Tempe, Arizona, USA
Tempe, Arizona, USA

Generative AI has been optimizing local government practices and processes for years. Applications such as Chat GPT and Google Gemini have garnered a lot of attention recently, particularly after President Biden’s executive order in October 2023.

Cities such as Boston, Massachusetts; Tempe, Arizona; and Wentzville, Missouri are all pioneers of utilizing Generative AI to improve their governance and administration. Attendees of ICMA’s 2024 Local Government Reimagined (LGR) Conference in Palm Desert, California, heard about these cities and more in the session, "Generative AI Policies in Local Government."

Some of the major tasks generative AI have been able to assist with in these cities include permit approvals, administrative tasks, writing RFPs, help with public benefits approvals through chatbots, and cybersecurity monitoring.

As AI becomes more sophisticated, there is growing concern among some about AI replacing humans in their professional capacities. However, AI is made to co-pilot, not auto-pilot tasks and is used in tandem with human labor and intelligence.

Boston, one of the cities at the forefront of AI implementation, released interim AI guidelines in May 2023, stating, “Technology enables our work; it does not excuse our judgment nor our accountability.” Santiago Garces, Boston CIO adds to this, stating “It’s a tool that gets you maybe 70% or 80% of the way there, but you still need to have expertise to be able to discern whether it’s giving you things that are correct, whether it makes sense in the context of the city.”

Because AI relies on humans to analyze complex data and implement them appropriately, it is not a technology that will be replacing jobs — just augmenting them. Currently, Boston uses AI to improves employee productivity and transparency in government process, and plans to use it in the future for simulated community meetings to predict the issues of constituents.

Tempe, Arizona, was one of the first cities to release a policy on AI, and their Ethical AI policy was released in July 2023. Concentrating on transparency, fairness, accountability and protection of individual rights, the policy states, “We will encourage collaboration between humans and AI systems, leveraging the strengths of both to enhance decision-making processes and ensure that ultimate control remains with humans.” It is also the first city to make clear that AI was to be used as “human - AI collaboration.”

Wentzville, Missouri, is an early adapter of new technology that proves that one does not need an extensive budget to use AI. A small city of 47,000 people outside of St. Louis, Wentzville uses generative AI for communications, combining it with human oversight to ensure that the content, style and tone being used are reflective of their guidelines. Something unique to note about the city’s use of AI is that there was no set policy in place for AI when it started to be used- it just adhered to Wentzville’s current ethics policy. One of the measures used in this ethical AI implementation was to define consequences for non-compliance: discipline, contract termination, remedial measures. The city is also doing workshops and training to better acquaint their employees with AI and its proper use, and optimize their efficiency.

As AI continues to expand its capabilities and AI in governance becomes more popular, it’s prudent for local government bodies to have clear objectives and goals to make the best use of this technology. It is also necessary to properly train employees on the different capabilities AI has, and how to use it in the most ethical fashion. With these precautions in place, AI can be one of the most helpful tools to improve how local government is conducted.

Learn more about AI for local government on ICMA's Generative AI resource page.


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