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Video: transparency and accountability of government algorithms

Algorithms play an increasingly common part in government processes in New Zealand and overseas.

In this video Mark Sowden, Government Chief Data Steward, outlines how Stats NZ is working with other government agencies to improve the transparency and accountability of government use of algorithms.

This work includes drafting an algorithm charter, convening a Data Ethics Advisory Group, and exploring how to build a greater understanding of data ethics.


Video transcript

Government Chief Data Steward

Algorithm assessment report

Algorithm charter

Data Ethics Advisory Group

Video transcript

Kia ora. I’m Mark Sowden, Government Statistician, Chief Data Steward, and Chief Executive of Stats New Zealand. One of the roles of Stats New Zealand is to work with other government agencies to improve the transparency and accountability of the way those agencies work with data and use tools like algorithms.

Because of the growing use of algorithms in service delivery to New Zealanders, in 2018 the Government undertook a review of how algorithms are used across government in terms of delivering services to New Zealanders, focusing on a review of how 14 of our biggest data agencies use algorithms.

We chose the algorithms which inform significant decisions and assessed them against 6 principles for the safe and effective use of data which we developed with the New Zealand Privacy Commissioner. The result was the Algorithm assessment report which was aimed to provide New Zealanders with an understanding of how algorithms are and aren’t used in decision-making and what safeguards there are around the data and the ethics associated with algorithms.

What the report found was that there’s a range of really good safeguards in place, but that we could do more still in terms of including the views of New Zealanders in the development of those algorithms and how they’re used. Effectively, we could do more in terms of transparency and accountability.

We’ve already begun to respond to the report recommendations and we’ve got 3 things underway. Firstly, we’ve developed an algorithm charter which is a public commitment that agencies can sign up to around transparency and accountability to their customers and how they use algorithms.

Secondly, we’ve convened a Data Ethics Advisory Group which is a range of external experts who consider the innovative use of data and the ethics associated with those innovative uses of data and start fostering a public debate about how and when to use tools like algorithms.

Lastly, I’ve begun a bunch of work around how we get a greater understanding of data ethics amongst the New Zealand government workforce who works with data.

I believe these things strike a balance between making sure we access the power of the algorithms to ensure we deliver better services to New Zealanders whilst still maintaining the trust and confidence of New Zealanders in the use of those algorithms.