Blog Post

December 18, 2023

How AI startups can improve public services, today - PUBLIC and Amazon Web Services (AWS) team up to host AI in the Public Sector Showcase

PUBLIC partnered with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to deliver a showcase which brought leading AI startups together with key government stakeholders to help drive the adoption of AI-powered solutions to improve government services. In this blog, we share more details about the event along with insights which emerged from the day of pitches and engaging, collaborative discussion around what both startups and government can do to support AI adoption in the public sector.

At PUBLIC Hall in Westminster, on December 6, 2023, policymakers, civil servants, government digital leaders, and innovators gathered to explore the potential of AI in the public sector. Recent advancements in AI have expanded HMG’s ambition to use AI over the past year. The UK Government Chief Technology Officer, David Knott, opened the event and spoke about how this ambition can be met, including:

  • Developing clear guidance around privacy, ethics & responsible use
  • Increasing capability and skills to match the scale of the opportunity
  • Building strong partnerships both inside and outside of Government

In the context of the steps the UK Government is taking, PUBLIC has sought to address the limited opportunities for public sector organisations to see real world solutions that can be provided, especially by startups. That’s why PUBLIC was thrilled to partner with AWS to design and host an AI showcase featuring startups pitching innovative ideas across four core challenge areas - with the aim of exposing public sector stakeholders to a range of AI solutions that are designed to meet real-world problems. 

Ultimately, it is small, dynamic startups and SMEs that are often on the cutting edge of bringing forward the ideas and tools as part of that journey. Startup and SME providers can offer user friendly, cost-effective AI solutions that can transform the user experience, back-office operations and decision making process across the public sector.

The showcase was a productive half-day of startup pitching, sharing of insights by public sector leaders, and discussion. The range and number of key stakeholders present along with the collaborative energy in the room communicated one clear message: the opportunity for AI startups to make positive impacts across the public sector is huge, and government leaders are keen to engage. 

Importantly, the showcase presented in practical terms what these impacts look like: more personalised outcomes, more efficient public services, and helping to meet the needs of users - i.e. citizens - more rapidly. While AI and other emerging technologies can often seem like things which are perpetually ‘to come’, this showcase stands as a clear demonstration that there are startups in the UK who can use AI to help public services deliver better outcomes - today. It’s now up to government leaders to take them up on this opportunity.

What problems need solving - and where can AI make the most meaningful impact?

In order to ensure that the showcase spoke directly to real-world problems, we conducted a discovery process to identify challenges faced by civil and public servants on the ground. To do this, we collaborated with various public sector organisations to understand which challenges they were facing or outcomes they wanted to achieve that could be met with AI.

The input we received from the Government Digital Service, the Environment Agency and the Ministry of Justice led to three focus areas where AI can make an impact on existing challenges - these formed the basis of how startups applied to take part in the showcase. These challenges were:

Government Digital Service: User Interface (UI) Optimisation

For citizens, navigating public services online can be a challenge. Given the wide audience that online services often need to be used by, finding and accessing the service or information an individual needs may not be straightforward. AI can help tailor a user’s journey to their requirements to personalise their online experience.

The optimisation and personalisation of online public services can ensure that people get the support they need and improve the overall efficiency of administering public services across a range of departments. 

Environment Agency: Monitoring Compliance

Monitoring whether organisations remain compliant with permits can be a complex task for regulators, often requiring various data inputs and resource-intensive manual monitoring. When possible non-compliance is identified, it is also important for regulators to prioritise what to deal with first, but currently prioritisation is not as dynamic or responsive to evolving demands as it could be. 

AI tools that can help monitor whether businesses are remaining compliant with permits and/or help guide resources to intervene when there is non-compliance.

Ministry of Justice: Case Management

The process of dealing with individual cases and making good decisions within the public sector often requires a large amount of information. Whether it be working directly with service users or internally with colleagues on policy, good decision making is enabled by high-quality evidence being accessible. 

The ability for AI tools to collate the relevant information from internal and external data sources based on the conditions of a given case - whether it be on external or internal facing cases - and present it to colleagues can boost productivity of civil servants and optimise or support decision making.

What solutions are out there?

We received an incredible response to these challenges. A wide range of startups, all with different tools and perspectives, responded to show how their solutions could help the public sector meet its challenges. 

Across the three challenges, as well as an open call to any other provider whose solution could be transformative for the public sector but did not fit into one of the challenge areas, we received applications that showed how vibrant the UK AI startup landscape is. By utilising different types of AI and building on the capabilities of different teams, the task of whittling down the submissions to a shortlist that could showcase at the event proved difficult. However, eleven were selected and ultimately pitched at the showcase to the government departments who helped us develop the challenge areas along with an assortment of others from across government and the AI ecosystem.

The solutions showcased were very diverse, but two key types of solution emerged, each of which poses different opportunities for the public sector:

Enablers

We heard from several startups whose solutions can help enable civil and public servants to use other types of technology to deliver better outcomes. Whether it was how synthetic data can help personalise public services without compromising data privacy or how AI-enabled user insight gathering could be a guiding force for new developments, a wide range of AI enablers received lots of engagement from public sector representatives who joined us. 

We also saw pitches from companies whose tools can provide holistic insights on a case, helping decision makers rapidly navigate vast amounts of internal and external data. The role AI can play in ensuring that other AI tools work safely was also a topic of discussion.

Front-line tools

The ability for AI solutions to be delivering value directly was another persistent theme of the showcase. Across all three challenges and the open challenge, the ability for tools developed by startups to be used on the frontline were showcased. 

This included the generation of alerts to possible non-compliance, solutions to help get information from people with accessibility needs and tools to better manage phone calls made to public sector organisations. This broad range of pitches demonstrated the variety of tools that can help enable good outcomes for all.

What’s next for driving AI adoption in the public sector?

Aside from hearing so many exciting, innovative AI solutions which hold the potential to address current public sector challenges, the showcase provided a forum to discuss what different stakeholders can do to support AI adoption in government. Based on the perspectives shared on the day, we’ve outlined a few key takeaways for different stakeholders groups to take forward:

  • In order to unlock the full potential of AI and other new technologies, Government must collaborate more with the startup & SME ecosystem
  • The good news is Government leaders recognise the huge value working with startups bring, from helping to identify emerging use cases to challenging Government with innovative solutions and new ways of thinking about existing challenges
  • The tools developed by startups and SME must be user-centric to respond to the complex needs of Government in order to effectively engage with the public sector market. Ensuring AI is adopted responsibly must also be a consideration of providers, as well as the public sector.
  • There is huge appetite - and growing need - for similar forums which support direct collaboration between Government and the startup ecosystem if we want to capture the opportunities AI presents in transforming the way we deliver public services.

Full details of all the startups that showcased can be found here.

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AWS

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Chiara Carlini

Head of Open Innovation Programmes

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James Katz

Senior Associate

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