Civic Agency in AI: Democratizing Public AI Services

The public sector is increasingly using 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 and political implications on the 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 its implementation across the EU. The diverse and contested discourses among AI experts, regulators, public actors, and citizens, offer a timely 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 (NLP) techniques and qualitative methods of analysis. We compile a digital textual corpus of AI-related discourses in the EU. We also conduct in-depth case studies of public AI services in Finland to follow design processes under uncertainty when facing new technologies. The case studies highlight key practices and challenges for incorporating AI in the public sector while ensuring trust, accountability, and governance. We explore citizen perspectives on and imaginaries of digital agency and algorithmic literacy for the democratization of public services. The research project engages citizen and public sector actors in critical dialogue and participatory design of potential public AI services in Finland. An interdisciplinary approach combining social sciences and linguistics as well as design and legal research 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 and the Research Council of Finland.


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.