GAVIUS Journal #1: When AI Serves Common Good
The GAVIUS project will create a virtual assistant for social aids and benefits, making easier for citizens to obtain the grants to which they are entitled in an efficient and personalised manner and provide local policy makers with access to the data and the indicators they need to better plan, allocate and manage resources.
Application of digital technologies, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data science in the public sector is broad and growing. Many public services managed and delivered by municipalities and local agencies can benefit from the digital transformation and consequent automation of tasks. In particular, those procedures that involve long data processing times, apply clear rules, perform complicated calculations or planned repetitive actions are the most suitable for automation. Nevertheless, the huge potential of AI and data analytics is still underexploited in the sphere of local services.
This put cities at the forefront of several experimentations to use AI to improve process efficiency, user satisfaction and foster a better use of public servants’ knowledge and time. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has further encouraged local authorities to explore digitalisation and its benefits to case data management and service improvement.
The GAVIUS project will create a virtual assistant for social aids and benefits, making easier for citizens to obtain the grants to which they are entitled in an efficient and personalised manner. It will receive a total of 4.2 million euros of European funds that will be used to design and implement an intelligent system that allows citizens, through digital identification, access to information on municipal social aids and manage them via mobile applications. At the same time, a tool will be developed so that the technician working at City Council’s social services’ and citizen services’ departments can manage cases, assess applications, report on aids and benefits and execute payments automatically. In turn, it will provide local policy makers with access to the data and the indicators they need to better plan, allocate and manage resources.
The present Journal introduces the key concepts and ideas that are at the roots of GAVIUS. It also illustrates the current status of the activities and the key implementation challenges that the Gavà City Council and its partners are facing and will have to keep a close eye on in the next months.
Two cities committed to digital transformation
Where we are
Challenges and emerging lessons learnt
The UIA Initiative identifies seven operational challenges, that are considered the most relevant and cross-cutting for implementing an innovation project within a city. The graph illustrates an overview of the UIA challenges and how they are translated to the GAVIUS project. The current state of each of the challenges is described hereafter.
Overall, the COVID-19 measures are the main obstacle to the proper development of the project and they mainly relate with the participative approach and stakeholder engagement modalities. Although the different partners of the project have adapted rapidly, deployed the necessary means to work complying with the restrictions and shifted to virtual meetings and work sessions, the difficulties in the participation of the citizenry and the overload of the municipal departments of Social Services and Informatics remain the key obstacle to comply with the timeline and deadlines set by the project.
Conclusions and lessons learnt
GAVIUS is a timely and innovative project for many reasons:
- technologies to automatise and increase efficiency in public services' planning and delivery have reached considerable maturity and several similar local experiments are flourishing across Europe;
- the European Commission, Member States and regional governments are increasingly aware of the potential of AI-based solutions but also the need for clear rules and mechanisms protecting fundamental rights;
- the COVID-19 crisis has further highlighted the need to invest on technologies that can ease the work of public administrations and secure that all citizens in need of support are reached also under extraordinary circumstances and restrictions.
The project team has been working hard to establish a continuous dialogue and collaborative environment with all the involved local stakeholders and has made relevant progress on the technological, legal and ethical aspects. The next steps will have to focus also on:
- strenghten the communication strategies at both local and national and international level;
- reflect on critical aspects for future adoption and scalability such as training and skills gaps for the administration's workers or necessary inter-institutional agreements which will be needed to secure interoperability;
- continue to work on the ethical and legal framework for GAVIUS also in the light of the new European Commission proposal to regulate AI which will be presented in the coming days and represents one of the cornerstones of the ongoing Portuguese presidency of the Council of the EU.