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AI for local authorities and policymakers: Key learnings

By Platform
Person taking photo during event

On 7 November 2023, the Policy Learning Platform hosted a webinar on the topic of Artificial intelligence (AI) for local authorities and policymakers. Artificial intelligence has rapidly evolved into a powerful force for innovation, presenting local authorities with new challenges but also unprecedented opportunities to enhance public services, streamline operations, and ultimately improve the lives of their local citizens.

Policymakers and practitioners discussed how AI can be harnessed to address real-world challenges and opportunities at the local level and to enhance policymaking. Indeed, AI algorithms can be used to analyse large amounts of data quickly and accurately. This can help local governments make more informed decisions about a range of issues such as traffic management, the environment, waste management and health and public safety.

Guido Rink, Vice-Mayor of Emmen and Rapporteur of the Opinion paper on European Approach to Artificial Intelligence - Artificial Intelligence Act for the European Committee of the Regions, delivered a keynote presentation on human-driven AI and the collaboration between humans and AI systems.

In this context, humans play a central role in guiding and shaping the behaviour of AI systems, ensuring that they align with human values, ethical considerations, and regulatory frameworks.

AI has been also explored in some Interreg Europe projects and this webinar featured good practices and lessons learnt from ENAIBLER, focusing on advancing digital transformation and harnessing the advantages of AI while promoting the adoption of open, transparent, and ethical policies and services.

Webinar agenda

The webinar has been designed and moderated by Laura Varisco and Marc Pattinson Thematic Experts for a Smarter Europe. 

00:11:05 Introduction by Marc Pattinson to the topic

00:16:12 Keynote speech by Guido Rink, Member of the European Committee of the Regions, rapporteur of the opinion paper on the European Approach to Artificial Intelligence

00:23:06 Q&A: The ability for local authorities to create these policies for AI, do they need to have these skills and expertise in-house?

00:24:53 Q&A: Are there some regions or countries that you regard as leading the way?

00:28:43 Presentation by Margaret Quinn, programme manager at ERNACT (ENAIBLER) on AI for local authorities: frontrunner initiatives across the EU

00:40:55 Q&A: Do you have cities as partners?

00:43:11 Q&A: What role does the private sector play?

00:46:03 Presentation by Christina Koch, Austria Wirtschaftsservice Gesellschaft mbH on good practices within public funding programmes to foster the trustworthy use of AI

00:52:51 Q&A: Do you hear about the same challenges from SMEs when speaking about including AI in their structures?

00:54:26 Q&A: Are there any key performance indicators that you are using for monitoring?

Panel discussion

00:57:11 Q&A: How do you put in place education and training programmes to ensure that elected representatives and other key decision-makers have the necessary understanding of AI to be able to make informed and responsible decisions?

01:04:03 Q&A: Do your regional European Digital Innovation Hubs have AI as a key driver?

01:10:38 Q&A: If you had to choose three sectors to start implementing AI, that most benefit your local citizens, what would you choose?

01:21:25 Q&A: Could you highlight a good cross-border example where AI could help?

Key learnings

From this webinar, we can highlight some key insights for local authorities willing to explore the immense potential of AI in transforming local communities for the better.

  • Local authorities can take the leadership over the effective use of AI for decision-making, service design and operation processes, remaining vigilant about potential risks to unlock its full potential, additionally, drawing inspiration from the regulatory framework and tools provided by the European Union.
  • Empowered with the appropriate capacities, the public sector holds the potential to catalyse the ethical utilisation of AI. Interregional cooperation and peer learning are essential to improve the conditions for a better understanding of AI challenges. Capacity improvement also requires upskilling, see this good practice from Ireland on AI Foundation Certificate for Public Servants.
  • Grants are a powerful policy instrument to help SMEs embrace a trustworthy use of AI. Considerable efforts in raising awareness and skills development are also essential.
  • Some European Member States such as the Scandinavian and Baltic countries are considered frontrunners when dealing with AI solutions.
  • Some interesting use cases of AI were presented by participants such as a Chatbot for recycling, Hospital food monitor, Pothole identification, Human Digital Assistant and a Guide for visually impaired.
  • The use of AI may be controversial, therefore our society should tackle this immense potential through a human-driven approach. This is why the future European AI Act will guarantee a safe, transparent, traceable, non-discriminatory and environmentally friendly adoption of AI within the EU.
  • Local authorities must establish and adhere to guidelines outlining the responsible use of AI. For instance, in the Netherlands organisations apply the IAMA, which is an instrument, basically a manual, created by the University of Utrecht, that supports them to make decisions about the development and deployment of algorithms. 
  • This webinar was also the opportunity to showcase the concrete translation of the recommendations of one of the Policy Learning Platform peer reviews on the Trustworthy use of AI in companies for the benefit of the Austria Wirtschaftsservice.

Download the presentations below. 

Guido Rink

My main takeaway from the webinar is that it’s been very valuable to share our knowledge and hands-on experiences with AI on a European level. We all came one step closer to actively shaping how AI will further impact our society. I strongly feel that it is our responsibility as policymakers and politicians alike to ensure that this technology will be used for the better, keeping both the benefits and risks in mind but without ever losing the human in the process.

Guido Rink - Vice-Mayor of Emmen and representative of the Committee of Regions

Digital innovation
Digital technology
Artificial Intelligence