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Office of AI publishes procurement guidelines


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Public sector organisations have been urged to define the benefits of using AI and forming a strategy for the technology before beginning a procurement.

The Government’s Office for Artificial Intelligence has highlighted the factors in draft guidelines for the public sector in procuring AI.

They include advice now familiar in the public sector digital field to look beyond the solutions on offer to the outcomes desired, and to take the ethical factors into account.

One of the early steps is to define the benefits and assess the risks of using AI by applying the first principle of the Data Ethics Framework. This includes setting out clearly in the invitation to tender why AI is regarded as relevant to the challenge and the public benefit that is desired.

Along with this is the need to conduct initial impact assessments before beginning the process and to revisit these at decision points.

Sharing insights

This is followed by including the procurement within a strategy for AI adoption, aligning this with relevant initiatives from across government, and establishing networks to share insights with others.

The other steps are:

  • explore procurement processes that focus on the challenge rather than a specific solution;

  • incorporate references to legislation and codes of practice in the invitation to tender;

  • articulate the technical feasibility and governance considerations of obtaining relevant data;

  • develop a strategy to address technical and ethical limitations of using training data;

  • conduct procurement with diverse multidisciplinary teams;

  • focus on mechanisms of accountability and transparency through procurement;

  • consider the lifecycle management of the AI system;

  • and create a level and fair playing field for suppliers.

The Office of AI says the guidelines are necessary due to the relative immaturity of the market and lack of standards, which make it difficult to choose from existing procurement routes; and because it necessary to take in the ethical factors related to using the technology.

Starting point

It describes them as a starting point, not a “silver bullet”, and says they have been structured around the main commercial stages in a procurement: preparation and planning; publication; selection, evaluation and award; and contract implementation.

They are aimed not just at public sector procurement officials and commercial teams, but policy officials, data specialists, and chief data, information, technology and innovation officers – as well as suppliers who want to better understand best practice.

The Office of AI was set up last year by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in an effort to make the most of the economic and service opportunities in the technology.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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