How data and AI stand as cornerstone of progress in Australia's local government sector

11th January 2024

In the landscape of public services, data and AI stand as the cornerstone of progress

Civica’s Ben Cowling dives into the pivotal role data and AI will play in revolutionising Australia's local government sector in 2024

In the contemporary sphere, data has transcended its conventional status; it's now a prized possession for public sector entities. The Centre for Data, Ethics, and Innovation (CDEI) hails data as a potent tool for local authorities. Its significance lies in facilitating informed decisions, optimising resource allocation, and fostering transparency for citizens.

Australia's AI ethics framework outlines eight principles guiding organisations to harness AI for superior outcomes while mitigating potential risks*. Progression within this framework involves piloting these principles in Australian businesses and collaborating with agencies to encourage widespread adoption.

AI emerges as a game-changer, redefining how councils deliver services. Its applications span various domains, from expediting planning applications to enhancing the efficiency of business rate collection. It's streamlining clinical data analysis, enabling cost-effective preventive maintenance via IoT-connected devices, and more.

The challenge lies in managing voluminous data sets scattered across diverse systems. Discrepancies, incompleteness, or inaccuracies in data adversely affect customer experiences, prompting a shift towards cloud-based systems. Effective master data management emerges as the solution, ensuring seamless integration across systems for a unified citizen view.

However, a cautionary note surfaces regarding biases ingrained in AI and ML models due to flawed data. Instances abound where predictive models exhibited biases, impacting outcomes negatively. This prompts concerns about data sharing, a crucial asset for burgeoning public sector services. Transparency in data usage becomes pivotal, assuring individuals about its ethical utilisation to foster trust.

To fortify data as a formidable asset, public sector entities must focus on three key areas:

  1. Skill enhancement: equipping leaders with proficient data skills becomes imperative to effectively manage data-driven automation.
  2. Effective communication: stakeholders need clarity on data usage and purpose, emphasising secure data access over external transfers.
  3. Data accuracy and integrity: cleansing data paves the way for a reliable, unified repository, aiding informed decision-making.

These concerted efforts will help transform data into an invaluable asset: empowering policy decisions and augmenting data-centric public services across l local government in 2024 and beyond.

Ben Cowling is Executive Director at Civica APAC

*Department of Industry, Science and Resources: Australia’s AI Ethics Framework: