Exploring public sector resource allocation algorithms

Exploring public sector resource allocation algorithms

Date: Tuesday 16 February 2021, 10.00AM - 1.00PM
Special Interests Group Meeting
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This workshop will start with an overview of the history of both resource allocation algorithms that affect groups of people and of the current work on algorithms that make decisions about individuals.

It will explore the current debates on resource allocation algorithms through talks from and discussion with practitioners working on them.

Participants will discuss common themes, ongoing activity and gaps where additional activity may be required.

The event and recommendations will be written up and published with the aim of informing further action.
There is a lot of attention on the impact of algorithmic decision making on individuals, it can seem like there is less attention on the use of algorithms and data to inform decisions that affect the allocation of resources across the public sector.

The public sector needs to allocate funds to support public services like health, transport and R&D and make decisions such as where criminal courts should be placed, or how many intensive care beds should be available in different places across the country.

Data can help inform these decisions. As with any data it is created through a process that might include one or more algorithms, formulae, models or spreadsheets. These processes are part of policy-making processes that involve a number of professions using differing codes of practice in their development, maintenance and use. Data and statistical techniques are likely to form part of this process, but the output is not a statistic.

Through their effect on the services people use these decisions have a large impact on people’s lives yet the algorithms and data that inform them can be inaccessible, opaque, and contain errors and embedded policy assumptions.

While there is debate about legislative safeguards and practices for designing processes for decisions about individuals, for example the data protection rights that surround automated decision making, there are fewer and less well understood safeguards and practices for processes and data that inform decisions about groups.

A number of people have been exploring these resource allocation processes. In this workshop we will discuss some of this ongoing work to see what common themes emerge and where further activity may, or may not, be needed.
Professor Sheena Asthana from the Plymouth University School of Law, Criminology and Government on the history of resource allocation processes

Imogen Parker, Head of Policy at the Ada Lovelace Institute, on their work exploring whether meaningful transparency can bring accountability to public sector automated decision making about individuals 

Tom Forth, Head of Data at ODI Leeds, on his work exploring public sector funding for research and development
Peter Wells for the RSS Data Ethics & Governance Section
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