AI as an aid: Tatarstan citizens to complain to 'single window'

The Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media of Russia is launching the experiment to test the analogue of Tatarstan 'People's Control'

AI as an aid: Tatarstan citizens to complain to 'single window'
Photo: pfrf.ru

On August 30, the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media is beginning the experiment to receive complaints and applications from citizens to various authorities through a single window on the Public Services portal. It will last until December 30, 2020. In this way, the changes envisaged by the draft law submitted to the State Duma is going to be tested. The authors suggest using artificial intelligence to process citizens' requests. Realnoe Vremya has analysed the new opportunities and “pitfalls” of the lawmakers' initiative.

Complaints will go to the virtual space

According to the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media of Russia (MinComSvyaz), Russian citizens annually send about 10 million requests to 250,000 institutions and departments at all levels of government, out of which up to 65% are received online or by email. MinComSvyaz considered this way “insufficiently effective” and prepared amendments to the federal law 'On the organisation of state and municipal services” and the federal law 'On information, information technologies and information security'.

The purpose of the changes, as stated in the explanatory note, is “to improve the procedures for sending notifications to citizens (individuals) and legal entities when providing state and municipal services by primarily converting such notifications into electronic form using the state information system 'Unified portal of state and municipal services (functions)' or mail sent in the form of an electronic document, taking into account the Rules for providing postal services”.

In other words, the applicant will receive notifications at different stages of applying to state agencies — at what stage his request is. Notifications are to be sent out primarily in electronic form. At the same time, “citizens and organisations will have the right to refuse to receive notifications in electronic form and receive them in mail on paper or in any other way established in regulatory legal acts”.

This amount costs the country's budget 22 billion rubles a year," MinComSvyaz reported on its official website. Photo: cont.ws

Saving on mails?

In this way, MinComSvyaz intends to kill several birds with one stone. In particular, “to increase the efficiency of interaction between citizens and legal entities with state and local authorities”, as well as “to organize convenient contactless legally significant interaction between authorities, citizens and organizations”. Plus, to protect citizens from personal contacts with officials as much as possible, which “is of particular relevance in the current restrictive measures related to the spread of coronavirus”.

Another strong argument in favour of the proposed new order of interaction between citizens and authorities is economy. “In 2019, state agencies sent citizens almost 600 million notifications of fines, penalties and other notifications. This amount costs the country's budget 22 billion rubles a year," MinComSvyaz reported on its official website.

Finally, according to MinComSvyaz, filing complaints and appeals through the portal of State Services of the Russian Federation will help those who do not really know where to address their question or incorrectly formalise their appeal. To do this, according to First Deputy Minister of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Communications Oleg Pak, the portal of public services of Russia will have a rubricator for requests and ensure their redirection to the corresponding authority, while standard requests will be structured and processed using artificial intelligence.

A citizen can submit an application in electronic form, provided that they are registered in the USIA — Unified System of Identification and Authentication.

If a citizen has any problem — for example, a hole in the road or lack of lighting in the yard — he or she can report it directly on the portal. Photo: evening-kazan.ru

“It already works in Tatarstan!”

Realnoe Vremya asked MinComSvyaz about the details of the experiment, in particular, how it is supposed to solve the problem with non-standard requests, the topic of which will not fit into the “single window” category. At the time of preparing the material, the response had not been received, and it will be published as soon as it is received.

The Ministry of Digitalisation of Public Administration, Information Technologies and Communications of the Republic of Tatarstan willingly shared the available information about the upcoming experiment:

“Yes, our colleagues from the federal ministry of digital development are planning to launch the new project aimed at establishing direct interaction between citizens and the state," the press service of the republican department reported. “As part of the upcoming experiment, which starts at the end of August, the service for receiving complaints and appeals from residents will appear on the Unified Public Services Portal of Russia. In other words, if a citizen has any problem — for example, a hole in the road or lack of lighting in the yard — he or she can report it directly on the portal. This will save Russians from having to go directly to state authorities and other institutions: everything will take place in a proactive format.”

Everything is under control — “people's one”

The Ministry of Digitalisation of Public Administration, Information Technologies and Communications of the Republic of Tatarstan stressed that “in Tatarstan, such scheme of direct interaction between residents and the state has been functioning for a long time — this is the People's Control system.

According to the ministry, currently there are 28,000 unique users of the People's Control service on the State Services Portal of the Republic of Tatarstan, and 60% of them are women. And one can submit notifications here in 62 categories.

“Usually, the most popular: landscaping, maintenance and repair of municipal roads, traffic management," said the department. “The received applications are considered by the Commissioner for Human Rights in Tatarstan.

In the first half of 2020, People's Control system received about 40,000 applications. On average, the system receives about 287 applications from Tatarstan citizens a day. The residents gave 18,534 ratings to the measures taken by the authorities in response to these requests. And the total number of supports (this is when the application is supported by other users — editor's note) exceeded 79,000.

“In 2020, specialists upgraded the system," the press service of the ministry reported. “Now on the Public Services Portal of the Republic of Tatarstan, residents can choose a map that is convenient for them when working with People's Control — Yandex, 2GIS, Sputnik, RT Geoportal, Openstreetmap. Besides, in 2020, the system has earned new test categories — Veteran Lives Nearby and COVID-19: preventing the spread of coronavirus.”

At the same time, as it turned out, Tatarstan's People's Control works with citizens' appeals in manual mode — artificial intelligence technologies are not used on the portal.

Tatarstan People's Control works with citizens' appeals in manual mode. Photo: rt.rbc.ru

Slow-witted intelligence

Realnoe Vremya asked MinComSvyaz of Russia to explain in as much detail as possible what the role of artificial intelligence will be when working with requests — whether we are talking about sorting, or we are referring to a full-fledged dialogue with the applicant, which modern technologies allow us to implement. This is not an idle question, since artificial intelligence is already used to work with citizens' appeals in a number of commercial structures, and the dialogue with it is not always productive. For example, the author of this material, asking a non-standard but urgent question about the use of the electronic service, “struggled” with artificial intelligence for a long time — reformulating the problem this way and that and receiving the polite response: “Excuse me, could you pose your question?" As a result, the artificial intelligence, which failed to grasp the essence of the question, politely said goodbye, leaving the recommendation “to contact a specialist of the company by phone”. Needless to say, the only information that could be obtained from the multichannel phone number indicated by artificial intelligence was the information that “all specialists are being busy at the moment”.

The experience of appeals to the People's Control of the Republic of Tatarstan also shows that the real issue does not always fit into “one window”. People's situations are unique, and the rubricator on the portal is standardly limited. Moreover, sometimes the logic of very real, live employees working with requests lags behind, and they respond to requests as if they are robots.

“On the one hand, the possibility to send any request online and also get a response is a big plus because it happens that an application sent by mail may be lost, or it will be forgotten to be registered, and there are traces of any action on the Internet," said lawyer Yelena Dobyukhina. “But if the appeal did not have a result, and the applicant decided to sue the state agencies, this is convenient: you can file evidence of the fact of the appeal in the case. However, in a purely human way, this system further distances the citizen from the specialists who should help him in solving a specific issue. Here is the simplest thing: a person asks for explanations — how to act in a particular difficult life situation. When communicating with a specialist — at the reception and over the phone — you can always ask clarifying questions, you can ask to set out recommendations in an accessible form. But via the Internet, there comes an answer written in official language incomprehensible to the layman. He will ask again — and they will answer him with the same words. What should he do next?

By Inna Serova
Tatarstan