for improved policy intervention to reduce such activity in public spaces?

The roundtable was held in Melbourne in October 2008.  The 23 participants were drawn mainly from a range of relevant scientific disciplines and Victorian Government departments and agencies with responsibility for policy development and implementation. Participants and Victoria Police were given the opportunity to comment on a draft of the report, Violence in public places:
Explanations and solutions, but they were not asked to endorse or approve the final report, the responsibility for which rested with Australia 21 and the authors, Director and Fellow Richard Eckersley, and Executive Officer Lynne Reeder. The report was released on 2 March 2009.

The upsurge in public violence is not readily explained. It is possible Australian society has reached a tipping point, where the confluence or conjunction of many social changes and developments — short-term and long-term, specific and broad — has produced social conditions conducive to violence. Explanations include: changes in alcohol and drug use; the huge growth of the night-time economy; a 24/7 lifestyle; broad social changes relating to poverty and disadvantage, the family and parenting, communications technology and the media, and an individualistic, consumer culture; young people’s biological and social development; links between antisocial behaviour and other aspects of young people’s health and wellbeing; and the lack of sustained action to address the problem, coupled with a dearth of good research evidence in key areas.

When it came to solutions, some participants focused on more immediate, direct interventions to address public violence, others emphasised a broader, social development perspective. Nevertheless, most, if not all, participants agreed on the need for a multi-dimensional strategy spanning timeframes, social scales and government jurisdictions.

The Victorian Government has already implemented some of the report’s recommendations. A Federal Parliamentary committee looking into the impact of violence on young people and a Queensland Parliamentary inquiry into alcohol-related violence have considered the report. It also drew the interest of the UK National Community Safety Network, a practitioner led organisation supporting the promotion of community safety and crime reduction, which ran an article about it in its bulletin.

Australia 21 believes the project is a fitting demonstration of its mission to create cross-institutional and multidisciplinary networks to develop new frameworks for understanding and addressing important challenges facing Australia and the world this century.

Download Violence in Public Places in PDF format here.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia (GAPP)

Project Leaders: Professor Allan Cripps, Pro Vice Chancellor (Health) Griffith University, and Professor Emeritus Bob Douglas AO, Chairman, Australia 21.

Pneumonia is the leading cause of death in the developing world, especially in children under five years of age. Currently at least two million preventable deaths from this cause occur annually. The prevention of death from this cause is a necessary priority for meeting Millennium Development Goal Number 4, which seeks by 2015 to reduce by 67% the 1990 global under-5 mortality. A 2007 analysis of progress in meeting this goal showed that at current rates of progress, global under-5 mortality is expected to decline by 27% from 1990 to 2015, substantially less than the 67% goal.

Australia 21 is mobilising Australian expertise on control of pneumonia deaths in the third world. We are able to do so because Australians have been particularly prominent in this endeavour during the past forty years as a result of work initiated in Papua New Guinea in the 1960s.

With support from CSL Biotherapies, Griffith University, AusAID and international vaccine manufacturers Merck Ltd and GSK, Australia 21 has in the past 12 months developed an initiative aimed at strengthening the Global Action Plan on Pneumonia Prevention through newly available technology and strengthening of health systems in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

In September 2008, Australia21 hosted an initial meeting of experts from Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea to consider the application of currently available pneumococcal vaccines to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal No. 4. Particular attention in this discussion was paid to the role which new and older pneumococcal vaccines could now play in the global effort.

Following that meeting, Australia 21 appointed an advisory group led by Professor Alan Cripps, Pro Vice Chancellor (Health), Griffith University to develop the Australia 21 initiative further. This group agreed that an appropriate next step would involve bringing researchers and administrators from
Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, to link with Australian scientists who have been working on pneumonia in Aboriginal children and in other developing countries.

Accordingly, a Tri-Nation symposium on childhood pneumonia was held in Sydney in July 2009.  This was attended by forty-three senior ministry delegates, company representatives and researchers from Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Australia and from international and donor agencies. The day and a half of dialogue was captured in a communiqué which is being widely distributed in the three countries.

