Dmitry Naumov - Fotolia

UK holds international digital government conference

Countries convened to discuss digital transformation issues and the application to services of technologies such as AI and digital identity.

The UK has hosted a meeting with global government leaders to discuss issues relating to digital transformation and the evolution of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data and digital identity regarding the design of online government services.

Led by digital minister Chris Philp on 18 November, the virtual meeting was attended by his counterparts from Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, Republic of Korea and Uruguay.

According to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) the goal of the international summit was to debate how the use of technology can be advanced to tackle challenges such as the pandemic, climate change, exclusion and inequality.

The technical design of digital government services was among the topics of the meeting, which was followed by the release of a joint statement from the nations involved around their commitments to digitisation and using tech to enhance relations between governments and citizens and drive social impact.

“The past 18 months have proven that digital transformation is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’, but an essential tool with the potential to improve lives by building more efficient and innovative public services,” said Philp, adding that the UK is focused on “harnessing the latest technology to deliver more on people’s priorities and level up the country”.

At the meeting, Philp mentioned ongoing initiatives in the digital front in the UK, in areas such as online services delivered through and digital identity. Last month, the government launched a search for a technology supplier to develop a new common digital identity check for access to government services.

In addition, the digital minister talked about the National AI Strategy, published in September, as another example of initiatives around increasing the transparency of algorithmic-driven decisions in the public sector while boosting AI skills development in government.

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The joint ministerial statement outlined the principles guiding the collective working intentions of the participating countries around digital government. On the use of algorithms, algorithmic decision-making and AI, the countries state the importance of fostering responsible AI development and use in government, while developing skills in the public sector to do so. The document also acknowledged the risks inherent to AI:

“We recognise the need to ensure public confidence through proper management of the potential risks, considering factors such as AI bias, algorithmic transparency, ethical and other safeguards, and data management, among others,” it said.

Similarly, the statement reinforces the roles of data as a “vital asset” for governments globally, and stressed “the potential of responsible data use, which effectively balances considerations including public trust, privacy, security and innovation”.

On digital identity, the leaders noted technology in that field is central to the transformation of public services and can also contribute to enhancing security and driving inclusion.

Conversely, the leaders “recognise the importance of effective governance and putting in place the right frameworks to ensure public confidence in digital identity solutions, protect privacy and data, and promote transparency and inclusion”.

Driving inclusive innovation is another shared aim outlined in the statement, as countries committed to implementing policies to reduce the digital divide issue. This includes enhancing digital infrastructure to reach underserved communities, building digital skills and digital confidence, and designing for accessibility.

The commitments from the digital ministers include better use of data, digital tools and technologies to reduce the environmental impact of governments’ own operations. Moreover, the group noted “there is a need to identify and manage potential sustainability risks associated with digital tools and technologies” and cooperate to reduce the carbon footprint of the lifecycle of hardware and software products.

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