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Cathy Fussell

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Cathy Fussell is a Sir Roland Wilson PhD scholar at the Crawford School of Public Policy (ANU) and Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care. Cathy’s doctoral research explores how we can realise the collective value of data. Working at the intersection of theories of value and power, and public service practice, she unpacks what collective value looks like and how it can be systematically created. Drawing on Deleuze and Guattari’s assemblage theory, Cathy interrogates how we think and talk about data, develops a collective theory of value and power, and applies that theory to practice. Cathy hopes this work will support the public sector policy and data communities to design, create, and facilitate supported data assemblages that create collective value.

Research findings

While data is now seen as an asset and source of value creation, in attempting to realise value, it is possible to get it scandalously wrong, inadvertently causing harm, and damaging reputations and trust. While technocratic solutions may appear attractive, across economics, public administration theory, and theories of evidence-based policy, linear-mechanistic logics have been shown to undermine value creation in complex problem spaces. We do not yet know how to govern complexity to create collective value. Cathy proposes two sources for this low capacity to govern complexity and the attractiveness of linear-mechanistic logics. She also proposes a solution.

The first source is a lack of clarity about what value is. It is challenging to consistently realise value unless you know what it looks like and our current theories of value creation are an inadequate guide. The second source is the primary focus in power theory on power’s negative exercise, neglecting its positive exercise. Cathy argues that we cannot effectively combat negative exercises of power—that is domination—unless we are able to articulate an alternative, coherently and concisely. When power is primarily conceptualised negatively as domination, it is not surprising that powerful agents distance themselves from power, describe their practice as neutral, and gravitate towards technocratic linear-mechanistic logics.

Cathy argues that these two areas of theoretical ambiguity point to the solution; value is inextricably linked to power. She presents a combined theory of value and power underpinned by Deleuze and Guattari’s assemblage theory (which is informed by complexity science). That is, value is the enhanced capacity to act to achieve outcomes (i.e. the base definition of power) we seek from all social relationships. The value produced in these social assemblages can be hoarded (power-over) or shared (power-with) amongst all participants. In the short term, taking all the value for yourself—power over or governing-over—can be profitable. In the long-term, it undermines individual and collective value creation and flourishing; that requires value sharing and governing-with. Cathy combines insights from theory and case studies from Australian governments’ data policies and programs to demonstrate what governing-with data—rather than governing-over—looks like in practice and to elucidate its key features.

Supervisor: Professor Helen Sullivan

Biography

At the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, Cathy led Health’s cross-portfolio engagement on big data analytics projects through the Data Integration Partnership for Australia (DIPA) including co-leading the Social Health and Welfare Analytic Unit. DIPA was a highly collaborative initiative with around 20 participating Australian Government agencies. Through this network Cathy collaborated on strategies for the evolution of the government’s big data system and leveraging that system for policy impactful analytics. She also delivered data strategies, analytics projects, and data capability building activities for the Department of Health.

Cathy joined the Australian Government public service in 2001. Since then, she has had a broad range of roles in the health portfolio including policy and program work with a particular focus on primary care (e.g. practice nursing, after hours services, dental, regional networks), legislation, performance reporting, and data analytics projects and strategy. From 2012 to 2015 Cathy was an assistant director at the National Health Performance Authority. Prior to the public service, Cathy was a molecular biologist at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in Perth, Western Australia.

Publications

Fussell, C (2022) Four data discourses and assemblage forms: A methodological framework. SocArXiv. Preprint. Available at: https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/jvcqw/

Fussell, C (2023) Why we struggle to realise the value of data. SocArXiv. Preprint. Available at: https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/u8zcx

Fussell, C (2023) Three propositions for realising collective value. SocArXiv. Preprint. Available at: https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/3pheu

Fussell, C (2023) Understanding value through Deleuze and Guattari’s metaphysics and ethics. SocArXiv. Preprint. Available at: https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/kt6f8

Fussell, C (2023) Searching for a positive theory of power. SocArXiv. Preprint. Available at: https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/v8qh9

Fussell, C (2023) What a power with looks like and why we should choose it. SocArXiv. Preprint. Available at: https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/fky6t/

Fussell, C (2023) Realising the collective value of data by governing with rather than over. SocArXiv. Preprint. Available at: https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/u7ng3/

Scholarships and fellowships

Sir Roland Wilson Scholar 2020

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