A model for better decision-making: Meet Quentin Grafton

13 May 2020

Crawford School introduces our fantastic staff, so you can meet the people of Asia and the Pacific’s leading graduate policy school.

Today, we talk to Professor Quentin Grafton about how Sunday roast connects him to the places he has lived, and how his work on making better decisions under uncertainty has helped him explore new areas of research relating to COVID-19.

What do you enjoy most about working here?

It’s the people! Crawford people are almost always friendly and supportive, and I feel part of the Crawford community. I also really like the physical setting of the school beside the lake. It’s a daily pleasure (at least before the ‘lockdown’) to go for a walk in the beautiful grounds near the school.

What is – in your opinion – the most interesting development in your research area?

Most recently, I have worked on COVID-19 because of its huge importance to Australia and the world (it really is a matter of life and death). While public health modelling is outside of my core area of expertise, I have worked for several years on how to make better decisions under uncertainty and found that these skills have been useful. I have also been blessed to work alongside very smart co-authors, including fellow modellers and public health experts, so it has been an interesting and productive collaboration.

Over the past couple of months, we have modelled the impacts of different suppression control scenarios for Australia and, separately, estimated true (population) infection rates for 15 countries. This work is intended to help decision-makers make better decisions in relation to when to ‘lock down’ or to relax social distancing measures, or in relation to public health plans with respect to COVID-19.

Can you tell us about a feel-good dish that you or someone in your family makes in stressful times?

My favourite dish that I cook is a roast with roasted vegetables. It’s perfect for winter and takes me back to my childhood when my family would regularly have a Sunday roast. My favourite roast vegetable is ‘kumura’ which many people eat in New Zealand, where I grew up. I also include roast squash or pumpkin which is a typical autumn or winter accompaniment to dinners in Canada, where I spent many years.

What do you believe is the biggest challenge to effective policy-making nowadays?

Many public policy decisions are made to favour a narrow set of interests, often at the expense of the broader public interest. Economists call this ‘regulatory capture’. In my view, regulatory capture is getting worse. The remedy? I think we have to rethink and refresh how our democracies function. A good place to start is AC Grayling’s just-published book ‘The Good State’.

Can you give us your top three tips about how to stay positive during the COVID-19 outbreak?

  1. Get outside and walk. Having a dog makes this more fun!;
  2. Exercise - strengthening and stretching daily; and
  3. Meditation, even if just a few minutes per day. It’s really about supporting your physical, emotional and spiritual health so that you can be the best that you can be in these difficult times and be able to support, as best as you can, those around you.
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