Set up by the government in 2018, the CDEI has a unique remit: to help the UK navigate the ethical challenges presented by AI and data-driven technology. We are led by an independent board of experts from across industry, civil society, academia and government. CDEI publications do not represent government policy or advice.
One of the core building blocks of the CDEI’s COVID-19 response is our repository - a database for novel use-cases of artificial intelligence and data specifically being used to counter and mitigate the effects of COVID-19 around the world. This edition zooms in and identifies ways in which UK local authorities have used data-driven technology in their response to the pandemic. It can be viewed here.
The repository features new schemes and initiatives from across the UK, from Hackney Council’s attempts to combine datasets at a property level to identify vulnerable residents, to Argyll and Bute Council’s trial of drone technology to deliver vital medical supplies across its islands. These and the other examples captured in our repository demonstrate the ingenuity and urgency with which local authorities have responded to the crisis.
In the coming weeks, the CDEI will look more closely at some of these initiatives, and ask whether there are lessons to be learned for the future. What have local authorities found to work in reducing the barriers to beneficial data sharing and use? How have local authorities approached questions of data ethics and governance? And what additional support might local authorities need to continue innovating in their use of data and data-driven technology, while doing so responsibly?
Key findings from the local government repository
- More than half of the repository entries relate to an extension or pivot of existing activity to a new context. This includes both the transitioning of services from in-person to online, and new synthesis of existing data sources.
- The majority of the use-cases arise in the healthcare and digital sectors. This is to be expected given the priority of managing the immediate public health crisis.
- Local authorities have also drawn heavily on data-driven technology to support the education sector and young people.
- The primary purpose of the majority of use-cases has been to support the local response and mitigate the effects of lockdown. However, we are starting to see examples of use-cases designed to build future resilience and aid the recovery; these have been particularly prominent in the transport sector. For example, the Commonplace Mapping Tool which allows users to highlight pinch points across Glasgow City Centre, where measures such as pavement widening and new cycle lanes could be introduced to help people maintain physical distancing.
- The lifespan of these use-cases is uncertain. Whether local authorities continue to draw on data-driven technology to deliver their services will be contingent on need, resourcing, as well as broader social and cultural norms (e.g. the degree of public trust in data sharing).
- We are seeing data being shared between organisations, both public and private, at unprecedented speed and scale. This could present implications for the privacy of data subjects, which local authorities will need to carefully consider.
- Brokerage platforms have helped in managing the immediate public health crisis, primarily by pairing volunteers with those most in need. Many such cases have been hosted on low-code platforms, which make it easier to build digital technology.
- Examples of automation have been limited. However, the health and social care sector has seen some innovative developments, for example Swansea Council's chatbot that helps to triage the requests of people who are experiencing, or at risk of, domestic abuse, and to direct them to the right support.
The repository does not comment on the ethical implications of individual use-cases. As the repository is not exhaustive, we encourage anyone who has visibility of developments we are yet to identify to contribute to the database. Further use-cases can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, which will be monitored by members of the CDEI team.