Artificial intelligence (AI) holds the potential to vastly improve government operations and help meet the needs of citizens in new ways, ranging from traffic management to healthcare delivery to processing tax forms. But most public institutions have not yet adopted this powerful technology. While public sector officials are increasingly aware of the transformational impact of data and AI-powered solutions, the data needed for AI solutions to be developed and deployed is often neither accessible nor discoverable. Public sector officials may also lack the appropriate knowledge and expertise to make strategic buying decisions for AI-powered tools. Uncertainty about ethical considerations adds further layers of complexity. As a result, officials tend to delay buying decisions, or reduce perceived risk by concentrating their purchasing on a few known suppliers.
The World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution has brought together a multistakeholder community to co-design the AI Procurement in a Box toolkit guide for governments to rethink their public procurement processes:
- Guidelines for AI procurement, presenting the general considerations to be taken when government is procuring AI-powered solutions
- Workbook for policy and procurement officials guiding them through the guidelines
- Pilot case studies
This guidance aims to empower government officials to more confidently make responsible AI purchasing decisions. The tools also improve the experience for AI solutions providers by supporting the creation of transparent and innovative public procurement processes that meet their needs.
By co-designing these guidelines with governments, small and large businesses, civil society and academia, the intended impact is the responsible deployment of AI solutions for the public benefit of constituents. Leveraging the significant purchasing power of government in the market, the private-sector adoption of the guidelines can permeate the industry beyond the adoption by public sector organizations.
Embedding the principles advocated for in the guidelines into administrative processes will also expand opportunities for new entrants and create a more competitive environment for the ethical development of AI. Further, as industry debates its own standards on these technologies, the government’s influence can help set a baseline for the harmonization of standards-setting.
March–September 2019: Policy development – the World Economic Forum worked with fellows from the public and private sectors, and a multistakeholder group that also included academia and civil society organizations, to create action-orientated guidelines for government procurement of AI.
October–March 2020: Pilot and Iteration – the project team validated guidelines through feedback sessions and a pilot project with the United Kingdom government, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority and the Government of Bahrain.
June 2020: Publication of the AI Procurement in a Box guide that will allow governments to effectively learn and adopt the best practices developed.
For more information, contact Kay Firth-Butterfield, Head of AI and Machine Learning, World Economic Forum, at Kay.Firth-Butterfield@weforum.org.