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Using data and AI to solve "wicked" problems

The programme aims to foster government innovation and develop the ethical foundations for the use of data in policy-making

Professor Margetts:
Professor Margetts:

The UK-based Alan Turing Institute is launching a new research programme in data science and artificial intelligence (AI) for public policy.


Led by Professor Helen Margetts, a Turing Fellow and Professor of Society and Internet at the University of Oxford, the programme aims to foster government innovation. Researchers will work with policy-makers to explore how data-driven public service provision and policy innovation might solve long running ‘wicked’ policy problems to develop the ethical foundations for the use of data in policy-making and to restore government’s role as a leader in tech innovation.


The new programme builds on the Turing’s ongoing work with government. Working with the Institute’s Data Ethics Group -- which leads the Turing’s research in understanding the ethical and societal implications of data science and AI -- the Institute is advising the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the recently announced Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation and is a founding partner of the Ada Lovelace Institute, which will be launched by the Nuffield Foundation later this year.


The Turing is also collaborating with the Information Commissioner’s Office on a framework for explaining the processes, services and decisions delivered by AI, and partnering with the Office for National Statistics Data Science Campus to co-fund 5 PhD places in the coming academic year for students working on areas of mutual research interest in data science for public good.


Professor Margetts is a political scientist specialising in digital governance and politics, investigating political behaviour and institutions in the age of the internet, social media and data science. She has published over a hundred books, articles and policy reports in this area, including the recent book Political Turbulence: How Social Media Shape Collective Action and the earlier book Digital Era Governance.


Commenting on her appointment, Professor Margetts said: “This is a time of tremendous progress for data science and AI research – and we want to maximise the public good benefits of that progress.


“Policy-makers have a huge opportunity to use these technologies to improve the provision of public services, to design more effective policies, and to measure policy outcomes more accurately. However, data science and artificial intelligence can be technically daunting for government, requiring new methodologies and expertise, and introducing new moral dilemmas and bias. We want to help policy-makers to take up these challenges.


‘I am delighted to have the opportunity to lead the Turing’s public policy programme at such an exciting time. I look forward to working with researchers and policy-makers to ensure that data science and AI will improve the lives of as many people as possible.’


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