Local Authorities achieving results with AI roll-outs

In pop culture, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is often associated with fears of malevolent robots taking over the world. However, the reality is quite different. In fact, AI technology is already having a tangible, positive impact on many people’s lives. For example:

  • AI helps with healthcare management, disease detection, diagnostics, and evidence-based treatment options. 
  • In law enforcement, machine learning assists police with identifying potential threats, suspicious transactions, and more. 
  • In finance, automated portfolio managers use AI and algorithms to scan market data and make predictions.

How AI Can Benefit Local Government

AI-powered solutions that once seemed like science fiction are now embedded in countless products and services we use today. Some examples include online product recommendations, facial recognition, voice assistants, social media monitoring, and GPS mapping.

In local government, AI-driven systems can help free-up resources, increase speed, and enhance service delivery - nearly impossible feats to achieve simultaneously. Staff can also refocus on other value-added decisions and frontline priorities. The uses cases seeing most traction currently are:

  • Automated low-value decision-making, enabling quicker and better decisions
  • Active citizen engagement via chatbots and knowledge discovery
  • Vandalism and pothole prediction, detection, and intelligent case prioritisation
  • Maintenance and resource allocation predictions
  • Energy usage and resource optimisation
  • Financial fraud and other crime prevention

AI Use in Local Government

At a time of ongoing financial challenges for many local governments, artificial intelligence presents the public sector with new opportunities to streamline services, free up staff time, enhance operations, and optimise resources. According to a national survey conducted in 2020, 24% of local government councils in the UK already had an AI strategy in place. 

Moreover, councils anticipated savings of £480,000 each on average for the next 12 months through the use of AI and self-learning chatbots. Apart from financial savings, other top reasons for introducing an AI strategy included reducing call volumes, improving customer services, increasing speed to resolve issues, and gathering data.

Here are a few examples of how local governments in the UK have used AI to bring about genuine positive change:

Blackpool Council’s £1 Million Savings   

In 2020 Blackpool became the first local authority in the UK to use AI to support road maintenance, filling in more than 5,000 potholes while saving £1 million compared to traditional methods of maintenance. 

Blackpool PotholesIn its successful pilot, called Project Amber, the council used AI-powered space satellite imagery and analysis capturing to detect road damage and potholes. The data was then submitted back to repair teams. 

According to the council, this forward-thinking approach delivered more than just significant savings to the organisation - it also meant a better commute for road users with fewer road closures. Blackpool has now made AI a key tool to improve its road maintenance efforts and as part of its Making Blackpool Better initiative.

BCP Council Tackles Litter

The BCP Council of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole has partnered with Hubbub, an environmental charity, and McDonald’s to address the issue of litter using a unique, innovative approach. Inspired by the Italian town of Sorrento’s success, the ground-breaking pilot forms part of the council’s summer readiness preparations. 

Drone-image-identifying-litter-on-the-beach-Credit-Ellipsis-Earth-1200px-FINALThe programme leverages AI and data analysis to improve the impact of litter-clearing initiatives and behaviour change. The drone-based technology will also identify hotspots and collect data on what types of litter are being dropped and when. 

With in-depth, unprecedented insights thanks to AI, the BCP Council will create detailed littering maps for long-term bin-placement strategies and street-cleaning schedules. The gathered data will also improve the efficiency and efficacy of litter-awareness campaigns and interventions.

Milton Keynes' Planning Transformation

Milton Keynes implemented AI technology to bolster services and enhance efficiency across its planning domain.

Its project uses open-source technology and includes customer-facing chatbots to answer common questions from the public as well as citizen self-service to respond to queries in real-time. Following the project launch in 2018, call volumes have decreased with the number of chatbot conversations increasing, saving valuable planning officer time.

Trials for end-to-end automation to enable the retrieval, classification, and review of household permitted development applications are also underway.

The council has also put aside £20,000 for an AI development programme as part of its COVID-19 Economic Recovery Plan. The goal is to develop AI skills and connect academics, business leaders, and other individuals to strengthen networks within the sector.

Hackney Council Helps Families

Hackney launched the Early Help Predictive System (EHPS) in 2018 to identify families that may require extra support from the government. The goal is early intervention to prevent the need for high-cost services at a later stage.

Using AI, the EHPS collects and analyses data relating to aspects such as debt, housing, unemployment, school attendance, and domestic violence. It then builds profiles of families to determine their need for extra support. After its launch, the EHPS programme had already identified about 20 families per month and introduced early intervention measures.

Scottish local government transformation focused on AI

Backed by all 32 local authorities, the Digital Office of Scottish Local Government was established as part of a digital transformation strategy adopted in 2016. Its primary objectives are to help Scottish councils develop collaborative digital projects and initiatives to reduce costs and improve service delivery for citizens.

A key focus of its DO2.0 Business Plan is the development and delivery of sector-wide digital programmes. Local authorities are called to concentrate efforts on adopting robotic process automation and AI systems.

A new AI strategy is expected to be published by the Scottish Government imminently.

Ethics needs to catch-up with AI

It is clear that AI-based solutions will revolutionise every facet of local government operations, and much of wider society. From self-learning chatbots to advanced imagery capturing, AI is already having a profound effect on how councils manage resources and prioritise service levels.

This has led to a number of initiatives around the world to build citizen trust with open registers of AI applications in use.

Naturally, there are concerns about accountability, privacy, and ethics. National and local lawmakers will need to consider the transformative effect and far-reaching implications of AI on the existing legal frameworks. With many councils already adopting AI strategies, this is already starting to happen.

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