Selected Readings on the Use of Artificial Intelligence in the Public Sector


By Kateryna Gazaryan and Uma Kalkar

The Living Library’s Selected Readings series seeks to build a knowledge base on innovative approaches for improving the effectiveness and legitimacy of governance. This curated and annotated collection of recommended works focuses on algorithms and artificial intelligence in the public sector.

As Artificial Intelligence becomes more developed, governments have turned to it to improve the speed and quality of public sector service delivery, among other objectives. Below, we provide a selection of recent literature that examines how the public sector has adopted AI to serve constituents and solve public problems. While the use of AI in governments can cut down costs and administrative work, these technologies are often early in development and difficult for organizations to understand and control with potential harmful effects as a result. As such, this selected reading explores not only the use of artificial intelligence in governance but also its benefits, and its consequences.

Readings are listed in alphabetical order.

Berryhill, Jamie, Kévin Kok Heang, Rob Clogher, and Keegan McBride. “Hello, World: Artificial intelligence and its use in the public sector.OECD Working Papers on Public Governance no. 36 (2019): https://doi.org/10.1787/726fd39d-en.

This working paper emphasizes the importance of defining AI for the public sector and outlining use cases of AI within governments. It provides a map of 50 countries that have implemented or set in motion the development of AI strategies and highlights where and how these initiatives are cross-cutting, innovative, and dynamic. Additionally, the piece provides policy recommendations governments should consider when exploring public AI strategies to adopt holistic and humanistic approaches.

Kuziemski, Maciej, and Gianluca Misuraca. “AI Governance in the Public Sector: Three Tales from the Frontiers of Automated Decision-Making in Democratic Settings.” Telecommunications Policy 44, no. 6 (2020): 101976. 

Kuziemski and Misuraca explore how the use of artificial intelligence in the public sector can exacerbate existing power imbalances between the public and the government. They consider the European Union’s artificial intelligence “governance and regulatory frameworks” and compare these policies with those of Canada, Finland, and Poland. Drawing on previous scholarship, the authors outline the goals, drivers, barriers, and risks of incorporating artificial intelligence into public services and assess existing regulations against these factors. Ultimately, they find that the “current AI policy debate is heavily skewed towards voluntary standards and self-governance” while minimizing the influence of power dynamics between governments and constituents. 

Misuraca, Gianluca, and Colin van Noordt. “AI Watch, Artificial Intelligence in Public Services: Overview of the Use and Impact of AI in Public Services in the EU.” 30255 (2020).

This study provides “evidence-based scientific support” for the European Commission as it navigates AI regulation via an overview of ways in which European Union member-states use AI to enhance their public sector operations. While AI has the potential to positively disrupt existing policies and functionalities, this report finds gaps in how AI gets applied by governments. It suggests the need for further research centered on the humanistic, ethical, and social ramification of AI use and a rigorous risk assessment from a “public-value perspective” when implementing AI technologies. Additionally, efforts must be made to empower all European countries to adopt responsible and coherent AI policies and techniques.

Saldanha, Douglas Morgan Fullin, and Marcela Barbosa da Silva. “Transparency and Accountability of Government Algorithms: The Case of the Brazilian Electronic Voting System.” Cadernos EBAPE.BR 18 (2020): 697–712.

Saldanha and da Silva note that open data and open government revolutions have increased citizen demand for algorithmic transparency. Algorithms are increasingly used by governments to speed up processes and reduce costs, but their black-box  systems and lack of explanability allows them to insert implicit and explicit bias and discrimination into their calculations. The authors conduct a qualitative study of the “practices and characteristics of the transparency and accountability” in the Brazilian e-voting system across seven dimensions: consciousness; access and reparations; accountability; explanation; data origin, privacy and justice; auditing; and validation, precision and tests. They find the Brazilian e-voting system fulfilled the need to inform citizens about the benefits and consequences of data collection and algorithm use but severely lacked in demonstrating accountability and opening algorithm processes for citizen oversight. They put forth policy recommendations to increase the e-voting system’s accountability to Brazilians and strengthen auditing and oversight processes to reduce the current distrust in the system.

Sharma, Gagan Deep, Anshita Yadav, and Ritika Chopra. “Artificial intelligence and effective governance: A review, critique and research agenda.Sustainable Futures 2 (2020): 100004.

This paper conducts a systematic review of the literature of how AI is used across different branches of government, specifically, healthcare, information, communication, and technology, environment, transportation, policy making, and economic sectors. Across the 74 papers surveyed, the authors find a gap in the research on selecting and implementing AI technologies, as well as their monitoring and evaluation. They call on future research to assess the impact of AI pre- and post-adoption in governance, along with the risks and challenges associated with the technology.

