Civic Agency in AI: Democratizing Public AI Services

The public sector is increasingly embracing algorithmic decision-making and data-centric infrastructures to offer innovative digital services to citizens. As public AI services become more prevalent and affect citizens’ lived experiences, we must critically question their social, political, and ethical implications on rights, risks, and responsibilities for providers and recipients, particularly the most vulnerable in society.

This project engages conceptual, empirical, and instrumental research to assess wide ranging and conflicting perspectives and practices among experts, providers and citizens. Negotiating an inclusive and democratic ecosystem of future AI governance frameworks has crucial implications for Finnish society and the European Union (EU). The European Commission’s proposed Artificial Intelligence Act has raised vigorous deliberations regarding the implications of  implementing this regulatory framework across the EU. The diverse and contested discourses among AI experts, regulators, public actors, and citizen advocates, offer a timely window of opportunity to critically examine their implications, while promoting citizen participation and civic agency in shaping the AI Act and its governance in Finland and the EU.

In our research, we examine discourses to gain insights on diverse narratives, and positions using a mixed-methods approach combining Natural Language Processing techniques and qualitative analyses. We create an annotated textual corpus as a digital repository of rich discourses around the algorithmization of public services. We also conduct in-depth case studies of public AI services in Finland to highlight the key practices and challenges for incorporating AI in the public sector, while ensuring trust, accountability and governance. We explore citizen perspectives, agency, and imaginaries on digital citizenship and algorithmic literacy for the democratization of public services. Participatory Action Research will engage citizen and public sector actors in critical dialogue and participatory design of potential public AI services in the City of Helsinki. An interdisciplinary approach, combining social science, linguistics, design research, and ethical AI, allows us to critically assess the transformation of discourses, civic agency, and democratization of public AI services and design frameworks for stakeholder participation in AI governance. 

The project has received funding from the Kone Foundation’s program on Language, Power and Democracy.W


Nitin Sawhney

Principal Investigator

Karolina Drobotowicz

Doctoral Researcher

Kaisla Kajava

doctoral researcher

Antti rannisto

doctoral researcher

Ana Paula Gonzalez Torres

doctoral researcher


Bruna de Castro e Silva

doctoral researcher

Marta Choroszewicz

Senior Researcher


Multidisciplinary research team invites citizens, civil servants and software developers to identify risks and potential of algorithmic services – and helps providers address upcoming EU regulations.