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Zencity's Approach to Gen AI: Embracing Impact Responsibly

Zencity's Approach to Gen AI: Embracing Impact Responsibly
Zencity's Approach to Gen AI: Embracing Impact Responsibly


Technology has been really exciting lately. My six-year-old son is learning how to read, and as part of that - he comes across words he doesn’t understand. He likes to ask about words he doesn’t know how to pronounce or what they mean. So last week, I created the Word Pronouncer GPT - a voice interface where you can say letters to, and it will tell you what the word is and what it means. It took me 10 minutes, and he has been using it every day.

Like the first iPhone release, the first days of the internet, and many other technological revolutions, the Generative AI progress over the last 18 months has sparked the imagination and has the world dreaming about the “art of the possible'' - how can our lives and our work look with these models? These tools are incredibly effective at doing two things:

  • Understanding:  These tools can understand, almost on a human level,  natural language commands, long spreadsheets of data, displayed images, etc.

  • Creating: They can create text, images, and video (almost) like professionals.

These capabilities are both incredibly relevant to government work - which is a “data heavy” environment full of unstructured data and an industry full of human interaction. With each breakthrough, from ChatGPT to image creators to Microsoft’s co-pilot - the possibilities expand and grow - and so do the risks.

At Zencity, we find ourselves at the bleeding edge of the AI revolution. AI has always been a big part of the tools we are building and of the way we tackle the key challenge of understanding community needs. As a recognized leader in responsible AI for government, being the only govtech company named in the CB Insights AI100 list and the first company to release GenAI features for local government, we have witnessed remarkable momentum over the past 18 months as more agencies move to embrace AI. But with this momentum, we feel a profound responsibility to set the standard for quality AI usage in local government - that’s why we're sharing our AI strategy, setting a benchmark for openness and cooperation in government tech. 

Principles of Our AI Strategy

First, we want to share what are the key principals we employ when building any AI-based solution. We think these principles are also helpful when evaluating which solutions to adopt:

1. Make A Real Impact
We’re focused on solutions that make a real difference in our customers’ work. Investing in AI tools should be driven by the objective of achieving tangible, meaningful outcomes in your work rather than chasing after superficial or "fairy dust" solutions. Effective AI implementations enhance productivity, streamline processes, and solve real-world problems, providing measurable benefits that justify the investment. Prioritizing practical, impactful AI tools ensures that resources are allocated wisely and that the technology serves a true purpose rather than being used for its own sake without delivering substantial value.

2. Trust but verify
When building AI solutions, it's crucial to be aware of their inherent biases and limitations. These tools should be seen as a "draft" or a starting point rather than the final decision-maker. Recognizing the imperfections in AI allows for more informed and responsible use, ensuring that human judgment and oversight remain central in the decision-making process and that no AI model or tool can be rolled out without ongoing evaluation of its performance. By acknowledging and addressing these constraints, we can develop AI systems that complement human expertise and enhance decision quality without blindly relying on them for critical outcomes.

3. Empower, Not Replace Staff
Our strategy with AI is all about augmentation. We're here to boost the capabilities of government staff, making their jobs more impactful without threatening their job security. By automating mundane tasks, employees can redirect their energies toward strategic and creative work, thus enhancing their roles and the quality of public service.

4. No Black Boxes
We prioritize clarity and accountability in all our AI tools. It’s vital that our partners can easily follow how decisions are made by our systems. This transparency not only fosters trust but also simplifies integration and maintenance, ensuring that AI is a helpful, comprehensible tool for everyone in government operations. Therefore, we pledge to be transparent on what models of ours use which types of data and make sure that in cases where this data may be used to re-train future 3rd party services, we will make sure that we are explicit about that and allow clients to opt in rather than opt-out.

The Four Stages of AI Adoption

Based on these principles, how can we progress the development and deployment of AI tools over time? We see four distinct “phases” in building AI into everyday work, and these are the stages we’ve been following in integrating Generative AI into our toolset. Each phase comes with a different exciting level of possibility but also with a level of “risk” or challenges that we need to be ready for. Let’s walk through each of the stages and how we’re moving through them:

Phase One: "Make It Easier"
The first step is all about simplification of specific tasks. We leverage AI to automate individual tasks such as crunching numbers and generating documents. Our Press Release Generator, for example, helps government communications teams quickly draft official statements with AI assistance, ensuring speed without sacrificing accuracy. Similarly, the auto-insights feature in our report builder allows users to gain quick analytical insights from complex data, streamlining report generation and enhancing information accessibility.

Phase Two: "Get It Done"
Next, we focus on automating entire workflows to increase efficiency across government operations. The outcome won’t be different, but we can save a ton of effort in how we do something and, by that - do it more often. A prime example is our Engage Automated Setup, which streamlines the creation of engagement websites. This tool automatically compiles content, sets up interactive elements, and prepares the site for public interaction, significantly reducing the administrative burden and time to launch.

Phase Three: "Supercharge It"
At this stage, we're enhancing our processes with interactive, responsive capabilities. We’re creating a reality that wasn’t possible before by allowing a level of interactivity and ‘closing the loop’ that wasn’t possible before. Our new AI Assistant, which will be launched this summer, is designed to not just present data but to interact with it—probing deeper, asking questions, and discovering trends that go beyond surface-level observations. This tool acts like a digital teammate, working tirelessly to uncover insights that can transform how decisions are made.

Phase Four: "Reimagine It"
Our vision extends to completely rethinking how parts of the engagement process can be accomplished. We're developing innovative solutions like online/offline hybrid input models, which blend the convenience of digital feedback with the personal touch of real-world meetings. We’re working on a dynamic survey system that adapts questions based on previous answers, providing richer, more accurate public feedback. We’re working on ways to run focus groups at the scale of a whole community and many more, all geared at setting new standards for public involvement.

Being a Good Partner

In today’s world, local governments are more than just administrative entities; they provide the very fabric our local communities are built on. As a company working in this space, our commitment goes beyond being technology providers—we are partners committed to excellence. This moment in the AI revolution is pivotal—it can either fortify trust or fracture it. By setting high standards, practicing transparency, and focusing on meaningful impacts, we pledge to help steer this change positively. Sharing our strategies openly and encouraging our counterparts to do the same, we are dedicated to fostering a climate of trust and mutual success.

We at Zencity remain dedicated to not just participating in the AI revolution, but leading it with responsibility and innovation. Our goal is clear: to ensure technology acts as a catalyst for better, more connected governments that work to build community trust.

Join hundreds of local government organizations already leveraging community feedback with Zencity.

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