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Policymakers Learn To Call The Roll Of "The Dice"

14 Dec 2004

Stephen Ward - public relations manager:

Policymakers Learn To Call The Roll Of "The Dice" Better

Roll a pair of dice and the odds you'll score seven are one in six. Simple.

But what are the odds of throwing a seven if you've already thrown three sevens and someone's shaking the table? That's not so easy.

If you extend that dice throwing analogy to population forecasting, Waikato University's highly respected Population Studies Centre is beginning to apply new, leading-edge "probabilistic" forecasting techniques that take into account a whole range of factors.

"These new probabilistic techniques allow us to develop a wider range of possible scenarios, and the likelihood, expressed in percentage terms, that these will actually occur. We can factor in demographics, policy scenarios and historical information," says the centre's director Professor Jacques Poot (pronounced Pote as in note).

"It's about better policy-making in an environment where the future is uncertain. We can't remove the uncertainty but now with computer modelling at least we can quantify that uncertainty."

Prof Poot's colleague, senior lecturer Dr Dharma Arunachalam, is using some of the microsimulation techniques in research he is doing into the future shape of New Zealand society, which is due to increasingly be made up of older people.

Senior government officials, including representatives from Treasury and the Ministry of Social Development, have just attended an international workshop organised by the centre's Professor Ian Pool. The aim of the conference was to communicate some of the latest international thinking and probabilistic techniques to New Zealand's public sector policymakers and others.

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Information shared at the workshop is expected to help shape many areas of public policy in New Zealand, such as incomes, family policy, labour force and health.

The workshop was held with assistance from the Ministry of Social Development's Social Policy Evaluation and Research fund. Pensions, population forecasting and measurement of ethnicity were among the subjects discussed.

Speakers included leading overseas demographers such as Dr Heather Booth (ANU), Dr John Bryant (Mahidol University, Thailand), Prof Nico Keilman (University of Oslo), Dr Michael Rendall (RAND Corporation (US) / Office of National Statistics (UK)), Prof Shripad Tuljapurkar (Stanford University), Prof Frans Willekens (Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute), and Dr Tom Wilson (University of Queensland).

New Zealand officials attending included Lisa Davies from the State Services Commission, Waikato University deputy vice-chancellor (academic) Peggy Koopman-Boyden, the Government Statistician Brian Pink and several senior staff from Treasury, the Ministry of Social Development and Statistics New Zealand.


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