Global Local: Think Tank Review April 2023

LGIU’s Global Local Think Tank Review brings you the latest findings from leading research institutions and think tanks around the world. Focusing on new ideas and innovation for local government.

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Global Local: global challenges, local solutions

The monthly Global Local Think Tank review highlights relevant research and policy publications from leading think tanks and research institutes around the world. This month’s edition focuses on the threats and opportunities from artificial intelligence (AI), economic inactivity after the pandemic, and low wage/precarious work. It also includes reports covering food systems, migration governance and wellbeing policy tools.

This roundup is normally only available to Global Local subscribers and LGIU members. Find out more about a Global Local subscription or explore our membership options.

Artificial intelligence


AI has been a hot topic in recent weeks following the publication of an open letter signed by many technology entrepreneurs, including Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, expressing concern about the safety of AI and calling for an immediate pause in its development, to allow time for AI labs jointly to develop and implement a set of shared safety protocols. Several prominent think tanks have also produced papers on AI.

“AI is having a moment – and policy makers cannot squander the opportunity to act”:  that is the conclusion of an article from the Center for American Progress. Recent rapid developments in AI have been accompanied by calls for legislators and government to match the pace of technological development with legislative action and regulatory discretion. This article argues that legislators should start with the tools they already have to steer AI in a direction that benefits the public, while also developing new approaches.

Chatham House published a research paper on recalibrating assumptions about AI. It argues that many assumptions about artificial intelligence (AI) have become entrenched, despite the lack of evidence to support them. These include the claims that AI is ‘intelligent’, that ‘more data’ is a requisite for better AI, that AI development is ‘a race’ among states, and that AI can be ‘ethical’. Policies based on these assumptions are likely to increase the risk of negative impacts for certain demographic groups. As AI policies begin to harden into rules and regulations, the assumptions that underpin them must be able to accommodate new facts and be representative of all stakeholders who are affected by it.

Several reports focus on the opportunities and threats from AI for politicians and policy makers. In the years to come, politicians will increasingly rely on AI to support them, especially in making well-informed decisions. A publication from the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies summarises the outcomes of an online symposium on Artificial Intelligence and Democracy. The discussion covered the issues raised by AI-supported decision-making tools and what AI means for democracy, including the ethical questions of privacy, biases, discrimination safety and security.

A new survey from the Pew Research Center in the USA finds that Americans are wary of the use of AI in the workplace. By a large margin, Americans are opposed to using AI in hiring and firing decisions. 41% of respondents oppose AI use in reviewing job applications (28% support it) and 47% oppose in determining whether a worker should be promoted (versus 22% who support it). Majorities do not support the idea of AI systems being used to track workers’ movements while they are at work. However, amongst those Americans who believe that there is currently racial bias in recruitment and performance assessment, a majority (53%) believe that AI would make fairer decisions than humans (although Black respondents are more sceptical that AI would improve the fairness of recruitment).

A growing number of US states, including California, Connecticut, Illinois and Texas, are introducing legislation to regulate AI. The bills introduce protections when AI or other automated systems are used to make decisions such as whether a worker receives a bonus, a student gets into college, or a senior citizen receives public benefits. The bills attempt to provide stronger protections for citizens while enabling innovation and commercial use of AI. Research from the Brookings Institution on how states are tackling AI finds there is no single model but there are some principles of good governance to follow. One principle is proportionality: regulation should focus on areas where algorithmic tools have a significant impact on people’s rights, opportunities and access to critical services. A second principle is transparency about when AI is being used and for what.

Globally, governments are grappling with how to regulate AI and similar technologies. The Information Technology and Innovation Fund (ITIF) published an overview of the UK government’s recent white paper on AI. The UK is seeking to create a pro-innovation regulatory framework that promotes public trust in AI by creating rules proportionate to the risks associated with different sectors’ use of AI. Unlike the European Union (EU), the UK will not focus on new legislation in the short term; instead, it will create guidelines to empower regulators and only take the statutory route when necessary. However, ITIF identifies some weaknesses in the UK’s approach, including the assumption that consumer trust is necessary to drive adoption of new technology, which is not borne out by past experience.


Real talk

LGIU’s Chief Executive, Jonathan Carr-West, discusses the uncertain financial outlook for local government in England as the country faces a period of economic recovery while also trialling out the increasingly popular ChatGPT AI tool. Read the article.

