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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Laird

AI in public services – where do you start?

Andrew Laird looks at the potential of AI in public services and the lessons learnt from the recent exploratory work completed by a group of five ambitious health and social care providers.


The potential of new technologies, underpinned by Artificial Intelligence, has been heralded for a number of years now. With the advent of ChatGP and similar tools, it now cannot be ignored. For public service leaders, if you haven't already, 2024 should be the start of serious thinking on how AI applies to your service - including the benefits and risks.


The Mutual Ventures team have been supporting a group of five large social enterprise providers of health and social care services to explore the opportunities and threats of AI, so they can make sensible investment decisions and guard against the various risks AI presents. The services covered by the organisations include adult social care, community health services and primary care.


As part of this work, we conducted a survey of the staff groups, as well as more in depth workshops with their leadership teams. Through this engagement we established how familiar staff teams are with AI, how optimistic or pessimistic they are about its impact, and which areas they think it has most immediate application.

 

Across the organisations, the majority of staff had 'vague understanding' of AI. Only around 20% claimed to have a 'good understanding'. Most staff had never used an AI tool and, of those that had, the vast majority had used AI for non-work purposes. These results are shown in the graphs below.


Building on this baseline we structured our engagement with the health and social care organisations around three key use cases, as set out below:

 For each of these areas we asked staff if they thought using AI had more benefits or risks. The results are shown in the graphs below.


Our findings on using AI


Staff had mixed feelings about using AI as a means to engage with service users. The Primary Care providers (including GPs) were cautious , with most thinking there were more risks than benefits to it. The other providers of adult social care and community services were more enthusiastic about the potential of AI to help provide non-medical support and information to service users.


But there were a lot of staff who felt they didn’t know enough to make a judgement. Some of the organisations were already experimenting with new forms of AI-powered technology (for example chat bots), but these were always designed and maintained by a very small number of expert staff.


AI-powered data analytics was an area where people could see real possibilities. By a comfortable margin, there were more staff in each organisation seeing potential benefits as outweighing risks. Our workshops explored this in much more detail and there was enthusiasm about the potential of AI to help the organisations understand their service users better, and perhaps predict an approaching crisis. However, it was acknowledged that, for the moment, the handbrake on as we are a long way from having a sufficient volume, quality and access to data for it to be a near-term possibility.


Productivity and back-office support was also an area where there was substantially more staff members who saw benefits outweighing risks, as the graphs above indicate. This was caveated with a concern around potential impact on jobs. But it should also be said that the workshops revealed that all organisations saw AI as a tool to supplement and support rather than replace staff. There was a lot of enthusiasm for AI products and tools which could make staff more productive and have more time to focus on their interpersonal caring roles.


Conclusion


Whilst there was considerable excitement at the prospect of AI supporting health and care organisations to better analyse their data and understand and support their service users more effectively, we found that all organisations thought that the obvious place to start was in and back-office productivity and support. This is also the area where the most advanced available tools are, such as Microsoft Co-Pilot and various financial and HR products.


Overall, it is encouraging that these five health and care providers are taking the opportunities and risks of AI seriously. As should be the case across public services, they understand that they cannot simply licence the wide-spread adoption of a technology that cannot explain itself, sometimes “hallucinates” and can show bias. But neither can they afford to ignore the potential benefits. All public services need to find a sensible middle ground where they are both bold and careful. It feels like these organisations are doing exactly that.


To read more about MV's work on AI and its potential for public services click here.


For any questions or comments on this article, you can get in touch with Andrew andrew@mutualventures.co.uk.

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