Technology & the Future of Public Sector Work

CITRIS Policy Lab
Oct 19, 2020 · 6 min read

Scott Mauvais, Director of AI and Global Partnerships, Microsoft Philanthropies on the role & responsibility of the tech sector in the future of public sector work.

Scott Mauvais is the Director of AI and Global Partnerships for Microsoft Philanthropies where he leads a new initiative to identify and jointly invest in social impact projects with Microsoft’s largest customers and partners. Scott has been at Microsoft for 20 years. Most recently, he was the Director of Microsoft Cities where he worked with city leaders to apply the global resources and expertise of Microsoft to foster the civic tech ecosystem and create opportunities for economic growth.

The following are his remarks captured from a public panel “The Inclusive Workforce: Strategies to Enhance the Future of Public Sector Work” hosted by the CITRIS Policy Lab.

1. Emerging technologies, especially AI, promise to bring gains in efficiency, effectiveness, and equity in public sector work. What do you believe is the greatest benefit of implementing emerging technologies in public sector work?

I think data is a great benefit. I think the benefit is that data gives governments the ability to make data-driven decisions. You see a lot of government policies that are rooted in assumptions that are oftentimes years old. If we just consider user experience with online government services, you can track user interaction, see where people are engaging, where they’re falling off. Knowing this can help you better design and deploy tools that serve communities better. In the recent report we published with the CITRIS Policy Lab we talk about Code for America and the development of chatbots to help individuals navigate applying for CalFresh. I think with AI and building on that data you can start tailoring experiences to individual users at a scale that you could never before.

2. What is one concrete strategy that can be employed to better maximize benefits and reduce risks from emerging technologies in public sector work?

I think you see a lot of cities setting up Chief Data Officers, Chief City Officers, and Digital Service Departments. These individuals are leading important work to rethink how services are delivered. What they’re starting to do is retool government services with a much more human-centric approach. My concern is that we’ll use artificial intelligence simply to augment the existing processes as opposed to examining what changes are necessary to make the process better for both public sector workers and beneficiaries. The common pushback is limited capacity in cities to undertake this work, but I think we have a couple trends that are beneficial for us. One is that as cities and all workforces move more and more to the cloud that may free up time for individuals to evaluate how they deliver services. Second, we have a new generation of city workers coming in that are digital natives who will bring additional technology skills in to departments that can be applied to some of these problems.

3. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. unemployment rate has reached nearly 15%, that’s about 21 million jobs lost in the U.S. Tech companies like Microsoft have stepped up to provide new modes of training, including free training and reduced cost certifications, to equip workers with new skills to make them more competitive. How are these programs being implemented? And what have been the early findings on their impacts?

At the end of June, Microsoft announced a global training initiative to help individuals build digital skills. Microsoft, Linkedin, and Github have partnered to provide skill training for 25 million people globally to get them prepared to either stay in the workforce or re-enter the workforce if they were impacted by COVID. That is a mixture of bringing together software engineering, IT administration, AI skills training, along with Linkedin Learning and some of the soft skills that they offer.

Using LinkedIn’s Economic Graph, we identified ten career pathways that are in high-demand, and where we had training content that could help people gain skills to pursue those career pathways. These skills include: software engineering, data analysis, but it also includes customer service, financial analysts, and graphic designers. We packaged different learning pathways that people could take to get skills to pursue those professions, including offering industry certifications at reduced rates.

By using LinkedIn’s Economic Graph, we’re able to see not only the jobs available but the skills that are required for those jobs. In the US, we have data on about 60 of the metropolitan areas. This allows us to create a career transition report by a metro area that identifies in-demand jobs in that area and can identify the skills gaps individuals may have between their previous job and an in-demand job. In many cases, a lot of people already have many of the skills for in-demand jobs and the transition is quite seamless. For those who need to skill up, they can access our free trainings.

4. Do you have any suggestions for how we can better ensure that we are building up that workforce that can then enter into the public sector with these skills?

I think we need to train K-12 students a lot more on the use of data and computational thinking. We teach English literature to every student with no expectation that they’re going to all become Pulitzer prize-winning authors. We need some sort of computational thinking training, even though not all of them are going to become Turing award-winning software engineers.

Another strategy to build up the workforce is microtraining. It’s much better if we can keep employer and employee relationships going rather than having them unemployed and trying to reconnect to the workforce. One thing we’re doing with Grab in Indonesia, which is the Southeast Asia version of Uber, is partnering with them to bring microtraining to their drivers. This partnership will enable the drivers to learn soft skills, including interviewing and how to engage in the job market. I think microtraining is going to become much more a part of our future and lifelong learning. Rather than studying intensely until we’re in our early twenties and never learning a thing again, we’re going to see more initiatives to support lifelong education and training.

5. What do you think is the most valuable action you think industry can take to better ensure the maximization of AI’s benefits as it moves into the public sector?

From an industry perspective, I think that we need to make sure that emerging tech, AI in particular, is trusted and used responsibly. If people don’t trust it and people don’t understand it, then the citizens will reject it, regardless of how beneficial it is. Let’s take facial recognition as an example. Microsoft has been an early advocate for regulation. We called for that even before the other tech companies did. Not because we are skeptical of facial recognition but because we felt it was necessary to make sure that it is used in a manner where everyone trusts and agrees with its use. There are important policy trade-off decisions to be made there. And we the tech industry are not elected, we should not be the ones to be making those decisions. These decisions need to be made with our elected leaders and communities. Along those lines, we came up with our ethical principles around artificial intelligence that talk about fairness, privacy, security, reliability, transparency, accountability, and inclusivity. And we’re not alone in doing this. Amazon has a set, Google has a set, IBM has a set. I’m not arguing for ours versus theirs, but we need to make sure that there’s public trust and support for this technology. If we don’t, it will never be successful.

The CITRIS Policy Lab, headquartered at CITRIS and the Banatao Institute at UC Berkeley, supports interdisciplinary research, education, and thought leadership to address core questions regarding the role of formal and informal regulation in promoting innovation and amplifying its positive effects on society.