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Algorithms improve government policies and services

Algorithms improve government policies and services, but need to keep focus on transparency and accountability – Media release

25 October 2018

A report by the Government Chief Data Steward and the Government Chief Digital Officer provides valuable insights into the use of algorithms by government agencies.

The report also suggests how their use can be improved for both fairness and transparency.

Computer algorithms (procedures or formulas for solving a problem or carrying out a task) have become an increasingly important tool for analysing data.

“The report released today shows how algorithms are helping us to deliver better policies and services, but it also reminds us of the need to take care in their use. There’s plenty of scope to lift our game,” Government Chief Data Steward Liz MacPherson said.

The report, a first of its kind in New Zealand and internationally, examines use of algorithms in 14 government agencies.

“Algorithms are an important part of government evolving to provide services that work better for all of us, and also make it easier for citizens to engage with government,” Government Chief Digital Officer Paul James said.

The report includes case studies that highlight how algorithms are already enabling innovative solutions to complex problems.

One example is an algorithm being used by Work and Income to identify young people at risk of long-term unemployment, so they can be offered assistance. This provides a great example of the way these techniques can help those who may be in need.

Recommendations in the report include maintaining human oversight, involving those who will be affected, promoting transparency and awareness, regularly reviewing algorithms that inform significant decisions, and monitoring for adverse effects.

“New Zealand has robust systems and principles in place around the safe use of data, but as techniques become more sophisticated we must remember to keep the focus on people and make sure the things we are doing are for their benefit,” Ms MacPherson said.

Read the Algorithm Assessment Report.


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