Robots in the Public Sector

 Alastair McCapra, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) shares his thoughts with the IG Central and Local Government Hub on how the public sector could benefit from giving greater consideration to the role of Artificial Intelligence in supporting their communication efforts.

For everyone in the public sector, the pressure to do more with less is nothing new, but it has probably never been so acute.  The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy estimates that local government funding over the past decade has been cut by close to a half, and the NHS is struggling to maintain services as one Trust after another falls into the red.  For public sector communications this drastic shrinkage has been accompanied by a constantly evolving agenda of the need for transparency and trust; rising public expectations of immediacy on social media, and, latterly, by the government’s commitment to open data.

Obviously there is a limit to human capacity, and it feels as though much of the public sector is more or less pushed up against it.  This means that without new tools, it will not be possible to sustain a communications function that works in the public interest, meeting society’s expectations of timely, reliable and transparent communication. This suggests that the public sector is likely to be fertile ground for the adoption of Artificial Intelligence.

For the moment, we tend to associate AI with large global firms.  AI is mostly provided as a service by firms like Amazon and Google, and their clients are major business players and global law firms.  The main public function where there is the scale and demand for AI at the moment is healthcare, and it is likely therefore that AI will be adopted by the NHS for diagnostics and patient management purposes before being more widely taken up in other public services.

Currently, around 12% of the skillset deployed in PR can be automated; in five years, we expect that to rise to nearly 40%.  On the other hand, around one third of the skills currently have no AI support, and for the most part, we do not expect this to change over the next five years.  These skills are the ones most associated with the application of professional judgement.

Our message to public sector communicators is therefore – don’t get hung up on different comms technologies and tools because those areas of your current work may not be around much longer anyway.  Concentrate on developing a broader understanding of your organisation’s strategy and stakeholders, and make the quality of your advice what will keep you in a thriving and worthwhile role in the future.