29/07/2019 - 16:26

"Is the Emergence of AI in Public Affairs an Opportunity to Reinvent a Model?" by Armand Noury

A report on the strategic development of artificial intelligence (AI) by the deputy Cédric Villani, a comparative analysis by France Stratégie of work transformations connected with AI, and regular reports by researchers and large groups concerning the impact of automation on employment… AI and digital technology is already creating the working world of the future. Public affairs do not escape this phenomenon. Exhaustive “mapping” of the political ecosystem, “Intelligence and analysis” of future changes in regulations affecting you, “monitoring” of public decision makers’ standpoints with regard to your specific issues” … Digital technology – and its semantics – are used increasingly by people working in public affairs and political influence.

As Proches stressed in its study on interest representatives, the growing popularity of data availability and the emergence of innovative tools have already considerably changed the traditional tasks of agencies and offices specializing in public affairs. Today, a new generation of start-ups from the PolTech is beginning to knock on our doors and could represent more than just new work tools. Solutions that fall increasingly under the scope of artificial intelligence (AI), without being completely AI-based, are poised to have a profound effect not only on our daily lives, but on the very essence of the role of interest representatives.

In recent months, in the wake of CMS (content management system), CRM (customer relationship management) and more recently COS (community organization system, such as Nation Builder), we have seen the development of a new category of solutions: GRM, standing for Government Relationship Management, capable of automating whole swathes of tasks, normally carried out by a public affairs consultant. Whether these are competitors of a new kind or a unique opportunity to move from consulting to more innovative and “smart” lobbying, GRM has a place in agencies and communications offices and will have a lasting effect on our work; for the better we hope.

 

 

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Tim Hwang, founder of FiscalNote

 

Initially centered on the American continent, this political technology has recently entered the European market, as can be seen from the acquisition of the European expert on the subject, Shungham, by the market leader FiscalNote. Although their solutions have not yet been rolled out in Europe, they have demonstrated unparalleled performance across the Atlantic: capable of aggregating, structuring and normalizing data, they source billions of data from governmental, parliamentary and political sources, such as government bills, amendments, votes in Parliament, media interventions, politicians social media, etc. A tax was cancelled due to the quick lobbying campaign carried out by Walmart, using one of these powerful political technology solutions. In a few clicks, they can summarize the viewpoints of a deputy on specific subjects, are capable of identifying convergences between decision makers and can even categorize these relationships. GRM solutions carry out the complex sensitive tasks of consultants in public affairs on their own and in record time, analyzing influence networks, strategic intelligence, detecting pitch opportunities. In short, they “automate and create the spreadsheet that an intern would take a week to do in just 10 minutes” (Alex Wirth, founder of Quorum).

Public Affairs Consultant, a Position that Needs Reinventing

Still costly, their use will probably spread relatively quickly for two main reasons. On the one hand, the generalization of open data in democratic systems will make public data aggregation much easier (nosdéputés.fr was a precursor). On the other, legislative inflation makes political and regulatory intelligence much harder and penalizes exhaustive research on a variety of technical subjects. The same thing is true of media and social media intelligence, which is just as relevant for political subjects and public affairs, with the pace and variety of content feeds increasing, but often offering a timely analysis in terms of political positioning, the development of trends and the detection of weak signals. So, GRM solutions are not only a blessing for people working in public affairs, they are about to give rise to a major development in our work methods and we will need to rethink their value in terms of political intelligence.

With this technological evolution, we can be fairly sure that the upcoming decade will see a change in the current role of public affairs consultant, with a certain number of tasks becoming automated by technology and AI. This phenomenon has many similarities with the situation at work in some traditional service industries, such as the banking sector (confronted with the development of FinTechs) or the legal professions (needing to adapt to the development of LegalTechs) Public affairs professionals should take inspiration from the industry’s response to this phenomenon. Its model focuses on intelligence, the added value of consultancy, experience and analysis, from the bottom up. As explained by Bloomberg’s Meredith McGehee, in charge of political programs and NGO strategy in Washington, her attitude to the development of GRMs is, “You can have all the data you want, but it doesn’t mean that you can win over the decision maker […] If you don’t have a good political position, then no data will help you overcome this”.

By creating high-performance decision support tools, AI is going to force professionals to develop their activity to make a technology tool from this competitive technology. There is a gap between GRM solutions and the clients of agencies and offices, filled by political intelligence. Less tangible than mapping or monitoring, not as ostentatious as a direct line to an elected representative, it will nonetheless become the main product of lobbying consultancy agencies, from the bottom up. It is about to revolutionize the public affairs consultancy sector, bringing it into a new era of lobbying.

 

Armand Noury