Government by Algorithm - Protecting Democratic Values in the Deployment of Artificial Intelligence by the Public Sector

Heather Broomfield’s doctoral research is concerned with the appropriate governance of the adoption of Artificial Intelligence and other data driven tools by the public sector.

Binary data bitstream speeding around the digital earth globe

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About the project

The Norwegian public sector is undergoing a profound digital transformation. A central pillar of this transformation being the realisation of a data driven Government, which the OECD has identified as an apparently untapped opportunity, given Norway’s highly digitised status. Artificial Intelligence (AI) married with the vast amounts of data held by the public sector, is seen to be a major catalyst for the realisation of this data-driven condition.

Experience with the extensive adoption of AI within the private sector and the more limited usage within the public sector, exemplifies that whilst the benefits are potentially considerable, it is increasingly clear that not all applications nor indeed the consequences are wholly desirable. Maximising the benefits and avoiding the pitfalls here has brought the challenge of algorithmic governance to the fore. The public sector shares many governance challenges with the private sector; however, ethical and conscientious implementation of AI is more complex in the public sector.

Ensuring that democratic values are maintained, whilst reaping the benefits of ‘data driven government’ and herein the adoption of AI in the public sector sphere, requires deep deliberation.

Heathers research aims to find answers to the following questions:

  • What is the status of the deployment of AI in the Norwegian public sector?
  • Which risks and challenges are considered significant and do they differ depending on the environment within which the AI is to be deployed?
  • What are the most pressing governance issues, if the Norwegian public sector is to preserve trust and the democratic values upon which it is built?
  • What are the potential remedies and how might they be implemented?

This overall plan is to establish an overview and baseline for AI adoption in the Norwegian public sector and test whether the risks and challenges already identified in the current research, are also relevant to the Norwegian context. It will then look at whether there are nuances in this picture, depending on the digital maturity of the organisation and its access to data. Finally, it will proceed to identifying, critically evaluating and recommending potential remedies.

A multi-disciplinary approach will be taken, concentrating primarily on the legal, ethical and social challenges emerging in the adoption of this technology within the public sector. Much of the research will be performed empirically and is inspired by critical data and algorithm studies.


The main objective of this project is to critically interrogate the potential benefits and pitfalls of AI deployment in the Norwegian public sector and consider what appropriate governance measures could be employed - to ensure that the democratic values and principles of the Norwegian government and the high levels of trust it enjoys from citizens, are maintained and preserved, in the scramble to realise a data-driven public sector.

The thesis is due to be submitted at the end of November 2023.


Heather is a senior advisor in the Norwegian Digitalisation Agency. The project is funded under the Norwegian Research Councils public sector PhD programme.

Published Apr. 14, 2020 8:34 AM - Last modified Apr. 14, 2020 9:30 AM