NSW State and Local Governments on Automation Overdrive: Report

The use of automated decision-making (ADM) systems by state and local governments in NSW is widespread, varied in function and technology, and actively expanding according to a report from the NSW Ombudsman.

A majority of state government departments and agencies that responded to a survey (46 of 77) reported using or planning to use ADM systems. Of NSW’s 128 local councils, 35 responded, with 14 reporting a total of 77 ADM systems performing a range of purposes, with 23 of the reported systems planned, in development or being piloted.

Use of ADM systems was more likely in metropolitan and city councils, with no concrete ADM systems reported in rural councils.

“We found ADM systems involved across government services, from low to high stakes contexts”, said Professor Kimberlee Weatherall, Professor of Law, The University of Sydney Law School and Chief Investigator, ARC Centre of Excellence on Automated Decision-Making and Society (ADM+S).

Key findings included:

- The NSW government sector use of ADM systems is widespread and increasing;

- NSW government organisations are interested in AI, but simpler forms of automation and data linkage and matching are widespread;

- There is widespread use of sensors, computer vision and analysis, including use by local councils;

- Humans are mostly ‘in the loop’ for now, but further automation is a short step away; and

- There may be a need for wider expertise and testing at the development stage of ADM systems.

“We found that a mapping of this kind is challenging for a whole range of reasons, and so we also provide insights, learned through the process of conducting this mapping, about how to identify, and record ADM system use in government.

“We believe this will be useful both for researchers, and for governments seeking to be transparent and accountable for their use of technology”.

This research was undertaken as a partnership between ADM+S and the NSW Ombudsman seeking better visibility on when and how ADM systems are being used to support or replace the work of NSW public servants in making decisions that affect the public in NSW.

NSW Ombudsman, Paul Miller PSM said, “we hope that all departments, agencies and local councils that have contributed to this research will find the analysis and insights in the report of value, and useful as they continue to consider and pursue their own current and future ADM projects”.

The project follows from a ground-breaking report on the use of technology in government decision-making published by the NSW Ombudsman in 2021.

The full report is available HERE

At both the state government and local government level, ADM systems are being used for a range of purposes, although the pattern of use at each level is different. Local councils primarily reported using ADM systems for public service delivery, user interaction, resource allocation and planning, whereas use in state government was more diverse, with a strong emphasis on compliance.