Artificial intelligence (AI) startups have transformed businesses, changed people's shopping or banking habits. There are increasingly more startups and investors that are interested not just
in the traditional business, but also in the government. They are looking at how to transform the industry that is usually perceived as very traditional and not very keen to be disrupted. But
can the public sector and startups work together to build an AI-enabled government? In Lithuania, the focus on including startups in the process has started a few years ago and continues to be a priority. But what exactly is AI-enabled government and how can two, on the first sight very different type of organisations, cooperate to build it?
What is AI-enabled government?
The AI-enabled government contains three core elements – better decision-making, better public services, better operations. Firstly, the government has an immense amount of data about businesses, individuals, transport, and even the weather. AI can help make smarter decisions by making sense of this data, detecting patterns or anomalies. It can help answer questions such as if we should build a roundabout or put a traffic light in the specific intersection, or what kind of employment or economic policy we should implement.
Secondly, AI offers an opportunity to reimagine public services. AI solutions can make sure that public services are both proactive and personalized for every individual. For instance, if a child
is born, all related benefits and registrations can be done proactively, without human interaction. Natural language processing solutions can transform the citizen interaction with public services, by understanding each request and assigning it to the department that can provide a service – this way, creating a one single point where the government could be contacted.
Finally, similar to traditional business, AI-enabled government means intelligent automation of public sector processes, especially back-office functions. The use of AI for procurement is
another area of potential savings and transformation.
How public sector and startups can work together on AI-enabled government?
Startups are agile and nimble organizations that have a completely different pace and way of working from the public sector. Despite their differences, there are a few ways to facilitate effective cooperation. Firstly, governments must include startups from the very first step – creating the vision of an AI-enabled government. For instance, two years ago in Lithuania, when the national AI strategy was being contemplated, it was not created behind closed doors. A community of public sector officials, academics, startups and companies was brought together into a flexible think tank. Lithuania’s AI strategy paper was written by the community and for the community. Lithuania plans to do the same with a national Lithuania 2050 strategy – to include the AI community in building the country’s future.
Secondly, the impact and the cooperation between startups and the government mustn't be limited to just talking with each other, coming up with visions and strategies. The added value of startups is their ability to come up with novel solutions. Usual public sector processes do not necessarily reflect how startups work – their procurement was built for big corporations and companies that are more focused on just delivering technical specifications, but not coming up with out-of-the-box solutions. To work with startups, the public sector has to come up with a new way. That's exactly what Lithuania has managed to do. In Lithuania, the public sector team GovTech Lab built an alternative process that takes the best practices from corporate innovation and that can facilitate the co-creation of innovative AI and other technology-driven solutions. For example, the process already brought to life a solution that can make the internet a safer place for children by automatically detecting illegal content that has children abuse material with the help of AI. Additionally, startups are working hard to create a hate speech detection tool or build better police force management with a predictive police model. Next year, AI and satellite data solution to monitor green spaces and make Vilnius greener should be already available. At the start of the pandemic, AI-based chatbots were built to help with the increased load for the pandemic information centre.
Finally, to make the cooperation work, it is essential to provide adequate funding. In Lithuania, the funding is focused in three key directions. First, funding novel procurement methods to buy
from startups. Over 40 GovTech pilots are being bought this year by Lithuania’s public sector. Secondly, investing in user-centred public services to make sure that digital public services are focused on citizens and their needs, and not simply mirroring traditional paper processes.
Finally, additional funding will be launched, aimed solely at AI startups. This funding will make sure that AI startups can offer solutions for the innovative public sector. GovTech Lab Lithuania is a project at the Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology and has received funding from European Regional Development Fund. Number and name of operational programme measure: 01.2.1-LVPA-V-842 Inogeb LT.