The role of AI in NSW Government
The NSW Government AI Strategy is focused on improved service delivery and government decision-making. AI has the capability to play a key role in automating inefficient and manual processes to deliver better value to our customers and free up time for more critical or frontline work. AI can also assist in decision-making in relation to resource allocation based on community need.
AI will not be used to make unilateral decisions that impact our citizens or their human rights. We need to carefully monitor the consequences of decisions that AI might inform. AI is a tool to assist in decision-making, and service delivery, but any AI-informed decision remains the responsibility of the agency using the technology. Further, the NSW Government approach is clear that no AI-informed decision will be made without those impacted being able to access a quick and efficient review. Citizens should be able to understand how their data is being used and for what purpose.
Often, additional safeguards will need to be in place to ensure the right questions are being asked of the technology and that the correct legislative interpretation is informing the AI solution.
The development of the Strategy has been informed by in-depth consultation with industry, university, government and non-government organisations. Feedback has been grouped into five key areas, each of which will are be supported by an action plan.
Building public trust: delivering and showcasing positive outcomes for the community will contribute to public trust, and trust will be strengthened by openly acknowledging the strengths and weaknesses of AI and managing potential risks.
Digital uplift: building public sector digital skills: There should be a broad program of digital capability uplift for the NSW public sector which also incorporates upskilling on emerging technologies.
Building data capability: NSW citizens must have confidence that data for AI projects is used safely and securely, and in a way that is consistent with privacy and data sharing frameworks, and community expectations.
Procurement: we must leverage opportunities to update procurement frameworks through innovation and proofs of concepts to take more timely advantage of emerging technologies.
Innovation and collaboration: we must explore working closer with industry and academia to drive better service delivery and solve some of our most complex problems.
The themes are accompanied by NSW Government commitments against each. It is important to note that AI is a relatively new technology for government and that this Strategy outlines the first steps in building a consistent approach across the sector. We will further refine our approach as we test the AI Policy and Assurance Framework, and identify new actions we can take at the whole of government level.
Embedding the AI Strategy - Success to Date
Recognising the speed at which technology develops, and the need to build our AI maturity, the NSW Government approach is an iterative one. The 22 action items under the AI Strategy have helped build maturity in the NSW Government's use of AI and the implementation of a mandatory AI Policy and Assurance Framework ensure a consistent approach to privacy, security, transparency and procurement of AI solutions.
In the 12 months since the AI Strategy was published, we have demonstrated significant progress in achieving the action items under the Strategy and advancing the appropriate and ethical use of AI in the NSW Government. We have completed 17 action items and have demonstrated significant progress against delivering the remaining 5. The work that has been done to date will deliver substantial value to government and customers by encouraging the safe and effective uptake of AI technologies to improve government products and service delivery.
Key achievements to date include:
Developing an assurance mechanism for AI projects
AI remains a relatively new technology for government and there is community concern about how it is applied, particularly where decisions impact citizens. Recognising this, we developed the AI Assurance Framework in partnership with the AI Advisory Committee. The Framework provides a mandatory process for agencies to self-assess their AI projects against, to ensure that they are designed with and monitored against explicit standards for performance, reliability, robustness and auditability, and that they align with the NSW Government Ethical AI Principles.
Establishing Australia's first AI Advisory Committee
In April 2021 the inaugural meeting of the AI Advisory Committee was held. The Committee was established to provide expert advice on the ethical use of AI for decision-making and service delivery. It is comprised of a range of experts from government, industry, and academia, and is the first of its kind in Australia. The Committee has played an instrumental role in the development of the AI Assurance Framework and will soon be re-established as the AI Review Committee which will be responsible for reviewing agencies' assurance assessments.
Publishing case studies on the NSW Government's use of AI
As citizens increasingly expect seamless and individualised interactions with government, the public sector needs to build the capabilities to harness emerging technologies to meet these expectations. The NSW Government has begun to publish case studies that provide an 'under the hood' look at how we are using AI to improve service delivery and the skills and capabilities that we are building to do this. The case studies are also designed to 'stress test' projects against the AI Strategy and Ethics Policy to demonstrate our commitment to ensuring our use of AI is ethical and appropriate.
Developing a Data Governance Toolkit
Good data management and storage is central to any AI project. A Data Governance Toolkit was developed and published by the Data Analytics Centre in February 2021 to provide NSW Government agencies with practical and consistent guidance on the key components of an effective data governance program, as well as to create a shared understanding of what good data governance looks like. The Toolkit is located here.
Including AI skills in the 'Skills Framework for the Information Age'
The NSW Government uses a combination of the NSW Public Sector Capability Framework and the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) to define what skills and capabilities are required by our ICT workforce. It is important that these Frameworks are regularly revisited to ensure that we are developing and recruiting for the skills and capabilities that are required to use AI safely and effectively. The Public Service Commission has worked with the SFIA Foundation to include Machine Learning and Data Science capabilities in the latest version of the SFIA framework (SFIA Version 8) published in September 2021.
Creating a platform for the NSW Government to engage with the public on AI
Raising awareness of what AI is and responding to community concerns on AI is important to us. Artificial Intelligence – Have Your Say went live in December 2020 and provides the public with an opportunity to ask questions about AI, propose ideas for its use, and respond to surveys and quick polls about the use AI in government.
As of October 2021, there have been 44 ideas posted on how the NSW Government should use AI, 270 survey responses on how people feel about the NSW Government's use of AI, and 443 quick-poll responses on what the top issue is for the NSW Government to address. The results of these tools indicate that public perception of the AI Strategy is broadly positive, with 65% of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing that a NSW Government AI Strategy can provide for safe, ethical and effective use of AI in NSW.
Although we have made great strides in improving maturity in our use of AI, we recognise that there is still work to be done to embed our achievements into government processes and to monitor developments and identify future opportunities for AI. Our focus in the coming year will be on:
- Continuing to increase awareness and understanding of the AI Ethics Policy and AI Assurance Framework across the NSW Government
- Formalising the AI Assurance framework within DRF and ICT Assurance processes
- Clarifying the role of the AI Review Committee and other actors in ongoing oversight activities
- Ongoing public awareness raising of the NSW Government's use of AI