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Local Governments Band Together to Address Use of AI

Led by the co-chairs named earlier this month, the members of MetroLab Network’s GenAI for Local Governments Task Force will work together to create a comprehensive resource of guidance on the use of AI technology.

A human hand (left) shakes a robot hand (right) over gray background.
Earlier this month, the MetroLab Network announced the appointment of five co-chairs to lead the work of the GenAI for Local Governments task force; these individuals will help guide the work of the task force in creating a tangible policy guide regarding artificial intelligence.

As officials continue to deliberate the most effective path for AI regulation, questions remain as to the best approach to AI for local governments so that they can reap the benefits the technology can provide in efficiency and service delivery.

The task force was initially launched in June 2023, the latest “In the Lab” task force convened by MetroLab Network, each of which aims to create actionable policy guides on various topics. It emulates the model of the previous task force, which focused on data governance and resulted in a 48-page policy guide on the subject. Now, with the rise of questions surrounding generative AI, MetroLab Executive Director Kate Burns said the organization is looking to fill the void of a robust government resource on the topic.

The task force is made up of 130 people from 45 unique local government organizations — including cities, counties, villages, transit and metropolitan planning organizations. More than 15 universities, 20 private-sector organizations and 15 other agencies are participating in this effort.

The co-chairs were determined through an application process through which local government representatives applied to play a leadership role.

One task force co-chair, Tempe, Ariz., Chief Data and Analytics Officer Stephanie Deitrick, said that her reason for getting involved was to combat the lack of a high-quality governance structure for AI. Her city has already been able to adopt policy related to ethical use of AI, but the governance component will be critical for the city’s work, she explained.

“I was really interested in being part of those conversations to say not just ‘how should people be using this,’ but like, ‘what should local government do to actually govern the use of this?’” Deitrick said, underlining the need to look at procurement, equity and potential biases.

Another task force co-chair, Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) Chief Innovation Officer Emily Yates, became interested in large part due to a malware attack SEPTA was hit by several years ago. The recovery process, which is ongoing, has led the organization to be cautious about risk related to new technologies.

Yates hopes that a better understanding of AI will help uncover the potential value of AI tools. For example, Yates noted that as governments face a forthcoming budget deficit with the removal of federal COVID-19 funds, AI could help build capacity within government to add value.

She detailed that it is not necessary for every local government to reinvent the wheel regarding generative AI strategy, but that local governments can learn from others that have found success in this area.

The entire task force will meet monthly, Burns explained. In addition, eight task force subcommittees will focus on issues ranging from community engagement to procurement. The subcommittees will meet separately once a month.

The first phase of the task force’s work was focused on research and subcommittee assignments. The next phase, taking place over the course of the next six months, will be focused on the writing phase. The final phase will involve convening and publishing. MetroLab aims to have its resource library be a one-stop shop for policy recommendation guidelines that could impact AI-related work.

The goal is to have the official policy guide resource published in late spring or early summer 2024, Burns said.

She also noted that there is a goal is to have an in-person gathering to discuss what has been learned through this process. In addition, the resource is intended to act as a “living document” that will be updated as policy changes and new policy updates are implemented.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.