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Skills to Embrace AI and Data Science in Public Administration. Part II

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

By Mauricio Covarrubias
April 14, 2023

The skills of senior managers in the public sector with respect to artificial intelligence are related to the responsibilities that the government must carry out. Governments have a key role to play in this age of AI, so they not only have to embrace AI to improve public operations and services, but they must also manage the economic and social impacts of AI on other industries, as well as establish ethical and legislative frameworks to ensure AI is used safely in society.

For Carlos Santizo, the above has to do with the role of governments as conveners, creating agreements around strategic directions and commitments to promote AI; as financiers, who provide funds to support research, development and adoption, including through investment funds in AI- driven start-ups; and as regulators, ensuring national policy consistency that holds true to the underlying values of society. However, governments must also be the primary users of AI to improve the functioning of government machinery and the delivery of public services.

In this sense, a critical prerequisite for innovating with AI is that public officials have a solid understanding of the technology, its capabilities and its limitations. They must also possess a range of skills to ensure the effective and responsible use of AI.

According to the World Bank, a lack of awareness surrounding the potential of AI and low access to digital skills are among some of the major barriers to AI adoption. It also warns that public administrations who lack technical skills in the civil service are unlikely to benefit from the application of AI in the short or medium term.

As an initial step, it is important to start with the training of public sector leaders and policy makers, as they will be essential to guide the transition towards automation and AI in all areas of government.

Regarding the formulation of Data Science projects in government, the document Responsible use of AI for public policy from the Inter-American Development Bank, points out that the role of the person in charge of public policy decision-making (project manager) is not to develop the AI-based tool, but to formulate the project, communicate with the technical team, monitor risk mitigation, determine the feasibility of the tool and be held accountable for its execution. The leadership falls on this person in particular, since they hold the expert knowledge on the subject at hand, along with the vision of the public policy that is to be implemented. It is also up to this person to direct the execution of the project in charge of the technical team and apply the tool to the target population. This person should also direct the execution of the project in charge of the technical team and apply the tool to the target population.

The leadership of senior managers who want to apply artificial intelligence (AI) in government should prioritize several key factors. Here are some suggestions:

  • A clear understanding of AI: Public officials must have a clear understanding of what AI is, how it works and its potential benefits and limitations. This will help them make informed decisions about how to apply AI in government.
  • A strategic vision: The leadership among public officials should include a strategic vision for AI in government that aligns with the overall goals of the organization. This vision should include a clear understanding of how AI can be used to improve efficiency, reduce costs and provide better services to the public.
  • A focus on ethics: AI can raise important ethical questions related to bias, privacy and transparency. Public officials should be committed to ensuring that AI is used ethically and that its benefits are shared fairly across all members of society.
  • Collaboration with experts: Public officials should collaborate with experts in AI, data science and related fields to ensure that they have access to the best possible information and advice. This will help them make informed decisions about how to apply AI in government.
  • A commitment to transparency: The use of AI in government must be transparent to the public, so that citizens can understand how decisions are being made and can hold public officials accountable. Public officials should be committed to transparency and should make sure that the public is informed about the use of AI in government.

Overall, the leadership of public officials should prioritize understanding, vision, ethics, collaboration and transparency when applying AI in government. By doing so, they can help ensure that AI is used to improve the lives of citizens and to make government more effective and efficient.

Thus, it is essential that governments invest in people and improve their internal capacities, particularly the skills of public servants. As Carlos Santizo warns: “Artificial intelligence is meaningless without human intelligence to do it right.

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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