Government has fostered and embraced important advances in technology, from critical investment in the iPhone and the internet, to early adoption of large-scale computer systems in the 1960s. Today, government is a major holder of data, which data science and artificial intelligence (AI) can harness to improve the design and provision of public services as well as to inform policy-making across all levels of government.

In a new research programme launched today, the Turing aims to foster government innovation: working with policy-makers to explore how data-driven public service provision and policy innovation might solve long running ‘wicked’ policy problems, to develop the ethical foundations for the use of data in policy-making, and to restore government’s role as a leader in tech innovation.

The programme will be led by Professor Helen Margetts, a Turing Fellow and Professor of Society and Internet at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, where she has also been Director of the Oxford Internet Institute from 2011 to 2018.

Helen is a political scientist specialising in digital governance and politics, investigating political behaviour and institutions in the age of the internet, social media and data science. She has published over a hundred books, articles and policy reports in this area, including the recent book Political Turbulence: How Social Media Shape Collective Action (Princeton University Press), which won the W.J.M. Mackenzie prize for the best politics book of 2017, and the earlier book Digital Era Governance (Oxford University Press).

The new programme builds on the Turing’s ongoing work with government. Working with the Institute’s Data Ethics Group — which leads the Turing’s research in understanding the ethical and societal implications of data science and AI — the Institute is advising the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the recently announced Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation and is a founding partner of the Ada Lovelace Institute, which will be launched by the Nuffield Foundation later this year. The Turing is also collaborating with the Information Commissioner’s Office on a framework for explaining the processes, services and decisions delivered by AI, and partnering with the Office for National Statistics Data Science Campus to co-fund 5 PhD places in the coming academic year for students working on areas of mutual research interest in data science for public good.

Commenting on her appointment as Programme Director for Public Policy, Helen said:

“This is a time of tremendous progress for data science and AI research – and we want to maximise the public good benefits of that progress. Policy makers have a huge opportunity to use these technologies to improve the provision of public services, to design more effective policies, and to measure policy outcomes more accurately. However, data science and artificial intelligence can be technically daunting for government, requiring new methodologies and expertise, and introducing new moral dilemmas and bias. We want to help policy-makers to take up these challenges.

“I am delighted to have the opportunity to lead the Turing’s Public Policy programme at such an exciting time. I look forward to working with researchers and policy makers to ensure that data science and AI will improve the lives of as many people as possible.”

Alan Wilson, CEO of the Institute, commented:

“As the national institute for data science and AI, The Alan Turing Institute has a vital role to play in ensuring that these technologies are used for the good of society and everyone in it.  The launch of the Public Policy programme, under Helen’s leadership, serves to underscore our commitment to promoting public policy, regulation and practices that are effective, ethical and equitable. The new programme will lend further strength to our mission to leverage these powerful technologies in order to change the world for the better.”

For more information on the new programme, visit the public policy programme website.