AI and Data Science for Sustainable Development

Event date:  29 October 2021

Monash Sustainable Development Institute (MSDI), Monash Data Futures Institute (MDFI) and the Better Governance & Policy Initiative presented a suite of joint interdisciplinary research projects looking to mobilise artificial intelligence (AI) and data science for better sustainable development policies, governance and outcomes.

AI holds ever-expanding potential to transform how data is assembled and analysed to generate insights into complex social, economic, and environmental issues. Sustainable development represents a common goal of humanity for the future we want and the SDGs a roadmap for how to achieve it across these complex domains.

In this introductory Webinar, we presented 5 projects we are undertaking to explore the potential of AI to better support achievement of sustainable development and improved public outcomes:

  • AI for Better Governance
  • Data Science Pathways for Sustainable Livelihoods in Remote Indigenous Australia
  • AI - Machine learning and predicting species responses to global change
  • Net Zero Precincts: Citizen Data Commons and Technological Sovereignty
  • Predicting flood risk: the case of the Citarum River, Indonesia.


Professor John Thwaites

Chair - Monash Sustainable Development Institute

Professor John Thwaites is a Professorial Fellow, Monash University, Chair of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Chair of the Board of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and Co-Chair of its Leadership Council with strong interest, expertise and experience in planning for sustainable cities.

He served as Deputy Premier of the Victorian Government, and held Ministerial portfolios as Minister for Climate Change, Health, Planning, Environment and Water, and is also Chair of the Australian Building Codes Board, a director of the Australian Green Building Council, and Chair of the National Sustainable Development Council. In 2016 John Thwaites was awarded the Richard J Evans Award for excellence in recognition of outstanding contributions to planning in Victoria.

Professor Joanna Batstone

Director - Monash Data Futures Institute

Professor Joanna Batstone, PhD, is a leading global expert on AI, data analytics and technology. She has more than 20 years’ experience in top executive roles in the USA, Europe and Australia, helping universities, companies and government use technology to meet their goals.

Joanna is the inaugural Director of Monash Data Futures Institute at Monash University, supporting government, companies and organisations in using AI, data analytics and insights to help with COVID recovery and develop governance and policy for social good. Joanna is building a global reputation for the institute’s ground-breaking work, along with a digital ecosystem to foster collaborative research with industry engagement. Responsible for data science and AI across the university, Joanna is passionate about the benefits of AI driving major change for social good.

Joanna joined Monash after a range of technical and business leadership roles in IBM’s Research and development laboratories, including work with IBM Watson.

Dr Mitzi Bolton

AI for Better Governance

Dr Mitzi Bolton is a Research Fellow at the Monash Sustainable Development Institute. Her research focusses on identifying and facilitating ways to enable optimal public sector decision-making and in particular, integrated decision-making. She sees sustainable development as such a mechanism.

Prior to joining MSDI, Mitzi was a public servant for close to 12 years with experiences in both the Victorian and Australian public sectors. Mitzi has a BSc(Hons) (University of Melbourne), a Master of Commercial Law (Monash), and completed her PhD at ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy. Mitzi is also Chair of the IPAA Victoria Sustainability Community of Practice, and a past Board Director of the Australasian Land and Groundwater Association.

Dr Paul Satur

Data Science Pathways for Sustainable Livelihoods in Remote Indigenous Australia

Paul Satur is an early career environmental and social science researcher and practitioner with Monash Sustainable Development Institute as part of MSDI Water. With a background in environmental management and community engagement, Paul brings particular expertise to complex socio-institutional and socio-ecological sustainability challenges, in the development, delivery and review of programs designed to empower diverse stakeholders and communities in the places they live and value.

Paul is the Co-founder of the Our Future Cities organisation, a member of the National SDG6 working Group and was the Australian Water Associations 2019 Victorian Young Water Professional of the year and 2020 Australian Young Water Professional of the Year.

Dr Reid Tingley

AI - Machine learning and predicting species responses to global change

Reid Tingley is a Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at Monash University, where he leads the Macroecology Research Group. Reid’s group integrates field studies, laboratory experiments, and statistical modelling to study the impacts of environmental change on species’ distributions at broad spatial scales. Much of his work focuses on endangered and invasive amphibians and reptiles.

Associate Professor Alan Dorin

AI - Machine learning and predicting species responses to global change

Alan Dorin is an Associate Professor at Monash University where he leads the Computational and Collective Intelligence group within the Department of Data Science and AI.

Alan studies and applies Artificial Life techniques to understand biology, ecology, evolutionary and self-organising processes. The techniques he applies include agent-based modelling and simulation, evolutionary computation, deep learning and social network site data analysis. Alan, with colleagues and students, applies these technologies to safeguard food supplies, to understand and sustain insect-plant interactions, to improve pollination in nature and horticulture, to monitor invasive species, to document and unravel nature’s response to climate change.

Dr Misita Anwar

Net Zero Precincts: Citizen Data Commons and Technological Sovereignty

Dr Misita Anwar is a Research Fellow from the Department of Human Centred Computing, Monash University. Currently she is exploring how best to involve communities in data governance where data is taken as shared resources in the context of sustainable urban development.

Misita is also a senior lecturer at State University of Makassar, Indonesia. She has been researching in the area of community and development informatics for the last 10 years. Misita has been conducting research from socio-technical perspectives, mostly in developing countries for example a large-scale collaborative project on women empowerment with ICT in Bangladesh. Misita is also exploring human centred design in her research with people with disability, migrant communities and digital literacy for women in developing context.

Dr Klaus Ackermann

Predicting flood risk: the case of the Citarum River, Indonesia

Dr Klaus Ackermann is a Lecturer in the Department of Econometrics and Business Statistics at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. His research interests are in the areas of Data Science, Machine Learning, Public Policy and Applied Econometrics.

Klaus is a founding member of SoDa Labs, an empirical research laboratory associated with Monash University's Department of Economics and Department of Econometrics in the Monash Business School. SoDa Labs applies new tools from data science, machine learning, and beyond to answer social science questions using alternative and big data.