Cutting edge road maintenance in Brimbank

We look at the City of Brimbank’s initiative that will deploy and use high-resolution cameras, GPS sensors, and artificial intelligence edge devices attached to waste collection trucks to rapidly and in real-time detect roadside assets that require maintenance. Read the article.

Collection: AI in education services

While the ideas behind Artificial Intelligence (AI) have been around for some time, AI is increasingly is being used to develop public services, including education. This collection explores the role AI currently plays in the delivery of these public services along with future implications. Explore the collection.

Economic inactivity


Over the last few years there has been policy debate in many advanced economies about the impact of Covid-19 on the labour market. Attention has focused on the ‘great retirement’ or ‘great resignation’, as many people left the labour market during the pandemic and never returned. The rise in economic inactivity is a policy challenge (economically inactive people are not in work and not seeking work). At the same time, many businesses in key sectors across the globe are struggling to fill vacancies, which can hold back economic growth. The Brookings Institution asks Who is missing from the post-pandemic labour force? It finds that the US labour force has 900,000 people fewer than expected, primarily because of deaths related to Covid-19 and reduced immigration. The propensity of people to be in the labour force has recovered; but lower population growth means that the capacity of businesses to produce goods and services is more likely to be lower for years to come. Meanwhile, the recovery in workforce was not uniform. Women ages 25-54, Black people 25-64, and Hispanic women 55-64 are all participating more than in 2019; but white men of all ages and older white women are participating less.

The Centre for Policy Studies in the UK asks a similar question in its report Where are the workers? It finds that the largest number of inactive British workers are aged 50-64, probably driven more by early retirement than ill health. However, changes to disability benefits have increased inactivity in the last decade. There has also been an alarming rise in inactivity among those aged 18-24, largely due to mental health issues; and a very significant gender imbalance among those no longer looking for work (with far more men becoming inactive than women). While suggesting a range of policies aimed at boosting labour supply, it concludes that there needs to be a specific focus on young men, who have tended to be overlooked by policy makers.

An intelligence memo from the C D Howe Institute in Canada focuses on the workers missing from specific economic sectors. Canadian employment levels returned to pre-pandemic levels in November 2021, and the economy has since added more than 600,000 new jobs, but employment in some sectors remains below 2019 levels. The five most affected sectors are: accommodation and food services, “other services” excluding public administration; business, building and other support services; agriculture and transportation and warehousing. The Institute points out that this is not just a case of not being able to find workers: other structural factors are at play such as an ageing workforce, hybrid working, supply chain issues and technology/automation. Tackling these issues will require a mix of upskilling programmes from government and business, improved remuneration and working conditions from employers, and productivity-enhancing investments to attract new workers and retain existing personnel.


Low income/ precarious work


As economies recover from the impact of the pandemic, there continues to be significant interest from policy makers about the social and economic consequences of low pay and precarious work. Two recent reports have focused on the ‘gig’ economy. Research on worker perspectives on the gig economy by the McKell Institute involved a large survey of transport workers in the gig economy in Australia. The 1,036 respondents came from the food delivery, parcel delivery and rideshare sectors, where workers are engaged via apps and algorithms. They are also required to cover their operating costs and equipment, such as vehicles, safety equipment like helmets, fuel, phones, and phone bills. The survey examined pay, conditions, safety and flexibility associated with this work. The highest reported concerns from gig workers were low pay (76%); not earning money while sick or injured (65%); unpaid time waiting for jobs (64%); and uncertainty of income (60%). 45% have struggled to afford everyday items like groceries and household bills.

In Canada, the rise of the ‘gig economy’ and on-demand work using online platforms like Uber and Skip the Dishes has prompted debates about precarious work and what makes a ‘good job’. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) has researched precarious work in British Columbia. Its report says that the scale of the phenomenon is not well understood because Statistics Canada does not collect sufficient data. However, the CCPA’s survey reveals that precarious work is far more pervasive than many assume and involves more than gig work. Further, there are inequity impacts, as racialised and immigrant communities, indigenous peoples, women and lower-income groups are more likely to have precarious work.

The Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) think tank has been looking at the experience of workers in Milwaukee’s low wage service sector jobs. These jobs employ an ever-increasing share of the city’s workers, and the service sector is likely to continue to provide many jobs. The report uses data and the insights of workers to draw a more complete picture of these jobs. It argues that without fundamental restructuring, low wage service industries will continue to limit possibilities for working families, but tight labour markets and an increased understanding of the essential nature of service work could bring improvements. Increasing the power of workers to shape these jobs, higher labour standards, and broad community commitment to making service sector work rewarding can build a better future for Milwaukee and its residents.