The group recognized that there is no single “magic bullet” and no single intervention that will lead to immediate prevention and control of preventable pneumonia deaths in the two countries. It recognized that:

- antibiotic treatment of severe disease
- the administration of oxygen to severely ill children
- vaccination using a range of currently available vaccines
- prevention of low birth weight
- reduction of malnutrition and
- indoor air pollution

are part of a constellation of activities which will come about as a result of strengthening health systems in the two countries.

The symposium delegates agreed that continuing high childhood pneumonia death rates should be addressed as a matter of urgent priority and are evidence of the need for health system strengthening. It proposed the development of strategic research to be undertaken in sentinel demonstration areas in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Australia 21 is discussing these matters with funding agents in hope that such strategic research activity could be initiated in coming months.

The health and wellbeing of young Australians

Australia 21 Director and Fellow Richard Eckersley’s report, Never better — or getting worse? The health and wellbeing of young Australianswas launched at a public lecture given by Richard at the Australian National University in September 2008. The report served several purposes: to review the evidence over the past twenty years since his first report on youth, Casualties of change, was published by the Commission for the Future; to analyse the many ambiguities and contradictions in this evidence; to highlight the growing importance of non-fatal, chronic illness, especially mental disorders; and to challenge the dominant view that young people are healthier than ever before.

The report attracted good media coverage and professional attention, including invitations to Richard to address several state and national conferences of state and independent schools. Over the past year, Richard has also extended this work to explore population health and wellbeing more broadly.

He has published papers in the journal, Social Indicators Research, and an OECD newsletter, Measuring the progress of societies, that contest the orthodoxy that Western liberal democracies represent the leading edge of human progress and development, as suggested by commonly used indicators. He argues that life expectancy is not a valid measure of overall health; happiness may not be comparable across cultures and does not, in any case, cover all the attributes of healthy people or societies; and other common measures such as income, education, governance and human rights, being mainly structural and institutional, do not adequately reflect the cultural and moral qualities that shape the more intimate aspects of life, and so are central to health and wellbeing.

Richard also contributed an item on this topic to Australia 21’s Next Big Question project (for details of this project see The Next Big Question).

Another application of this work was an essay in the Australia 21 publication, Brighter prospects: enhancing the resilience of Australia, in which Richard proposed that the health of a population was a critical dimension of the resilience of a society, being not only a consequence but also a cause of national and global developments. If people are getting ‘sicker and sadder’, this not only weakens the confidence and resolve they need to face and overcome threats and adversities, it can also increase the risk that they will respond inappropriately — even in ways that make the situation worse.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Ross Buckley on transaction taxes

In Ross Buckley on Late Night Live I gave a reference to an interview with Australia 21 Fellow Professor Ross Buckley on the ABC Radio National Program Late Night Live, on the subject of an international financial transactions tax.

A written version of Professor Buckley’s views on this important subject may be found here  on the Swinburne Institute for Social Research – Australian National University website Inside Story, 26 March 2010.

Professor Buckley reports that, despite the international financial system suffering in 2008 its biggest crisis since the Great Depression, the only reforms are marginal: increasing bank capital here, tweaking a regulation or two there.

Now however, there is a growing momentum abroad for a financial transactions tax, a reform which is supported by the chancellor of Germany, the president of France, the prime minister of Britain and the foreign minister of Japan, along with the high-profile investors George Soros and Warren Buffet.

Professor Buckley gives three reasons why we need such a tax:

-  Financial transactions have got way out of kilter with “real world” transactions. For instance, the global volume of foreign exchange transactions is seventy times greater than the global trade in goods and services.

-  Second, “technical trading” represents a large and constantly increasing proportion of overall trading. A product of the computer and information revolutions, technical trading is implemented by computer programs automatically on the basis of incoming information, and it can act to disturb the process by which the market sets a price.

-  Third, technical and other very short-term trading is more of a problem than one might think, because it can lead to momentum trading.  This can lead to persistent mispricing which favours speculation over longer-term investment and therefore reduces economic growth and employment.

Professor Buckley goes on to outline five very strong reasons why a financial transactions tax would help to overcome these problems. Read the full article here.