Sean Lloyd






International relations


Sep 2018 - May 2020

By Sean Lloyd

Lessons in regressions: or, how I learnt to stop worrying and love heteroscedasticity

A cold snap in the UK, and we’re back to Oxford for Module 2. How quickly a group of people we met for a week in September now seem incredibly familiar (aided, perhaps, by a series of never-ending WhatsApp groups…). A schedule filled with lengthy sessions on analytics was the subject of much nervous laughter and demonstrated the first obvious dividing line in the group: those who knew what they were doing and could lightly doze, and those who just thought heteroscedasticity sounded faintly politically incorrect.

For an analytics amateur, most of the week was a daunting journey through some significant concepts – decision trees, risk analysis and multiple regressions – which can take MBAs many months to master. I’ll not claim to have mastered them, but I’ll make a special mention to Bank of Colombia colleague Brian Lesmes, who provided the “aha!” moment on how these concepts can work in practice (particularly multiple regressions). For a diplomat, most of these models seem to bear little relevance to the work of state – but it’s in the breach that it becomes evident that understanding what they are and what they do makes you a better manager and better able to ask practical questions of data at your fingertips. Something to file away for the next trade discussion…?

Other parts of the week presented more familiarity, in particular the launch of the new Global Opportunities & Threats: Oxford (GOTO) theme, “The Future of Energy”. As an Australian, this topic is painfully relevant – the problem of climate change and future energy models has bedevilled our politics for the past decade, and energy policy has suffered as a result. If there’s any topic that I want to learn better, and am enthusiastic about exploring – it’s this one. And the Australian example brings lots of practical real-world examples of rocks one can run up against when tackling the issue. With a diverse group of bright minds in the cohort, there’s a real possibility of identifying alternative ways of approaching the different elements of the problem. But I’m also cognisant that there are no easy solutions and changing whole economic systems is whilst not impossible (as one side of the debate often assumes), also not easy or painless (as the other side often assumes).

As we prepare for our first international module in India in December, the route of the EMBA in blending elements of international systems with business and management fundamentals becomes more clear. Oxford’s inclusion of India and China as two of its core modules was a key attraction for me in applying, with both countries central to Australia’s economic future in the coming decades. In July, Australia released our India Economic Strategy to 2035. As a diplomat on sabbatical, then, a visit to India focusing on understanding India’s economy and politics couldn’t be more timely. The strategy points out that “there is no market over the 20 next years which offers more growth opportunities to Australian business than India” and highlights three reasons why Australian business should redirect its attention to India: scale, complementary economies and spreading risk. These reasons are of course not unique to Australia, and so for a diverse group of businesspeople, entrepreneurs and public policy practitioners, there’s a lot to be learnt from this trip and hopefully opportunities for better engagement with India, now and in the future.

As we farewell Oxford for Module 2, there’s a real sense things are beginning to pick up pace (perhaps a glimpse into the future with the previous cohort helped that impression), but that the overall arc of the course is not yet clear. We’ll see what the cohort can divine over a curry and a Kingfisher a few weeks from now. Until then…

From Analytics class…

…to Keble Senior Common Room

Author’s note: The views expressed in this blog are my own and not as a representative of the Australian Government.



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