New AI research project investigates migrant trust and inclusive digital public services

Article by Samuli Ojala, Aalto University
Published: 15.5.2023

Brief excerpt:

Finland is renowned for its high levels of trust in government and public institutions, as well as its advanced digitalisation of public services. Yet, trust isn’t equally distributed throughout Finnish society, and migrants in Finland may not always share positive experiences of trust towards authorities or digital services. 

The Trust-M project is a partnership between the City of Espoo, Aalto University, University of Helsinki, and Tampere University. The project team will investigate shared and overlapping challenges in immigration, societal trust, and digital public services. 

‘With our project partners, we are examining how trust is reflected in current digital public services among migrants,’ says Nitin Sawhney, professor of practice at Aalto University’s Department of Computer Science and the lead principal investigator for the Trust-M research consortium. 

‘Based on this understanding, we’ll design hybrid human-AI digital services that incorporate culturally constructed notions of trust and create a pilot version of a multimodal and conversational AI system that migrants could use to more easily access relevant information and better engage with public service providers.’

From research to society

Migrants are not a clear-cut group, but a heterogeneous mix of people from various socio-economic backgrounds, nationalities, and education levels. Developing public services to meet these diverse needs is one of the most pressing challenges for an ageing welfare society. It’s not enough to entice people to move to the country — migrants must also find meaning and purpose in their new communities. 

In the City of Espoo, the share of foreign-language residents has increased from four per cent in 2000 to twenty per cent in 2022. However, the relative unemployment rate for this demographic is nearly two and a half times higher than Finnish citizens, while local companies in many industry sectors are experiencing severe labor shortages. 

Among migrants arriving from outside the EU, employment rates in Finland are the lowest in the OECD. Although employment levels among immigrants have increased, until recently the gap between migrants and citizens in labour force participation has been 10-20 per cent, whereas the OECD average is one per cent. Moreover, less than half of female migrants in Finland are employed. 

‘One size fits no-one in migration,’ says Teemu Haapalehto, director of immigration affairs at the City of Espoo. ‘We have to take the diversity of our residents into account and ensure a sufficient variety of services and service channels to improve integration and support the civic agency of migrants.’

With a better understanding of both digitalisation and trust, the research team can drive innovative thinking in the public sector. According to Sawhney, the challenge is combining diverse sources of emerging knowledge from experts and migrants themselves, supporting multilingual dialogue, and humans-in-the-loop to make such AI-based systems competent, inclusive, and trustworthy over time.

‘The insights, critical thinking and new knowledge coming from academia are essential for us as we are doing our best to build relevant and trustworthy services,’ says Haapalehto. ‘As new technology innovation in human-centered AI emerges, we’ll understand possibilities to improve our integration efforts further.’ 

Read the full article here: https://www.aalto.fi/en/news/new-ai-research-project-investigates-migrant-trust-and-inclusive-digital-public-services