The Caribbean Policy Research Institute has explored the paradox of Jamaica ‘growthless jobs’ which provide rising employment but stagnant economic output. The rapid and significant fall in Jamaica’s unemployment rate over the last ten years, to historic lows, without corresponding economic growth, has prompted questions about whether the newly created jobs are good quality jobs which contribute meaningfully to the economy. As the country approaches full employment, the Jamaican economy is in reach of its productive limits. The report suggests that the level and quality of workers’ human capital is the critical variable in understanding and rectifying Jamaica’s growthless jobs phenomenon.

On a more positive note, between 2019 and 2022, low-wage workers in the USA experienced historically fast real wage growth. The 10th percentile real hourly wage grew 9.0% over the period, the fastest growth since 1979. According to an article published by the Economic Policy Institute, this was due to deliberate policy choices. Policy makers responded to the pandemic recession with actions that supported those who needed it most. This shows what can be achieved for low wage workers, and policy makers must now guard against making decisions that could reverse the gains.


Sustaining full employment in Australia

The Australian Government released the National Workforce Strategy 2022-27, a framework for guiding consistency and coordination in responding to workforce issues. This briefing reviews the Strategy to outline opportunities and recognise the vital leadership of local governments on workforce matters.

Not just any jobs, good jobs!

This briefing examines the Institute for Employment Studies and The Health Foundation report entitled ‘Not Just Any Job, Good Jobs!’ which looks at young peoples’ opinions on the employment market, quality and accessibility of work and how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted this.

Look out for an update on this research soon.

Global Local: Workforce planning

This Global Local bulletin is packed full of new research on workforce planning and employment support for local governments and communities.

Food systems


An article from the International Development Research Centre describes a ‘global syndemic’ of obesity, malnutrition and climate change, which are the biggest silent killers worldwide. ‘Syndemic’ refers to several interrelated pandemics happening at the same time which share common causes and need to be addressed together. The syndemic has the potential to reverse much of the global economic and health gains achieved over the past 50 years and cause even more damage than Covid-19. Addressing the problem will require collective will and widespread global action similar to that demonstrated in response to Covid-19.

The World Economic Forum has been looking into Food, Nature and Health Transitions − Repeatable Country Models. Globally, the food and agribusiness industry represents 35% of all jobs and close to 10% of GDP. At the same time, food and agriculture account for more than 30% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and over 80% of tropical deforestation and biodiversity loss. Therefore, transforming food systems is essential. Using the experience of several diverse countries around the globe, this report offers insights into the actions and investments that can accelerate a country’s transition towards food systems that deliver a stronger economy, better livelihoods, better nutrition and improved health, while causing a lower impact on the climate and nature.

Several think tanks and research institutes have published reports on food insecurity in different countries. The African Center for Cities highlights that African societies are rapidly urbanising, putting pressure on the food system. New policies are needed to address inequalities and risks posed by extreme weather and climate change. The report provides a comprehensive analysis of the challenges facing urban food systems in Cape Town in South Africa, Nairobi in Kenya and Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso; and outlines five pathways to a more sustainable urban food system.

Food insecurity continues to affect significant numbers of people in New Zealand, affecting physical and mental health and people’s ability to thrive. Drawing on a survey of 600 food-insecure people, a study from the Public Policy Institute at the University of Auckland presents analysis of participants’ food insecurity experiences and their future goals. The research findings highlight how aspirations of employment, financial security and a good life persist in the face of significant challenges but how those experiencing food insecurity are systematically constrained in their ability to achieve these.

Child food insecurity and child poverty in the US are solvable problems but gaps in child nutrition programmes continue to pose challenges. This essay published by the Brookings Institution argues that in-kind nutrition benefits – such as prepared meals and grocery vouchers – support a healthy and hunger-free childhood. The authors argue that federal coordination with – and support for – states on access and delivery is critical to ensuring that nutrition assistance reaches the children who need it. Furthermore, there are lessons to be learnt from the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) programme that used electronic grocery vouchers to compensate families for the loss of school meals during Covid-19. A similar scheme could be used to cover the summer gap for disadvantaged families.


