New generative AI models including ChatGPT have shown the world just how powerful the technology can be. Whether utilized to write a song, pass a standardized test, or help fight climate change, we are just scratching the surface of what AI can do.
This transformational technology presents a massive opportunity for federal agencies, in particular. To future proof their organizations and better optimize their workforce, agency leaders must consider the role hybrid human-AI teams can play within their organizations and the most effective strategies to build them.
For the best outcomes, leaders should orient their AI strategy through two lenses: how AI can improve efficiency; and how to add new value to end users. Key to this success is clearly communicating this strategy with employees and starting small.
AI is revolutionizing the modern workplace by offering innovative solutions that significantly enhance efficiency and productivity. From automating repetitive tasks to streamlining projects, It can unlock the full potential of agency workforces.
The technology is able to quickly identify and learn from patterns in data and repetitive tasks, allowing tedious back-office functions to be streamlined or made easier. For example, AI models and applications can be used to complete HR forms, submit timesheets, or pay invoices, freeing up valuable time.
Coupled with human expertise, AI can also be used to uplevel tasks and streamline complex projects. Take, for example, a federal health agency. These agencies need to keep up with ever-changing policies and new research so that they can create informed and effective public health recommendations.
Doing this manually is incredibly tedious and requires hundreds of hours of work. Instead, health agencies can use an AI model to monitor, scan, and tag tens of thousands of documents so that epidemiologists and other subject matter experts can quickly and seamlessly find relevant materials, allowing them to focus on the most important aspects of their work.
Such use cases demonstrate how incorporating AI into routine work optimizes employees’ time so they are able to focus on mission-critical work instead of lower-level, manual tasks. That said, it’s important to think of AI as a tool that will augment human skills and input, rather than replace employees.
Ultimately, utilizing AI will not only improve agency efficiency, but can lead to greater employee satisfaction and retention because they are able to focus on more meaningful work and embrace upskilling opportunities.
Better insights, better services
AI’s benefits also extend beyond the internal workforce. Agency leaders should examine how their organization can utilize AI to deliver a new or added value for end users. Of course, this will look different at every agency depending on mission. But by combining this technology with the right subject matter expertise, AI can be a powerful means to make more informed decisions, ultimately delivering better services to citizens.
One impactful use case? Tapping AI to create custom analytics so that leaders can better understand large datasets. Consider a dataset about climate risk, for example. These vast datasets can contain terabytes to petabytes worth of data, posing a massive challenge for teams to turn this data into actionable insights.
Data teams can deploy machine learning techniques to fill in data where scientific knowledge is lacking or apply AI surrogates in place of expensive and time-consuming simulations. This provides well-rounded and informed insights from the dataset, and in this case, could lead to better predictions of extreme weather events.
This is a key example of how the knowledge of subject matter experts and AI can be combined to help identify the most important takeaways from an almost incomprehensible amount of data, leading to better insights and ultimately better services for citizens.
Start slow and communicate
It is clear AI can greatly augment the federal workforce and improve mission delivery for citizens, but as leaders begin implementing the above strategies, they must ensure they are clearly communicating with employees. This includes setting expectations around timelines and use cases, clearly outlining goals and objectives and routinely sharing progress on implementation.
AI can spur excitement, but it can also create anxiety among employees. Leaders should regularly communicate the benefits of AI and the opportunities it offers workers to quell any fears or misconceptions around the intentions of the technology. Leaders should also maintain an open-door policy that welcomes feedback and creates a continuous dialogue so employees feel supported, listened to, and can see their feedback reflected in implementation strategies.
In these conversations, it’s important leaders also acknowledge the risks inherent to AI that employees may have concerns about. Data privacy and the responsible use of AI are almost always top of mind. Leaders should address these concerns head-on and explain how their organization mitigates these risks, like by establishing an AI acceptable use policy. However an organization chooses to manage risk, being transparent about potential risk will help build confidence among employees and increase their overall grasp on the power, and limitations, of AI.
A human-centered approach
For the greatest impact, federal agencies should adopt a human-centric approach to AI. While AI holds tremendous potential in strengthening the workforce and streamlining operations, the technology would be moot without human interaction, refinement, and input.
Further, leaders must not forget that embracing AI requires a thoughtful approach to governance, management, and key internal processes. This technology is not without its risks, so agency leaders need to be cognizant of these weaknesses and implement the proper guardrails so they are able to effectively and safely leverage AI.
Above all, mission leaders should be patient, as building effective human-AI hybrid teams is a marathon, not a sprint. But leaders and employees alike should be assured that incorporating this technology into their workplace will yield a more efficient and effective workplace that ultimately will provide better services to the public.
Kyle Tuberson is chief technology officer at ICF, a Reston, Virginia-based global consulting and technology services company.