Practitioners’ Perspectives on Inclusion and Civic Empowerment in Finnish Public Sector AI
Association for Computing Machinery
Algorithmic decision-making and big data systems are increasingly being used to provide innovative and essential services in the public sector. Such public services that utilize AI entail many related risks and responsibilities for citizens and public sector providers. Furthermore, the distinct regulatory demands and responsibilities of public sector services require crucial consideration of inclusiveness and civic empowerment. In this empirical study, we examine practitioners’ attitudes, practices and challenges of implementing inclusive AI services in the public sector that can empower greater civic agency. We conducted in-depth interviews with ten practitioners responsible for managing, developing or designing AI-enabled public services across three big public organizations in Finland in domains relating to the municipality, taxes, and social insurance. The results show that the discussion on inclusion and civic empowerment is just in its beginning in the public sector. Practitioners perceive the concept of inclusion as devising accessible public services for all members of society. Civic empowerment was understood as 1) institutional transparency, 2) civic participation in shaping the services, and 3) easing the use of the services for their users. The research suggests two distinct socio-cultural constructs emerging among practitioners that may influence (or hinder) how civic empowerment is manifested in such services: expert cultures and risk-averse cultures. The contributions of the study are twofold. First, we describe the practitioners’ perspectives on empowerment and inclusion in regard to public sector AI. Further, we recognize how expert and risk-averse cultures among practitioners explain their actions and restraints in devising public sector AI services.