Charity sector bodies urged to provide more leadership on AI

27 Feb 2024 News

By sdecoret / Adobe

Charity sector bodies should give charities more leadership on how to make the best use of artificial intelligence (AI), an event has heard.

A panel of sector leaders discussed the topic at the launch of the Charity Commission’s five-year strategy in London yesterday. 

Earlier at the event, Commission chief executive Helen Stephenson said charities were operating in a “complex and fast-moving” technological environment, which could increase the risk of misinformation spreading.

“[Misinformation] is a concept that regulators will need to contend with in the years ahead. We must enter this space with open eyes and be prepared for the challenges,” she said.

‘Unable to resource understanding AI’

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said that her charity uses AI to triage its helpline.

She said Shelter was offered funding from a grantmaker to explore the technology further, but was unable to resource it. 

“The problem we had was we cannot resource the internal work necessary to just go out and really understand beyond that specific funding project, what the opportunities and what the risks [of AI] are. 

“So all the sector bodies need to understand that even a big charity like Shelter cannot resource properly bottoming out and understanding AI. 

“Small local charities that could arguably benefit even more from it are even less likely to be able to do that, and that needs to be recognised.”

Neate said that the onus should be taken off individual charities to look into AI and that sector bodies should provide leadership and knowledge in that area. 

She also said the fact that AI had been mainly developed by men could limit its inclusivity.

“What cognitive biases [are there] that AI is going to reflect and how is that going to impact our organisation relations?” she said.

Investigating AI a ‘team sport’

Menai Owen-Jones, chief executive of cancer charity LATCH and board member for the Welsh Centre for Voluntary Action, said that advancing technology creates opportunities for small charities.  

“Ultimately, it's about ethical AI, isn't it? And that comes down to leadership.

“And it's the role of trustees and chief executives to actually lead that agenda by working with regulators and infrastructure bodies, because undoubtedly, the world is changing so quickly, and is governance keeping up with that pace of change?”

Priya Singh, chair of NCVO, said that investigating AI was a “team sport”, meaning charities should work together to make best use of it.

“The way forward with AI cannot be answered by one individual organisation,” she said.

“However well-resourced an individual organisation was, it’s not the way forward.

“The whole point is that we are better in a collaborative way to explore this and to create those guidelines and policies and the application of AI from algorithms all the way through to actually how to scale itself.” 

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