AI-based app for identifying people (Zapp2Photo/


AI strategies for improving citizen services

What: “Artificial Intelligence for Citizen Services and Government,” a paper from Harvard Ash Center Technology & Democracy Fellow Hila Mehr.

Why: With citizens wanting more sophisticated and diverse digital services from government, AI may help agencies improve engagement and customer satisfaction.

Findings: The paper discusses six common government problems that AI can help solve: resource allocation, large datasets, expert shortage, predicable scenario, procedural tasks and diverse data. To address those problems,  Mehr outlines examples where AI has been used by government agencies for answering questions, filling out and searching documents, routing requests, translation and drafting documents.  The North Carolina Innovation Center, for example, is using chatbots to divert calls from its help-desk phone line, and IBM’s Watson is augmenting the 311 platform in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.

For agencies interested in exploring AI, the paper lays out the following strategies:

  1. Make AI part of a citizen-centric program where the first step is figuring out the problem to be solved, then deciding if AI is the best tool.
  2. Get input from both citizens and government employee users.
  3. Build upon software and datasets resources from the nonprofit and research sectors.
  4. Be prepared to manage the level of data associated with AI and be transparent about the data privacy policies.
  5. Mitigate ethical risks by avoiding AI decision making. Human oversight should be a strong component of any AI strategy, and the software should not be tasked with making critical government decisions about citizens.
  6. Use AI to augment employees instead of replacing them. Agencies, however, should update fair labor practices in preparation for potential changes in the workplace where AI systems are used.

Read the full paper here.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.

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