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Artificial Intelligence: A Roadmap for Public Servants

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Mauricio Covarrubias
July 14, 2023

Artificial intelligence (AI) provides significant opportunities to improve efficiency, optimize decision-making and foster innovation in the field of public policy. In order to take full advantage of this technology and achieve better results in service delivery and political decision-making, it is crucial that public officials acquire the necessary knowledge about AI and its applications.

The roadmap for public officials to embrace the wave of AI and the application of data science can include the following steps:

Awareness and training

Awareness is the first step for public employees to understand the importance and potential of AI in their work. This involves providing information on the basic concepts of AI, its applications in the public sector and the benefits it can offer. Training is crucial to developing the necessary skills in employees to use and apply AI effectively. This may include face-to-face courses, online courses or specific training programs designed for public employees.

Identification of relevant use cases

It is essential to identify the specific use cases in the public sector where AI can have a significant impact. This involves analyzing existing processes and determining areas that can benefit from the application of AI, such as automating repetitive tasks, fraud detection, demand forecasting or resource optimization. By selecting specific use cases, the value and potential of AI for public employees can be more clearly demonstrated.

Interdisciplinary collaboration

Successful implementation of AI in the public sector requires close collaboration between technical experts in AI and public sector employees. It is fundamental that both groups work together to fully understand the requirements and challenges of the public sector, as well as to design solutions that are suitable for the specific context. This interdisciplinary collaboration allows public employees to contribute their sector-specific expertise and knowledge, while AI experts can provide the necessary technical expertise.

Gradual implementation

Adopting AI in the public sector can be a gradual and phased process. It is recommended to start with pilot projects and small-scale implementations to test AI solutions in real-world situations. This allows public employees to familiarize themselves with the new technologies and processes, identify potential challenges and learn from the experience before full-scale implementation. Gradual implementation also facilitates employee feedback, which helps improve the solutions and address any concerns or resistance.

Change management

The adoption of AI implies changes in work processes, roles and responsibilities of employees. Attention to change management is essential to ensure a successful transition. This involves communicating the goals and benefits of AI clearly, as well as the expected changes. It also means providing ongoing training and support so that employees gain the necessary skills and become comfortable with new tools and processes. Additionally, it is important to be open to employee questions and concerns and address them appropriately.

Ethics and responsibility

AI poses ethical and responsibility challenges in the public sector. Public employees must be aware of the ethical principles of AI, such as transparency, fairness and privacy and must be able to apply them in their work. This means establishing clear regulatory frameworks that guide the use of AI in the public sector and making sure that employees are aware of and follow them. Monitoring and evaluation mechanisms also need to be put in place to ensure that AI is used responsibly and for the benefit of society at large.

Government responsibilities

While public employees have a personal responsibility to acquire knowledge and skills, comply with ethical standards and apply AI responsibly, the government has an institutional responsibility to:

  • Establish clear regulatory and legal frameworks that guide the use of AI in the public sector. These frameworks must address ethical aspects, data protection, transparency and responsibility and must be regularly updated to adapt to technological advances and societal changes;
  • Provide the necessary resources, both financial and technical, for the adoption of AI in the public sector. In addition, it must ensure that public employees have access to training programs and skill development in AI.
  • The government has a responsibility to foster collaboration between different institutions, agencies and sectors to drive the adoption of AI in the public sector. This means promoting collaboration between government, academia, industry and civil society to exchange knowledge, share best practices and develop joint solutions; and
  • The government should establish monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to ensure that the use of AI in the public sector complies with established objectives and ethical principles. Which implies carrying out audits, impact assessments and periodic reviews to identify possible problems and ensure compliance with established regulations.

Both public servants and the government have a common interest in improving the efficiency and quality of public services. AI offers tools and technologies that can achieve these goals, so both parties must collaborate to make the most of these opportunities.

Author: Mauricio Covarrubias is Professor at the National Institute of Public Administration in Mexico.  He is co-founder of the International Academy of Political-Administrative Sciences (IAPAS).  He is the founder and Editor of the International Journal of Studies on Educational Systems (RIESED). Coordinator in Mexico of the TOGIVE Project: Transatlantic Open Government Virtual Education, of the ERASMUS+ Program of the European Union. Member of the National System of Researchers of CONACYT.  He received his Ph.D. from the National Autonomous University of Mexico.  He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @OMCovarrubias

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