Tallerås, Kim, Terje Colbjørnsen, Knut Oterholm, and Håkon Larsen. “Cultural Policies, Social Missions, Algorithms and Discretion: What Should Public Service Institutions Recommend?Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (2020).

Tallerås et al. examine how the use of algorithms by public services, such as public radio and libraries, influence broader society and culture. For instance, to modernize their offerings, Norway’s broadcasting corporation (NRK) has adopted online platforms similar to popular private streaming services. However, NRK’s filtering process has faced “exposure diversity” problems that narrow recommendations to already popular entertainment and move Norway’s cultural offerings towards a singularity. As a public institution, NRK is required to “fulfill […] some cultural policy goals,” raising the question of how public media services can remain relevant in the era of algorithms fed by “individualized digital culture.” Efforts are currently underway to employ recommendation systems that balance cultural diversity with personalized content relevance that engage individuals and uphold the socio-cultural mission of public media.

Vogl, Thomas, Seidelin Cathrine, Bharath Ganesh, and Jonathan Bright. “Smart Technology and the Emergence of Algorithmic Bureaucracy: Artificial Intelligence in UK Local Authorities.” Public administration review 80, no. 6 (2020): 946–961.

Local governments are using “smart technologies” to create more efficient and effective public service delivery. These tools are twofold: not only do they help the public interact with local authorities, they also streamline the tasks of government officials. To better understand the digitization of local government, the authors conducted surveys, desk research, and in-depth interviews with stakeholders from local British governments to understand reasoning, processes, and experiences within a changing government framework. Vogl et al. found an increase in “algorithmic bureaucracy” at the local level to reduce administrative tasks for government employees, generate feedback loops, and use data to enhance services. While the shift toward digital local government demonstrates initiatives to utilize emerging technology for public good, further research is required to determine which demographics are not involved in the design and implementation of smart technology services and how to identify and include these audiences.

Wirtz, Bernd W., Jan C. Weyerer, and Carolin Geyer. “Artificial intelligence and the public sector—Applications and challenges.International Journal of Public Administration 42, no. 7 (2019): 596-615.

The authors provide an extensive review of the existing literature on AI uses and challenges in the public sector to identify the gaps in current applications. The developing nature of AI in public service has led to differing definitions of what constitutes AI and what are the risks and benefits it poses to the public. As well, the authors note the lack of focus on the downfalls of AI in governance, with studies tending to primarily focus on the positive aspects of the technology. From this qualitative analysis, the researchers highlight ten AI applications: knowledge management, process automation, virtual agents, predictive analytics and data visualization, identity analytics, autonomous systems, recommendation systems, digital assistants, speech analytics, and threat intelligence. As well, they note four challenge dimensions—technology implementation, laws and regulation, ethics, and society. From these applications and risks, Wirtz et al. provide a “checklist for public managers” to make informed decisions on how to integrate AI into their operations. 

Wirtz, Bernd W., Jan C. Weyerer, and Benjamin J. Sturm. “The dark sides of artificial intelligence: An integrated AI governance framework for public administration.International Journal of Public Administration 43, no. 9 (2020): 818-829.

As AI is increasingly popularized and picked up by governments, Wirtz et al. highlight the lack of research on the challenges and risks—specifically, privacy and security—associated with implementing AI systems in the public sector. After assessing existing literature and uncovering gaps in the main governance frameworks, the authors outline the three areas of challenges of public AI: law and regulations, society, and ethics. Last, they propose an “integrated AI governance framework” that takes into account the risks of AI for a more holistic “big picture” approach to AI in the public sector.

Zuiderwijk, Anneke, Yu-Che Chen, and Fadi Salem. “Implications of the use of artificial intelligence in public governance: A systematic literature review and a research agenda.Government Information Quarterly (2021): 101577.

Following a literature review on the risks and possibilities of AI in the public sector, Zuiderwijk, Chen, and Salem design a research agenda centered around the “implications of the use of AI for public governance.” The authors provide eight process recommendations, including: avoiding superficial buzzwords in research; conducting domain- and locality-specific research on AI in governance; shifting from qualitative analysis to diverse research methods; applying private sector “practice-driven research” to public sector study; furthering quantitative research on AI use by governments; creating “explanatory research designs”; sharing data for broader study; and adopting multidisciplinary reference theories. Further, they note the need for scholarship to delve into best practices, risk management, stakeholder communication, multisector use, and impact assessments of AI in the public sector to help decision-makers make informed decisions on the introduction, implementation, and oversight of AI in the public sector.

