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  • Writer's pictureNick Smith

Scotland's AI strategy - nothing artificial about its change intelligence

Scotland published a new AI strategy on Monday last week (22nd March), and I spent some time looking through it. There was much that appealed to me, not least because some key emphases aligned with my own way of thinking (let's be honest). But that wasn't all. I realised that I liked it because it exhibited many of the aspects of a good change strategy (or at least a strategy for the early stages of change). Ultimately, it isn't a strategy for technology, but a strategy focused on people, and societal outcomes - a strategy to change things, or to contribute to changing things. And, it's a strategy that's clear on the bigger picture to which it wants to contribute (line of sight to purpose), and one that's been created with the people for whom it wants to deliver outcomes, and designed to work with them in the delivery of those outcomes. It's not a top down strategy to do change to, perhaps even for, the nation and its people. So, as I said, it felt like a good change strategy. It's worth taking a look at.

The ways in which the strategy achieves line of sight to purpose and has people at its centre are worth highlighting - there are lessons we can learn as we develop change strategies. The first of these, line of sight, is fundamentally about alignment with Scotland's National Performance Framework, which sets out:

  • Purpose: the aims of the Framework - talking about opportunities, wellbeing, growth, inequality, and economic, environmental and social progress

  • Values: principles underpinning how those aims will be pursued - addressing how people are to be treated, and the importance of legality and transparency

  • Outcomes: a vision of the difference pursuing the priorities is to make, guiding the focus of efforts - 11 outcomes, all relating to people

  • Indicators: metrics for progress towards the outcomes - 81 of them across the 11 outcomes, with current performance reported (eg as of writing this blog, 14 are showing improved performance, 42 maintained performance, and 13 worsening).

At one level, there's nothing remarkable about this. Except, stop and think about it. How many change strategies and initiatives in which you've been involved have really had a context like this - real clarity about exactly what they need to align with? And how many of those change initiatives have articulated their purpose, approach and outcomes all with clear linkage to overarching organisational purpose, values and outcomes? In my case, fewer than I might have hoped - and, of course, I share accountability to the degree I haven't worked and pushed to make that happen. And it's articulated in an engaging manner - there's even a rich picture.

How about people at the centre of the strategy? Four things from which we can learn might be worth noting:

  • The strategy has been built with consultation, not merely been subject to consultation after development. So, consultation is about what as well as how - not merely the latter. This is national consultation, involving citizens, academics, businesses, and public sector: can we consult as widely with our people and stakeholders about both the 'what' and 'how' of change?

  • There's a commitment to transparency in reporting progress with the strategy, using a 'dynamic', publicly and freely available playbook - updated to reflect progress. How visibly do we report progress with our change initiatives?

  • The 'how', in terms of principles, responds to key concerns raised by those who have been consulted. Specifically, it's clear that during consultation AI raised issues around trust and ethics, with particular concerns for children. So, right at the outset, the strategy lays down principles to which it will adhere, and rather than reinventing wheels it draws on recognised good work by others - in this instance OECD principles for trustworthy AI and UNICEF's policy guidance on AI for children. This feels like a 'front-foot' approach to concerns, rather than the 'back-foot' reactive approaches common in so many change initiatives.

  • As above, the National Performance Framework outcomes, with which the AI strategy is aligned, are people-centric. How people-centric are our change outcomes?

In summary, if change strategies can be constructed this way for a nation, maybe we're capable of raising the bar for our organisational change strategies. Do you think?

Here's a postscript: I'm a Scot, and I'm delighted by the nature and presentation of Scotland's National Performance Framework. It's communicated in an engaging and highly visual creative way, and with outcomes that connect; it's transparent in its reporting. It's been brought to life. So, because I'm British too, I went looking for a UK national performance framework, wondering what it would say about the outcomes we're targeting, and how it would communicate them. I found something - here. Take a look, maybe I'm missing something, but it comes across to me as about the government not the nation, and about budgets and accounts, not outcomes that directly connect with me and my fellow citizens. And it looks dull. One framework feels about engaging people for a journey of change in which they have a hand, the other about what's being done for (rather than with) people. Hmmm.

Contains public sector information (and illustrations) licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0 . Copyright Crown Copyright; Scotland's AI Strategy 2019 [sic]; UNICEF 2020

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