Using Artificial Intelligence as a Tool for Your Local Government

How artificial intelligence (A.I.) can help transform your community.

Apr 24, 2019 | BLOG POST

by Inbal Naveh Safir, director of strategy & communications, ZenCity

If you’re looking for ways to help your team members become more productive and efficient as local government managers, we’re on the same page.

Managing the world of big data is one piece – admittedly of a very large puzzle – especially when it comes to local governments. What we know at this point is that few technologies hold as much promise as artificial intelligence (A.I.), and that local governments are also beginning to reap the benefits of A.I. by using it to connect with residents, shape policy, and plan.

The question is: How is this happening on the ground?

It’s All About A.I.

A.I.: “A branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers; the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior.”

If you’ve got either Siri or Alexa in your life, you’ve seen firsthand what A.I. can do in your home: gather information, recognize patterns in data, and form conclusions independently of outside influence. But on a larger scale, the question is how different industries can incorporate A.I. into their day-to-day and strategic operations.

A.I. has emerged at a critical time; one in which we’re generating more data than ever before. By 2020, 1.7 MB of data will be created every second for every human on earth. And as much as we are attempting to be organized, the ability to process this volume of data manually is impossible. And because we are generating more data than we can handle, realistically there’s no way we’ll ever be able to review it.

This is exactly where A.I. comes in.

It’s a Match – The Benefits of A.I. and Local Government Management

Here’s how A.I. can help transform your local government; it’s really a match.

#1 Benefit - Local Governments Can Run More Efficiently

A top benefit of A.I. is that it enables an organization to become more efficient at structuring chief operating tasks. When cities and counties run efficiently, more is accomplished with less, and our communities have a lot to accomplish with never-quite-enough resources and tight budgets.

A.I. can help managers stay on top of policies and identify the initiatives that matter most to citizens. This allows managers to plan for and measure the potential impact that each initiative will have on the community as a whole. A case in point is in Los Angeles, San Antonio, and Pittsburgh, where A.I. is being used to change the timing on traffic lights in order to adjust the flow of traffic.

#2 Benefit - Local Governments Can Focus on Their Residents

A.I. plays a big role in delivering personalized user experiences, creating a more personalized connection for a local government to its residents by adapting to their specific needs.

The work of city hall directly impacts the everyday lives of residents. Using A.I. to analyze feedback from citizens about this impact facilitates the shaping of policies and initiatives that address the most important issues. In North Carolina, for example, government offices realized that they could help speed up the process of responding to residents’ questions with the help of a chatbot. With fewer calls to respond to, government offices could dedicate more resources and time to other community projects, while being more responsive to citizens. And with increased life expectancy, cities and counties are using A.I. to help bring down the exorbitant costs of caring for the elderly with the support of IoT-enabled products that can alert local authorities in the event that these residents need help.

#3 Benefit - Local Governments Can Remove a Great Deal of Bias

People are prone to bias and subjective decision-making because we’re human, making decisions that require objectivity – such as hiring – much more difficult. A.I. can circumvent some of our inherent bias. It does this by only considering variables that are relevant to a decision. Organizations have direct control over the A.I. algorithms they use to make decisions, and while it's possible to create algorithms with built-in biases, these can be modified much more easily.

The "human" factor is removed. Like any activity, local government management is just as vulnerable to human bias and prejudice. A.I. helps remove the amount of influence bias plays in decision making, shifting the focus away from what local leaders often think they want, and away from the sometimes “louder voices” in a community, and back toward what residents want.

#4 Benefit - Local Governments Can Make Data-Smart Decisions and Get that Extra Edge for Under-Resourced Departments

We saved the best for last. A.I. is an opportunistic tool for organizations of all industries and sizes to analyze data faster, make better decisions, and move faster. In the case of local government agencies and city halls, no one understands better the challenge of being under-resourced and understaffed. A.I. can help organizations do things that they may not otherwise have the staff capacity to do, or in some cases, that they might not be able to do at all, even with all the resources in the world.

Decision-making becomes simplified. A.I. can analyze data from all kinds of different sources to provide managers with important insights. For example, in the case of communicating with residents, instead of manually reading through discussions, social media posts, and other sources of citizen feedback, managers can use A.I. to automate collecting, curating, and organizing this data for them. Ray Greenwood, A.I. and machine learning domain expert, shares that, “A.I. is best when it tackles highly structured and repetitive processes that support decision making – tasks that consume a ‘fair amount of human time.’”

Are Local Governments Ready for A.I.?

The answer is a resounding yes. A.I. has the capability of being the new frontier for managers and has the potential to transform the policy-making process into one that is more effective and that engages with more residents, including a broader and more diverse community-wide citizen base than ever before.

We’re knee deep in the era of change, and the data is certainly out there to help cities make strategic changes to make cities and towns better places to live. The name of the game is figuring out how to transform all aspects of everyday life in our community – from healthcare to communication – with A.I. at its core.

ZenCity, a proud ICMA Strategic Partner, uses A.I. and big data to tackle the challenges cities face in understanding their communities’ needs and priorities.


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