New York vs Big Tech: Lawmakers Float Data Tax in Privacy Push


GovTech article: “While New York is not the first state to propose data privacy legislation, it is the first to propose a data privacy bill that would implement a tax on big tech companies that benefit from the sale of New Yorkers’ consumer data.

Known as the Data Economy Labor Compensation and Accountability Act, the bill looks to enact a 2 percent tax on annual receipts earned off New York residents’ data. This tax and other rules and regulations aimed at safeguarding citizens’ data will be enforced by a newly created Office of Consumer Data Protection outlined in the bill.

The office would require all data controllers and processors to register annually in order to meet state compliance requirements. Failure to do so, the bill states, would result in fines.

As for the tax, all funds will be put toward improving education and closing the digital divide.

“The revenue from the tax will be put towards digital literacy, workforce redevelopment, STEAM education (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics), K-12 education, workforce reskilling and retraining,” said Sen. Andrew Gounardes, D-22.

As for why the bill is being proposed now, Gounardes said, “Every day, big tech companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google capitalize on the unpaid labor of billions of people to create their products and services through targeted advertising and artificial intelligence.”…(More)”

Selecting the Most Effective Nudge: Evidence from a Large-Scale Experiment on Immunization


NBER Paper by Abhijit Banerjee et al: “We evaluate a large-scale set of interventions to increase demand for immunization in Haryana, India. The policies under consideration include the two most frequently discussed tools—reminders and incentives—as well as an intervention inspired by the networks literature. We cross-randomize whether (a) individuals receive SMS reminders about upcoming vaccination drives; (b) individuals receive incentives for vaccinating their children; (c) influential individuals (information hubs, trusted individuals, or both) are asked to act as “ambassadors” receiving regular reminders to spread the word about immunization in their community. By taking into account different versions (or “dosages”) of each intervention, we obtain 75 unique policy combinations.

We develop a new statistical technique—a smart pooling and pruning procedure—for finding a best policy from a large set, which also determines which policies are effective and the effect of the best policy. We proceed in two steps. First, we use a LASSO technique to collapse the data: we pool dosages of the same treatment if the data cannot reject that they had the same impact, and prune policies deemed ineffective. Second, using the remaining (pooled) policies, we estimate the effect of the best policy, accounting for the winner’s curse. The key outcomes are (i) the number of measles immunizations and (ii) the number of immunizations per dollar spent. The policy that has the largest impact (information hubs, SMS reminders, incentives that increase with each immunization) increases the number of immunizations by 44 % relative to the status quo. The most cost-effective policy (information hubs, SMS reminders, no incentives) increases the number of immunizations per dollar by 9.1%….(More)”.

Tech tools help deepen citizen input in drafting laws abroad and in U.S. states


Gopal Ratnam at RollCall: “Earlier this month, New Jersey’s Department of Education launched a citizen engagement process asking students, teachers and parents to vote on ideas for changes that officials should consider as the state reopens its schools after the pandemic closed classrooms for a year. 

The project, managed by The Governance Lab at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, is part of a monthlong nationwide effort using an online survey tool called All Our Ideas to help state education officials prioritize policymaking based on ideas solicited from those who are directly affected by the policies.

Among the thousands of votes cast for various ideas nationwide, teachers and parents backed changes that would teach more problem-solving skills to kids. But students backed a different idea as the most important: making sure that kids have social and emotional skills, as well as “self-awareness and empathy.” 

A government body soliciting ideas from those who are directly affected, via online technology, is one small example of greater citizen participation in governance that advocates hope can grow at both state and federal levels….

Taiwan has taken crowdsourcing legislative ideas to a new height.

Using a variety of open-source engagement and consultation tools that are collectively known as the vTaiwan process, government ministries, elected representatives, experts, civil society groups, businesses and ordinary citizens come together to produce legislation. 

The need for an open consultation process stemmed from the 2014 Sunflower Student Movement, when groups of students and others occupied the Taiwanese parliament to protest the fast-tracking of a trade agreement with China with little public review.  

After the country’s parliament acceded to the demands, the “consensus opinion was that instead of people having to occupy the parliament every time there’s a controversial, emergent issue, it might actually work better if we have a consultation mechanism in the very beginning of the issue rather than at the end,” said Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s digital minister. …

At about the same time that Taiwan’s Sunflower movement was unfolding, in Brazil then-President Dilma Rousseff signed into law the country’s internet bill of rights in April 2014. 

The bill was drafted and refined through a consultative process that included not only legal and technical experts but average citizens as well, said Debora Albu, program coordinator at the Institute for Technology and Society of Rio, also known as ITS. 

