Published on 26 March 2024
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Announcing the winner of the Bennett Public Policy Prize 2024

Early career researchers and policy professionals awarded for their innovative ideas and generative solutions to current public policy challenges.

In an era marked by technological advancements, the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into public services emerges as a crucial avenue for enhancing efficiency, accessibility, and responsiveness.

However, its successful implementation necessitates a careful balance between harnessing its potential benefits and mitigating ethical concerns, ensuring equitable access, transparency, and accountability in the pursuit of improved governance and service.

Amidst these rapidly changing and challenging times, the Bennett Public Policy Prize 2024 invited early career researchers and policy professionals worldwide to answer the question: How can AI be implemented to improve public services?

Eligible candidates submitted short essays offering real world solutions to the policy question for the opportunity to win the first prize of £5,000 and two runners-up prizes of £1,000. However this year, due to the high calibre of entries, three runners-up prizes are being presented.

The Bennett Public Policy Prize is awarded annually by the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge and supported by Prospect. It aims to showcase the thinking of early career policy professionals and researchers on some of the big challenges of these turbulent times. 

This year’s winner is Samantha Field—a National Medical Director’s Clinical Fellow for the NHS, and founder and co-chair of the AI & Digital Health Special Interest Group for the Faculty of Public Health. Her short essay titled, “Public Health gets personal: The case for an AI-driven personalised prevention platform” argues the prevention of disease should command the attention of our economists and politicians as much as doctors.

She writes that: “The public sector can use the computational power of AI to meaningfully analyse large and varied individual-level datasets of electronic health records, and then use those insights to deliver personalised disease prevention plans. This approach will empower citizens to have greater control over their own health, by helping them better understand their individual levels of risk and supporting them in real time to make meaningful changes to their health.”

One of the three runners-up, Viviana Angely Bastidas Melo, Research Associate in the Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, submitted her essay on “Architecting Public Services: A Socio-technical Perspective on AI Deployment.” She argues that: “The deployment of AI systems to improve public services is a complex and iterative process that both social and technical concepts must be considered and aligned to architect the responsible transformation and enhancement of public services through AI.. By doing so, it not only enhances leadership capacity within local authorities and the private sector but also prioritizes public value creation at the core of efforts aimed at improving public services.”

The second runner-up, John Francis, a research assistant at The Alan Turing Institute, proposed an app called CHARLIE – The Crown’s Helpful AI Representative for all things pubLIc sErvices – to access the hundreds of public services provided by the UK that are usually only hosted on the website. He describes CHARLIE as a personalised AI assistant that has a “trustworthy and familiar interface for each citizen’s interactions with government to help bridge the transition from a transactional citizen-state relationship to a more intimate and useful one.”

The third runner-up, Larissa da Silva Marioni, Principal Economist at NIESR, explored The AI revolution and public services transformation. She writes: “For AI implementation to truly serve the public good rather than exacerbate existing inequities, governments need to guarantee that they are transparent, accountable and ethical about the use of digital technologies in their services.”

The judging panel included Co-Director of the Bennett Institute Prof Diane Coyle, DeepMind Professor of Machine Learning at the University of Cambridge Prof Neil Lawrence, and Global Managing Director at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change Michael McNair.

On the winning entry, Michael McNair said: “AI implementation needs to start with practical applications that improve people’s lives. Samantha Field’s essay makes a compelling case for a customised public health use-case that can be implemented today as a result of AI capabilities that have only recently evolved.”

On Viviana Angely Bastidas Melo’s entry, Prof Neil Lawrence said: “What I enjoyed about the essay was that it worked from the societal challenges towards the technological solutions, recognising the fundamental socio-technical nature of the problems as well as showing a deep understanding of the role of civil administrators and how they could be supported.

Prof Diane Coyle commended the entry by John Francis: “Trying to engage with public services can often involve long waits to connect on the phone only to reach a nightmare of voicemail options. The vision of AI use in public services in this essay makes the experience more efficient, more personalised – and perhaps even more human.”

The judges enjoyed reading Larissa da Silva Marioni’s entry for describing innovative ways that AI can be used as well as the challenges needing to be addressed through promoting transparency, sustainability and data-driven decisions in delivering public services.

For more information about the Bennett Public Policy Prize and to read the winning essay visit:

Image: Dame Fiona Reynolds, Chair of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy Management Board announces the Prize winners at the Institute’s Annual Conference 2024

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy.

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