Published on January 5, 2024, 4:40 am

Building Data Literacy: Empowering State And Local Governments For The Ai Revolution

Artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing various sectors, and state and local governments are no exception. However, for AI tools to be effective, they require good quality data. Without it, these tools become nothing more than conduits for “garbage in, garbage out.” To ensure good data quality, it is crucial for the public workforce to possess strong data literacy skills.

The World Economic Forum’s May 2023 Future of Jobs Report highlighted that companies view AI and big data as a top training priority until 2027. This prioritization is especially important for companies with over 50,000 employees. The report also stated that the ability to efficiently use AI tools now surpasses other technology skills such as computer programming, network and cybersecurity skills, general technological literacy skills, design and user experience.

However, the public sector is lagging behind other industries in terms of adopting AI technologies and prioritizing training in AI and big data. One reason for this delay might be fear. Government officials may feel anxious about promoting data skills among their employees while lacking those skills themselves. New Jersey Chief Innovation Officer Beth Noveck pointed out the challenge of promoting data literacy without having mastered it personally.

One way to overcome this fear is by making AI accessible and relatable. Noveck suggested that employees should have hands-on experience with generative AI tools like ChatGPT at home. By experimenting with such tools in their daily work, employees can gain confidence in using AI effectively.

In addition to building data literacy skills, governments need to train employees as business analysts and data architects rather than solely hiring data analysts. Mapping relevant data to various government functions requires a holistic understanding of how information is consumed and delivered back to agencies and the public.

Dean Johnson, a senior executive government advisor at Ensono, recommends hands-on training as the best approach to help employees understand how data aligns with agency needs. According to Skillsoft’s 18th annual IT Skills and Salary Report, upskilling and reskilling employees is key to achieving success in using data for generative AI. Investing in training rather than simply hiring more analysts is the path towards comfortable data utilization.

Moreover, governments will also need additional workers to ensure compliance with data protection laws at state and federal levels. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and state-level privacy laws impose strict regulations that require dedicated personnel to manage vast amounts of sensitive data.

Ensuring the ethical use of AI is equally important. Governments must guard against potential biases in AI systems as well as misinformation and disinformation generated by generative AI. Training both the systems themselves and the employees who leverage them is crucial in reducing instances of inaccurate information disseminated to constituents.

Government leaders recognize the significant consequences of inaccuracies when it comes to providing services to constituents. While 80-90% accuracy may suffice for sports, it can be devastating in government services. CIO John Matelski from Dekalb County, GA emphasized the importance of minimizing inaccuracies when dealing with public services.

As AI continues to shape the future of state and local governments, building strong data literacy skills among employees is imperative. Governments should utilize hands-on training programs that make AI tools accessible and relevant. By upskilling and reskilling their workforce, governments can harness the power of AI while ensuring ethical use, maintaining accuracy, and meeting privacy requirements.


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