The institute was involved in designing the platform for seeking public participation, Albu said. 

“From then onwards, we wanted to continue developing projects that incorporated this idea of collective intelligence built into the development of legislation or public policies,” Albu said….(More)”.

Dialogues about Data: Building trust and unlocking the value of citizens’ health and care data


Nesta Report by Sinead Mac Manus and Alice Clay: “The last decade has seen exponential growth in the amount of data generated, collected and analysed to provide insights across all aspects of industry. Healthcare is no exception. We are increasingly seeing the value of using health and care data to prevent ill health, improve health outcomes for people and provide new insights into disease and treatments.

Bringing together common themes across the existing research, this report sets out two interlinked challenges to building a data-driven health and care system. This is interspersed with best practice examples of the potential of data to improve health and care, as well as cautionary tales of what can happen when this is done badly.

The first challenge we explore is how to increase citizens’ trust and transparency in data sharing. The second challenge is how to unlock the value of health and care data.

We are excited about the role for participatory futures – a set of techniques that systematically engage people to imagine and create more sustainable, inclusive futures – in helping governments and other organisations work with citizens to engage them in debate about their health and care data to build a data-driven health and care system for the benefit of all….(More)”.

New York Temporarily Bans Facial Recognition Technology in Schools


Hunton’s Privacy Blog: “On December 22, 2020, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law legislation that temporarily bans the use or purchase of facial recognition and other biometric identifying technology in public and private schools until at least July 1, 2022. The legislation also directs the New York Commissioner of Education (the “Commissioner”) to conduct a study on whether this technology is appropriate for use in schools.

In his press statement, Governor Cuomo indicated that the legislation comes after concerns were raised about potential risks to students, including issues surrounding misidentification by the technology as well as safety, security and privacy concerns. “This legislation requires state education policymakers to take a step back, consult with experts and address privacy issues before determining whether any kind of biometric identifying technology can be brought into New York’s schools. The safety and security of our children is vital to every parent, and whether to use this technology is not a decision to be made lightly,” the Governor explained.

Key elements of the legislation include:

  • Defining “facial recognition” as “any tool using an automated or semi-automated process that assists in uniquely identifying or verifying a person by comparing and analyzing patterns based on the person’s face,” and “biometric identifying technology” as “any tool using an automated or semi-automated process that assists in verifying a person’s identity based on a person’s biometric information”;
  • Prohibiting the purchase and use of facial recognition and other biometric identifying technology in all public and private elementary and secondary schools until July 1, 2022, or until the Commissioner authorizes the purchase and use of such technology, whichever occurs later; and
  • Directing the Commissioner, in consultation with New York’s Office of Information Technology, Division of Criminal Justice Services, Education Department’s Chief Privacy Officer and other stakeholders, to conduct a study and make recommendations as to the circumstances in which facial recognition and other biometric identifying technology is appropriate for use in schools and what restrictions and guidelines should be enacted to protect privacy, civil rights and civil liberties interests….(More)”.

Digital Politics in Canada: Promises and Realities


Book edited by Tamara A. Small and Harold J. Jansen: “Digital Politics in Canada addresses a significant gap in the scholarly literature on both media in Canada and Canadian political science. Using a comprehensive, multidisciplinary, historical, and focused analysis of Canadian digital politics, this book covers the full scope of actors in the Canadian political system, including traditional political institutions of the government, elected officials, political parties, and the mass media. At a time when issues of inclusion are central to political debate, this book features timely chapters on Indigenous people, women, and young people, and takes an in-depth look at key issues of online surveillance and internet voting. Ideal for a wide-ranging course on the impact of digital technology on the Canadian political system, this book encourages students to critically engage in discussions about the future of Canadian politics and democracy….(More)”.

COVID-19 Pushes Digital Services from Luxury to Necessity


Zack Quintance at GovTech: “So much of American life was pushed out of physical spaces and onto the Internet this year, including the vast majority of local government services. Following the outbreak of COVID-19 and resultant social distancing guidelines, seemingly overnight it became dangerous to wait in line at city hall, or to interact with a public servant in close proximity across the space of a traditional counter.

As a result, long-simmering governmental efforts to modernize and make services digital in 2020 were supercharged. For digital government services, the danger of the virus was like a turbo boost for a race car that had been lazily chugging along. Indeed, public-sector entities at state and local levels have sought to catch up to private companies online for years, struggling to offer a modern customer experience to constituents with projects that have ranged from online permit renewal to 24-hour chatbots. With the pandemic, providing digital services fast moved from luxury to necessity….

