This morning I attended the October meet up of Tech for Good Scotland, hosted by Third Sector Lab. It’s an event I regularly enjoy attending – and not just for the pain au chocolat they provide. I’ve always found a really wonderful atmosphere amongst the attendees, one filled with driven, thoughtful, and openminded people.
Today’s event started with Citizen’s Advice Scotland’s (CAS) own Head of Tech and Digital Fraser Ross speaking about the transformative potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the importance of transparency and co-creation when developing ethical AI outcomes. Fraser highlighted a few of AI projects that CAS had undertaken in recent years, including ones that supported routing people to the correct bureau, guiding them through the CAS website, and helping to prioritise need within their Extra Help Unit. All of these initiatives have never been created to replace people, rather to increase their own capacity at work by aiding their tasks.
There is often an understandable fear around this, which CAS has encountered themselves. AI is an incredibly powerful tool, one that can be used to help or harm and is not something that should be implemented without careful consideration. That’s why its affirming to hear that CAS are focused on using it as an assist to a human role as opposed to a substitute. As well, they’ve recognised the need to include their own team members in the co-design process, both to combat the fear of the unknown and to ensure that they’re meeting bureau needs.
Beyond this, Fraser spoke about the concerns around AI ethics and responsible use. They’ve needed to be cautious around bias, data quality, security, privacy, reputation, and transparency of decision making. They’ve ensured that data protection team members have been involved throughout their processes and constantly review their data protection measures to support this. However, he acknowledged that this is still a work in progress and they’re continuing to work towards a governance process and AI policy. Furthermore, Fraser stated that the third and public sectors have a responsibility to lead the way in AI ethics.
I find it affirming to see that CAS have thoughtful and good intentions in the work that they’re undertaking, and that they’re able to acknowledge that they’re still needing to grow and learn throughout their work with AI. Having worked collaboratively to get people onboard with the developments and ensure that their outcome could properly meet the needs of the service, they’ve already began implementing service design processes and mindsets and continued centring people in their endeavours. I hope that continuing this practice through the KTP project will further create space for reflection and development within the organisation and its members.
We then heard Reema Vadoliya from People of Data speak about inclusive data practices and how we can reframe and improve upon our data culture to better support our organisational goals and the people using our services. Reema emphasised that data, like AI, holds a lot of power. It has the potential to provide insight, opportunity, storytelling, and profit. However, it can also produce the opposite effect – increasing bias, misrepresenting needs, creating ‘tick box’ scenarios, and excluding peoples. Collecting people’s data can quickly become an unethical practice, particularly when they are left with a lack of choice or opportunity to change or update their information.
At People of Data, Reema has created a 6 step playbook to support people to improve their data practices:
With shared traits to a human-centred process, the intention of this process is to get people to reflect upon why they collect data, challenge their policies, and think laterally in order to improve. I found this mindset helps reframe what data is and reminds us to think very holistically about how it can positively or negatively be impacting our organisations and subsequent services.
Overall, I found this Tech for Good event to be another thought-provoking space, allowing everyone to step back out into the big picture of their own projects through the case studies of our two speakers. I hope to continue to find spaces and opportunities to learn from others ways of working and feed that back into my own work.