Community gardens and food security

Find out how local government is supporting food security, personal fulfilment and stronger communities through community gardens and growing in this Global Local Bulletin

Municipal markets: models for well-functioning urban food infrastructure

This Australian briefing explores the role of markets as part of an area’s food infrastructure. This includes consideration of what well-functioning urban food infrastructure looks like, along with operating models for setting up a municipal market.

Government Food Strategy – what does it mean for local authorities?

The government food strategy aims to deliver ministers’ ambitions for a prosperous UK agri-food sector, contributing to levelling up, greater food security in an unpredictable world, and healthier, affordable and more sustainable diets for all. Local government is expected to play an important role in delivering the priorities. Read the briefing.

Migration governance


Managing immigration presents a challenge for governments at all but mass migrations have happened throughout history and are only likely to increase with the environmental impacts of climate change. Migration is often a contentious issue in receiving countries, and if not managed well, new arrivals can face resentment from the host communities. Two research organisations have recently published papers proposing a different approach to global migration.

The traditional way of governing migration has been to ‘build a fortress’ around a country. Demos Helsinki proposes a new way of governing migration, applying ‘foresight methodologies’ to migration policymaking. When governance structures, processes and capacities are anticipatory, they can balance resilience and transformation, providing governments with a long-term and proactive approach. The model was developed with North Macedonia and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Crucially, the approach aims to build regional cooperation and a regional approach to integration and migration policies, in which city regions have more say over migration policy not just integration policy.

Similarly, a paper from the German Marshall Fund of the United States envisions cities as migration governance partners. Many interlinked issues such as migration, climate change, diversity, democracy and sustainable development transcend nations. While multilateral cooperation is common between national governments and NGOs, the article advocates multilateral cooperation at local level. Local governments can partner with civil society, national governments, and international organisations in shaping coherent policies that address the needs of migrants, refugees and local residents. However, local governments are often excluded from national and international decision-making processes, and the expertise of local governments is not recognised. The German Marshall Fund promotes international knowledge exchange between city governments through its Cities Managing Migration project.


Could a regional immigration system be used to address labour shortages in rural areas?

The UK has been re-thinking and redeveloping its immigration policies What effect will that have on labour shortages in critical service areas like care or tourism outside of major cities? Could a New Zealand-style system be part of the answer? Cameron Boyle from the Immigration Advice Service explores the issues.

Refugees and asylum seekers: the challenges and opportunities for local authorities

The increase in the number of those seeking asylum in the UK initially brings significant pressure to local government, associated services and infrastructure. In the longer term, however, there are many opportunities and benefits for the UK as the host country. This briefing examines both the challenges and opportunities.

Read the briefing.

Global local: resettling refugees and migrants

This LGIU collection delves into local government policy focused on resettling migrants and refugees with examples from around the world. Explore the collection.

Wellbeing policy tools


The growing global movement for a ‘new economy’, ‘wellbeing economy’, ‘circular/ inclusive/regenerative economy’ has spawned many policy making frameworks and metrics. A discussion paper on the Shared ingredients for a wellbeing economy from Carnegie UK Trust summarises the similarities and differences between eight of the leading models, to help busy policy makers understand what the various wellbeing frameworks and tools can offer. It explores whether there are any areas of agreement between the models, and finds a good deal of common ground between the headlines, themes, ingredients and indicators across them, though they may have slight differences in emphasis.

The Centre for Policy Development (CDP) produced a submission to the Australian Treasury following the inclusion of a wellbeing statement in the government’s 2022 October budget papers. The CDP recommends a thorough, diverse and local discussion throughout Australia to develop national goals for long-term wellbeing. It proposes that the Australian government should identify broad wellbeing goals. These goals need to be debated in a national conversation about the lives Australians want now and for future generations. The conversation must include meaningful community consultation. Finally, the measurement of wellbeing is an important tool to support a wellbeing framework and should be carefully designed for the purpose.


How can we better measure community wellbeing? An exploration of the indicators

A holistic view of wellbeing helps policymakers understand the many dimensions of the lived experience – and what responses can bring us closer to equal opportunity, social cohesion, and harmony with the natural environment. This briefing outlines the role and evolution of wellbeing indicators in Australian local government.

Community wealth building meets the community economy: building cooperative approaches

This briefing builds on LGIU’s recent briefing on community sector and public sector collaboration for local sustainable development and recovery from the pandemic in the UK. It highlights the potential for ‘scaling-up’ of public sector and community sector collaborations.