A great example of the former at the state level took place in Vermont, specifically within that state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The Vermont DMV was already working to launch a new online driver’s license renewal platform, one that would enable residents there to avoid in-person trips to the office. The pandemic made the timing of that launch ideal, finally giving users a digital option they could use from home.

And the Vermont DMV is far from alone. There were others at the state level that worked on and debuted new online processes as well. Maryland, for example, managed to stand up a new online grant application in the early days of the crisis, doing so in just eight hours. Digitization efforts like this have traditionally taken far longer, but agencywide buy-in was fostered here by COVID-19. Armed with this, the Maryland Department of Information Technology (DoIT) was able to rapidly collaborate with the state’s Department of Commerce to add new small business grant application functionality to a platform the IT shop had launched for a different purpose back in early 2018.

At the city level, Buffalo, N.Y., managed the similarly speedy task of transitioning its 311 infrastructure to be remote-operated as its city staff moved to work-from-home operations. In that instance, City Hall was vacated in the service of social distancing on a Friday, and by the following Monday, the IT shop had 311 up and running again via remote operation, doing so again with a collaboration, this time with the University of Buffalo and Cisco….(More)”.

Third Wave of Open Data


Paper (and site) by Stefaan G. Verhulst, Andrew Young, Andrew J. Zahuranec, Susan Ariel Aaronson, Ania Calderon, and Matt Gee on “How To Accelerate the Re-Use of Data for Public Interest Purposes While Ensuring Data Rights and Community Flourishing”: “The paper begins with a description of earlier waves of open data. Emerging from freedom of information laws adopted over the last half century, the First Wave of Open Data brought about newfound transparency, albeit one only available on request to an audience largely composed of journalists, lawyers, and activists. 

The Second Wave of Open Data, seeking to go beyond access to public records and inspired by the open source movement, called upon national governments to make their data open by default. Yet, this approach too had its limitations, leaving many data silos at the subnational level and in the private sector untouched..

The Third Wave of Open Data seeks to build on earlier successes and take into account lessons learned to help open data realize its transformative potential. Incorporating insights from various data experts, the paper describes the emergence of a Third Wave driven by the following goals:

  1. Publishing with Purpose by matching the supply of data with the demand for it, providing assets that match public interests;
  2. Fostering Partnerships and Data Collaboration by forging relationships with  community-based organizations, NGOs, small businesses, local governments, and others who understand how data can be translated into meaningful real-world action;
  3. Advancing Open Data at the Subnational Level by providing resources to cities, municipalities, states, and provinces to address the lack of subnational information in many regions.
  4. Prioritizing Data Responsibility and Data Rights by understanding the risks of using (and not using) data to promote and preserve the public’s general welfare.

Riding the Wave

Achieving these goals will not be an easy task and will require investments and interventions across the data ecosystem. The paper highlights eight actions that decision and policy makers can take to foster more equitable, impactful benefits… (More) (PDF) “

Announcing the New Data4COVID19 Repository


Blog by Andrew Zahuranec: “It’s been a long year. Back in March, The GovLab released a Call for Action to build the data infrastructure and ecosystem we need to tackle pandemics and other dynamic societal and environmental threats. As part of that work, we launched a Data4COVID19 repository to monitor progress and curate projects that reused data to address the pandemic. At the time, it was hard to say how long it would remain relevant. We did not know how long the pandemic would last nor how many organizations would publish dashboards, visualizations, mobile apps, user tools, and other resources directed at the crisis’s worst consequences.

Seven months later, the COVID-19 pandemic is still with us. Over one million people around the world are dead and many countries face ever-worsening social and economic costs. Though the frequency with which data reuse projects are announced has slowed since the crisis’s early days, they have not stopped. For months, The GovLab has posted dozens of additions to an increasingly unwieldy GoogleDoc.

Today, we are making a change. Given the pandemic’s continued urgency and relevance into 2021 and beyond, The GovLab is pleased to release the new Data4COVID19 Living Repository. The upgraded platform allows people to more easily find and understand projects related to the COVID-19 pandemic and data reuse.

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The Data4COVID19 Repository

On the platform, visitors will notice a few improvements that distinguish the repository from its earlier iteration. In addition to a main page with short descriptions of each example, we’ve added improved search and filtering functionality. Visitors can sort through any of the projects by:

  • Scope: the size of the target community;
  • Region: the geographic area in which the project takes place;
  • Topic: the aspect of the crisis the project seeks to address; and
  • Pandemic Phase: the stage of pandemic response the project aims to address….(More)”.