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Citizen Agency in AI? Democratizing Algorithmic Services in the City (CAAI)

Research Project Awarded Funding by the Kone Foundation, 2022 – 2026

Nitin Sawhney, Karolina Drobotowicz, Kaisla Kajava, and Bruna de Castro e Silva

Algorithmic tools are increasingly being incorporated into public sector services in cities today. The rapid growth of these emerging technologies and services necessitates new forms of algorithmic literacy and awareness among everyday citizens for sufficient understanding in grappling with their implications. How can we involve a wide range of citizen voices in bottom-up engagement, and increase algorithmic literacy and civic agency to make algorithmic public services more accessible?

The CAAI project aims to understand citizens’ algorithmic literacy, agency and participation in the design and development of AI services in the Finnish public sector in order to advance more democratic and citizen-centric digital infrastructures. The project identifies the following research objectives: 1) understanding the values, narratives and discourses embedded in public sector data-centric and algorithmic services, 2) understanding citizens’ level of literacy and perceived agency with regards to algorithmic public services, 3) empowering citizens to critically engage with algorithmic public services, and 4) transforming design of public sector AI services to ensure civic participation.

The role of language is amplified in the translation of information between these domains, both in shaping wider public discourses and in creating transparent and accessible technical documentation. Because the wider impact of algorithmic services, or AI systems in general, is more than the sum of their ones and zeros, extending beyond technical details, this project requires an interdisciplinary exercise of interpretation. The project will offer policy recommendations for Public Administrators and Digital Service Providers, and digital citizenship guides highlighting tools for Citizen Recipients and Citizen Advocates in exercising civic rights and co-designing imaginaries that truly democratize data and algorithmic services in the public sphere.

Image: Alan Warburton / Better Images of AI / Quantified Human / CC-BY 4.0