As 2023 closes, global government innovation labs, civic technology hubs and visionary public sector leaders gaze hopefully towards the months ahead, sensing government technology and digitally-driven policymaking are poised upon the cusp of a new transformational era. From advanced integrations of artificial intelligence across bureaucratic operations and service delivery to breakthroughs in participatory policy design and experimental governance all the way through to next-generation digital public infrastructure development, 2024 shows enormous promise.
Here, we peer into the forces, technologies and Initiatives across sectors likely to define GovTech over the next pivotal year while evaluating unique opportunities to further Scotland’s aspirations of becoming a globally recognised hub of high-impact and ethical government innovation.
Generative AI Hits an Inflection Point
2023 witnessed generative AI become virtually ubiquitous across private sector digital offerings, from chat-based search on Google to unnervingly coherent conversational health advice bots from Cigna insurance. As models continue rapidly advancing in sophistication, 2024 may prove the breakout moment when governments worldwide move beyond small-scale pilots and proofs-of-concept into mission-critical production deployments with potentially profound impacts on bureaucratic function.
From automatically generating detailed 3D visualisations of decaying infrastructure for engineers to real-time translations enabling immigrants to intuitively navigate policy documents in native languages to simulated scenario planning granting officials rapid feedback on proposed interventions, prompts focused applications of this exponentially accelerative technology promise to supercharge governance capacity.
Scotland in particular, with its renowned machine learning talent pipeline and centres of excellence around data-driven policy innovation in Edinburgh and Dundee, possesses enormous opportunity to lead in establishing guardrails and best practices for ethical, accountable integrations that could reverberate globally.
Citizen Co-Creation Becomes a Mainstay
Raising citizen participation and trust in policymaking remains an urgent priority for governments facing a crisis of legitimacy amidst socioeconomic turbulence. 2024 may signify major strides from sporadic small-scale pilots of participatory democracy technologies like online deliberation platforms, predictive analysis models leveraging public values and AI-guided preference aggregators towards such tools becoming normalised.
Edmonton, Canada will scale its much-lauded CityHall.com platform enabling residents to propose ideas, deliberate solutions with neighbours and directly submit policy recommendations. The UK Parliament’s AI Committee experiments with “propositional idea mining” to intelligently source creative ideas from the public. Estonia launches a nationwide participatory budgeting initiative where citizens help allocate over 5% of discretionary funds via digital tools.
Scotland’s consistently high digital inclusion could lend itself towards establishing the country as a testbed for novel participatory policy innovations – especially if focused on enhancing outcomes for disadvantaged communities.
The Rise of Policy Innovation Labs
Experimentation sandboxes like India’s Aapti Institute which rapidly prototype alternative welfare policies at small scale prior to potential systemwide adoption are becoming viewed globally as models for evidence-driven governance. 2024 may see such labs transition core to government rather than residing at the periphery as more leaders recognise conventional policy cycles moving glacially on 5-10 year timescales appear fundamentally unsuited to the pace of modern technological disruption.
Might Scotland and the Scottish GovTech Cluster position themselves at the vanguard by founding an Advanced GovTech Innovation Lab bringing together data scientists, policy experts and impacted citizens to deliberately experiment with dysfunctions in chronic issues like public health, unemployment and educational inequality? The combination of world-class data talent with tight geographic cohesion across diverse regions presents fertile ground for pioneering policy innovation approaches the world could emulate.
The Promise and Peril of Public-Private Partnerships
Strapped budgets make the pooling of resources and knowledge across spheres tempting. But problems abound – from AWS using city data to boost profits to Google dominating the online civics domain. 2024 calls for establishment of clear contractual guardrails as GovTech PPPs expand while innovating alternative models – like codeveloping solutions with local non-profit entities anchored to community needs not shareholder profits.
Scotland boasts an ecosystem ripe for nurturing such alternative public interest partnerships given its strong social enterprise ethos. Could Scotland seed an entity akin to the UK’s Open Contracting Partnership emerging from civil society to empower local authorities and health boards in asserting their interests when procuring tech products and services? The possibilities are vast.
Of course, gazing even 12 months ahead risks speculative optimism. But sometimes progress demands bold vision as catalyst. If nothing else, we hope 2024 witnesses GovTech continuing its shift away from leaderless inertia towards becoming the primum movens enabling more vibrant, inclusive and impactful governance benefitting all people across Scotland and around the world. The opportunities have never been greater at this intersection of technological innovation and leadership courage.
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