Consulting/Advisory Services

Generative AI: New ways to transform local government

Leveraging AI in local government can yield business and operational benefits for public sector organizations and the citizens they serve.

Leveraging generative AI in local government

In this new age of technology, local government is advancing at a rapid pace. Industry leaders in the private sector are leveraging the latest digital tools, and the public sector is making similar efforts. With varying complexity and challenges, public sector organizations are leaning into new tools to provide more efficient and innovative solutions for their citizens. For example, local government entities are investing in developing mobile apps that allow people to access city websites and services from their phones.1 This is helping to improve citizen services in a cost-effective way. Among these advancements, generative artificial intelligence (AI) can further accelerate transformation and revolutionize the way local government operates.

Generative AI represents a new shift in AI technology, enabling machines to understand, learn, and create content. Unlike traditional AI systems that rely on predefined rules and datasets, generative models such as OpenAI's ChatGPT, Google’s Gemini, and Microsoft’s Copilot have demonstrated remarkable capabilities in generating human-like text, images, and even music. These capabilities offer many opportunities for local governments to streamline processes, enhance decision-making, and engage their citizens to positively shape future services.

Implementing automation tools for government use

One of the biggest challenges for local governments is the amount of data created across varying aspects of daily operations. With the help of AI, local governments can streamline processes by automating routine tasks. Work that used to consume many manual hours can now be automated, allowing employees to focus on more strategic projects.

Many major cities have started using robotic process automation (RPA) in different service areas for their citizens. Miami uses RPA during the hurricane season for their special needs shelters to notify residents that their power is back on and it’s safe for them to return home.2 Other cities are exploring the benefits of implementing RPA for invoice processing, permit applications, and payroll administration.3

Using generative AI for documentation and reporting

A common scenario in local government is that knowledge is captured by an individual as part of their years of tenure. Out of this vast knowledge base, very little is documented as a standard operating procedure. As a result, this knowledge is lost when employees retire or move to a different department. Generative AI can be leveraged to keep record of these daily tasks, summarize meeting minutes, document processes and services, and give detailed reports for reference. These documents can be leveraged to train new employees, as well as to help current staff make more informed decisions.

How chatbots can help local government

Citizens often end up in a situation where they have a simple query, but they must go through multiple calls to get an appropriate response to their question(s). Having a chatbot integrated into local government websites can help answer these questions quickly. This saves citizens’ time (and potential frustration) and reduces calls to a service agent.

Moreover, generative AI can facilitate personalized engagement with citizens by analyzing vast amounts of data to understand their preferences and needs better. By leveraging insights derived from social media, online forums, and other digital platforms, local governments can tailor their outreach efforts, distribute targeted information, and collect feedback more effectively. This data-driven approach not only encourages greater civic participation, but also enables policymakers to make informed decisions that align with their citizens’ interests.

With its access to vast knowledge bases and data from across city services, a chatbot can not only answer questions from citizens, but also provide additional resources. In New York City, these AI-driven interfaces are still in a beta version, but equipped with natural language processing capabilities, they offer a user-friendly and accessible means for citizens to interact with government services round the clock.4

This is a major step towards 24/7 citizen services, but it does need to be noted, this also comes with risk. In the case of the NYC AI chatbot, shortly after its launch, it repeatedly returned inaccurate responses to questions from small business owners about housing policy, labor laws, and consumer rights.5 The implications of following inaccurate advice from an AI source are significant—exceptions are not made for citizens who break the law because a chatbot told them to.

Generative AI can optimize urban development and roadways

Many cities confront challenges with affordable housing and traffic congestion. Generative AI can be leveraged to analyze the past data in these areas and predict future trends and help model out better urban systems for the city. By analyzing diverse datasets like demographics, infrastructure, and environmental factors, AI algorithms can generate actionable insights to inform strategic planning initiatives.

This can also be leveraged to develop predictive models for traffic patterns, enabling authorities to proactively manage congestion and optimize transportation networks. While the data already exists from the past and current traffic patterns, generative AI can analyze it and forecast future patterns to help authorities make informed decisions about upcoming events and traffic patterns around it.

Generative AI can encourage innovation in government

Generative AI not only streamlines existing processes, it can also create a culture of innovation and collaboration within local governments and their partners. Local governments could establish innovation hubs or collaborative platforms where stakeholders from diverse backgrounds can leverage generative AI to co-create solutions tailored to specific community needs.

Furthermore, through AI-driven knowledge management systems, like learning management systems, employees can access all the documentation, use cases, and best practices for more informed decision-making and professional development. By cultivating a culture of continuous learning and experimentation, local governments can adapt to evolving demands and remain at the forefront of urban innovation.

Privacy and ethical considerations for using AI in government

While all the capabilities and risks of AI have yet to be fully realized, most of us are unknowingly using it in our day-to-day lives and have been for a long time. With technology features like predictive analysis of what you should be shopping for, suggested events you might like to attend, or places you might be interested in visiting, a lot of the applications we use are tapping into AI. These applications are collecting data to analyze, all for the purpose of better understanding our habits and making personalized recommendations. This brings up relevant concerns about privacy.

While the potential of generative AI in local governance is vast, as AI systems become increasingly autonomous and pervasive, it could be problematic if not kept in check. Privacy, bias, and accountability are just three of the potential issues that could arise from using AI. In an effort to manage these concerns, local governments must prioritize transparency, fairness, and accountability in the development and implementation of AI-driven solutions. With proper insight into its implementation and access to data, local governments can make use of AI in the most efficient and ethical way possible.

Proactive measures are needed to safeguard against potential misuse or unintended consequences of generative AI technologies. This includes algorithmic transparency and mechanisms for ongoing monitoring and evaluation. By engaging with stakeholders, including citizens, policymakers, and ethicists, local governments can navigate the ethical complexities of AI adoption and foster public trust in its initiatives.

Takeaways about using AI in local government

AI and generative AI offer exceptional capabilities to transform local government and foster innovation in counties and cities nationwide. By leveraging AI-driven insights, automating routine tasks, and leveraging collaboration/partnerships, municipalities can enhance citizen services, and navigate complex challenges more effectively.

However, realizing the full potential of Al and generative AI requires a conscious effort to address ethical, regulatory, and other implications. By taking a human-centered approach and prioritizing transparency and accountability, local governments can harness the power of AI to build more inclusive, advanced, and sustainable cities for all residents.


Endnotes

  1. City of Chicago Roadmap for AI. “Why the City needs a Roadmap.” https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/sites/chitech/home/roadmap-for-AI/why-the-city-needs-a-roadmap.html.
  2. Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. “AI and RPA will Impact the Future of the Workforce.” https://www.miamichamber.com/news/ai-and-rpa-will-impact-future-workforce.
  3. The City of Austin, Texas. “Resolution No. Item 24.” February 15, 2024. https://services.austintexas.gov/edims/document.cfm?id=423407.
  4. NYC MyCity. Official website of the City of New York. “MyCity Chatbot.” https://chat.nyc.gov/.
  5. Lecher, Colin. “Malfunctioning NYC AI Chatbot Still Active Despite Widespread Evidence It’s Encouraging Illegal Behavior.” The City, reporting to New Yorkers. April 2, 2024. https://www.thecity.nyc/2024/04/02/malfunctioning-nyc-ai-chatbot-still-active-false-information/.

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