Government-Citizen Interactions & Computational Law (I): A “shared policy infrastructure” as a foundation for all government architecture and services in the digital economy


A keynote by Pia Andrews

Conversations from CLAWCON 2023

From 12 to 14 July 2023, the Singapore Management University’s Centre for Computational Law (“SMU CCLAW”) hosted the 1st Edition of the Computational Law Conference (“CLAWCON”), at the SMU Connexion Event Square. The inaugural conference was structured around the theme of “Computational Law + Symbolic AI + Industry Adoption challenges, issues, and real-world implementations”. This article distils the key points from Pia Andrews’s keynote on the topic of “Government-Citizen Interactions & Computational Law”.

Overarching thesis: A “shared policy infrastructure” as a foundation for all government architecture and services in the digital economy

Andrews’ overarching thesis is that a “shared policy infrastructure” should be created to serve as a foundation for all government architecture and services in the digital economy. Specifically, a “shared policy infrastructure” is instrumental to driving purposeful, test-driven, lawful, adaptive and humane public services & policies. Andrews also believes that the implementation of rules as code (“RaC”), which is a subset of computational law (“CLAW”), is only one, albeit crucial, piece of the puzzle to achieving this “shared policy infrastructure”. As governments worldwide are often plagued by functional fragmentation or segmentation (e.g. the policy team, service delivery team, evaluation team, etc all work independently of one another), Andrews believes that the implementation of RaC will aid to remove the interpretation gaps and black holes between policy modelling/design and delivery that may stem from such unintended functional fragmentation or segmentation.

Misconceptions about the Government’s role in the digital economy

From Andrews’s extensive background in the private sector and the public sector,[1] she has observed that governments worldwide tend to harbour two key misconceptions about their role in the digital economy.

  • Misconception 1: Governments often start off with the false premise that they only serve as investment or regulatory mechanisms in the digital economy. However, as governments worldwide are often the biggest employers, biggest customers/spenders, and generate the biggest impact on society in their respective jurisdictions, they cannot afford to merely stand on the sidelines, but ought to actively participate in the digital economy as strong proponents of digital transformation.
  • Misconception 2: Second, governments worldwide are increasingly susceptible to a higher risk of inaction amidst the prevalent culture of adopting no-risk actions. However, as we live in a non-static and ever-changing world, governments worldwide must be proactive, and not merely reactive, to new technologies and opportunities in order to meet the emerging and exponential needs of our communities. After all, as per Alan Kay, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it” (also referenced by Professor Lee in her opening address at CLAWCON) – let us design a better future.

Building trustworthy systems is crucial

Andrews argues that the biggest issue that governments worldwide are facing after the COVID-19 pandemic is the issue of “trust”. For example, there exists a misconception in Australia that greater services will generate greater public trust. However, this misconception was debunked in the “Trust in Australian public services: 2022 Annual Report” which revealed, inter alia, that only 58% of Australians who had accessed at least one government service in 2022 thought that the services were “fair”. As low public trust makes it difficult for governments worldwide to drive reforms and roll out new initiatives, it is key to move from “asking for trust” to “building trustworthy systems” – the computer should not merely say “no” as this is awfully disempowering.

Thus, Andrews proposes the following service design epics of legitimacy for consideration to build trustworthy systems:

  • How do you audit/monitor decisions, accuracy and legal authority, in real time?
  • How does someone know, understand, challenge, appeal decision/action?
  • How do you know whether it’s having a fair, positive or negative impact?
  • How do you ensure independent oversight and effective governance?
  • How do you detect, respond to and implement continuous change?
  • How should you operate in a way the public would consider ‘trustworthy’?

Removing interpretation gaps and eliminating black holes

Andrews notes that the current approach to policy development across many jurisdictions is lacklustre because it is slow, manual and analogue. This is attributable to the fact that laws and policies are often promulgated in the human readable format only, and various stakeholders such as Parliament, businesses, etc, require a lengthy period of time to interpret and implement them. Andrews proposes that laws and policies should be promulgated in both the human readable and machine readable formats to achieve greater efficiency in the delivery of public services – “[w]hen we make the rules of government authoritatively consumable by software, we dramatically improve the speed & consistency of delivery, with better policy outcomes and compliance”.

Furthermore, Andrews hopes to eliminate the numerous black holes in the current policy journey. For example, there may be a black hole of “policy intent or purpose” between the policy team and service delivery team as attributable to the interpretation gap which impedes implementation, a black hole of “actual impact” between the service delivery team and evaluation team as attributable to the lack of real-time monitoring which impedes policy reform, etc.

You can read the second part of the article here: 

Author: Michelle Yap, Alexis N. Chun

This research / project is supported by the National Research Foundation, Singapore under its Industry Alignment Fund – Pre-positioning (IAF-PP) Funding Initiative. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views of National Research Foundation, Singapore.

The Technolawgist collaborates with SMU CCLAW in the dissemination of these reflections.


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