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Government algorithm transparency and accountability

Algorithms are the automatic decision-making processes used by computer programmes to identify patterns in data. These algorithms can be used to help government better understand New Zealand and New Zealanders. This knowledge means government can make good decisions and deliver services that are more effective and efficient.

However, the benefit of a tool, like an algorithm, depends on its careful and considerate use. When used with care and consideration, algorithms can help minimise the negative effects of our ever-present human bias - bringing positive change to Aotearoa New Zealand. Equally, when used without care or consideration, algorithms could help purpetuate human bias, or even amplified it.

In light of this power, transparency and accountability are critical to ensuring that the public can trust and support the government to use these tools in appropriate ways.

The Government Chief Data Steward leads the work to improve government algorithm transparency and accountability, to help New Zealanders have confidence in how the government uses algorithms.

Government Chief Data Steward
Video: transparency and accountability of government algorithms

Contents

Algorithm assessment report

In 2018, the New Zealand government undertook a review of how government agencies use algorithms to improve the lives of New Zealanders. The 'Algorithm assessment report' aimed to ensure New Zealanders are informed about the use of government algorithms and the checks and balances that exist to manage their use.

The report drew on the Principles for Safe and Effective Use of Data and Analytics developed by the Privacy Commissioner and the Government Chief Data Steward and made recommendations to improve transparency and accountability in government algorithm use.

Algorithm assessment report
Principles for safe and effective use of data and analytics

Response to the algorithm assessment report

Responding to the recommendations from the report, in 2020 the Government Chief Data Steward has:

  • Released the Algorithm Charter for Aotearoa New Zealand in which signing agencies make a public commitment to the transparent and accountable use of algorithms.
  • Ensured that government agencies can seek external advice from privacy, ethics, and data experts by continuing to convene the independent Data Ethics Advisory Group.
  • Continued work to ensure that data ethics are embedded at all levels of the government analytics workforce, through improvements in training and professional development for data analysts and decision makers.

Responding to the algorithm assessment [PDF 201 KB]
Responding to the algorithm assessment [HTML]
Data Ethics Advisory Group

Algorithm charter for Aotearoa New Zealand

In 2020, the Minister of Statistics launched the Algorithm Charter for Aotearoa New Zealand that committed signing government agencies to improving consistency in transparency and accountability in their use of algorithms. This was a response to the recommendations from the 'Algorithm assessment report' in 2018 and also drew on the Principles for Safe and Effective Use of Data and Analytics.

Founding signatories to the charter are:

  • Te Ara Poutama Aotearoa — The Department of Corrections
  • Te Tāhuhu o Te Mātauranga — The Ministry of Education
  • Te Manatū Mō Te Taiao — The Ministry for the Environment
  • The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development
  • Te Tari Taake — Inland Revenue Department
  • Te Tāhū o te Ture — The Ministry of Justice
  • Toitū Te Whenua — Land Information New Zealand
  • Te Puni Kōkiri — The Ministry of Māori Development
  • Oranga Tamariki - The Ministry for Children
  • The Ministry for Pacific Peoples
  • Te Manatū Whakahiato Ora — The Ministry of Social Development
  • Te Tatauranga Aotearoa — Statistics New Zealand
  • Te Manatū Waka — The Ministry of Transport
  • Te Kāhui Whakamana Rua Tekau mā Iwa—Pike River Recovery Agency
  • Te Minitatanga mō ngā Wāhine — The Ministry for Women
  • Toi Hau Tāngata — Social Wellbeing Agency
  • Te Ope Kātua o Aotearoa — New Zealand Defence Force
  • Te Kaporeihana Āwhina Hunga Whara — Accident Compensation Corporation
  • Te Tari Taiwhenua — Department of Internal Affairs
  • Te Arawhiti — The Office for Māori Crown Relations 
  • Waka Kotahi — The New Zealand Transport Agency
  • Te Tari Arotake Matauranga — The Education Review Office
  • Hīkina Whakatutuki — The Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment
  • Manatū Aorere — The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • Manatū Hauora — The Ministry of Health

Algorithm charter - Te Reo Māori [PDF 202 KB]
Algorithm charter - English [PDF 220 KB]
Algorithm charter [HTML]
Driving transparency, ethics and accountability in government use of algorithms - press release from Hon. James Shaw.
Algorithm assessment report
Principles for safe and effective use of data and analytics

Key documents

The following documents provide more information on the process used to produce the Algorithm Charter for Aotearoa New Zealand.

Consultation and submissions summary: draft Algorithm Charter
Before launching the Algorithm Charter, a public consultation on the draft version was held. The consultation officially closed on 31 December 2019. Thank you to those who provided feedback. A summary of submissions is available here. If you have any questions please email us at datalead@stats.govt.nz

Otherwise in the algorithm space

Our work on algorithm transparency and accountability, including the Algorithm Charter for Aotearoa New Zealand is part of a wider ecosystem and works together with existing tools, and research. This section provides some more information about other work that also shapes the government algorithm transparency and accountability environment (note that this list is not exhaustive).

Principles for the safe and effective use of data and analytics
Privacy Commissioner and Government Chief Data Steward, 2018

Government use of artificial intelligence in New Zealand [PDF 1.3 MB]
New Zealand Law Foundation and Otago University, 2019

Trustworthy AI in Aotearoa - AI principles
AI Forum New Zealand, 2020

Open government partnership
An international agreement to increase transparency

Data protection and use policy
Social Wellbeing Agency, 2020

Privacy, human rights, and ethics framework [PDF 258 KB]
Ministry of Social Development

Artificial intelligence: shaping a future New Zealand [PDF 10.9 MB]
AI Forum NZ
Published by the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Forum NZ, this report outlines opportunities and challenges for Aotearoa New Zealand to adopt AI. 

D9 group of digital nations
New Zealand leads the work by the Digital 9 (D9) group of digital nations (a network of the world’s most advanced digital nations), to ensure digital rights are at the heart of policy design globally.

Contact us

If you’d like more information, have a question, or want to provide feedback, email datalead@stats.govt.nz.

Content last reviewed 20 October 2020.

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