Guidance for European Cities

Getting started with an Algorithm Register.

1. Overview

What is an algorithm?

An algorithm is a set of rules and instructions executed by a computer. Algorithms help to do things like analyse problems, but also to make decisions. This allows a government to combine and analyse large amounts of data. For example, social media uses an algorithm to decide which of your friends’ posts to show you, and some US courts are now using algorithms to automatically decide on the type and length of punishment for criminals.

What is an algorithm register?

Algorithm registers offer a standardised, searchable and archivable way to document the decisions and assumptions that were made in the process of developing, implementing, managing, and ultimately dismantling algorithmic applications in public organisations.

For local people, an algorithm register can facilitate participation as it allows them to understand and influence how cities’ use of algorithms impacts their lives. For local governments, it can be a tool to manage artificial intelligence (AI) governance in the development and operation process according to existing public services principles of responsibility, transparency, and security.

What is the Algorithmic Transparency Standard?

This standard presents a fairly comprehensive set of categories of information for cities to provide about their algorithms. By using the same 'standard' categories across many cities, information on the algorithms can be more easily compared and understood. Both making the information publicly available and making it comparable contribute to making it transparent. At the basis for any interoperable algorithm register is a data schema that determines the scope of information on algorithms and describes the dataset to support common understanding.

What algorithms need to go into an algorithm register?

Exactly which uses of algorithmic applications need to be documented was outside the scope of this project and is, for now, left to be decided by the individual cities implementing an algorithm register.

To join the discussion on this in 2023, please read the community section.

2. Using this guidance

To understand if the Algorithmic Transparency Standard is usable and useful in a local context, cities that are part of Eurocities’ Digital Forum Lab piloted it in their municipal administration. Feedback is and further development are ongoing. As we gather information and populate the fields of the standard, feedback is generated that will be used to adjust the data schema in the future. As mentioned above, your city can join the community to help guide the future of this standard.

3. Getting started

Step 1: List algorithms

Identify and select at least three algorithms in use in your city.

Use the .csv template or the Excel template as your main algorithm register file. Execute a “quick scan” of the selected algorithms by populating the ‘BASIC INFO’ fields, one row per algorithm. Check out the standard documentation for more information.

Step 2: Prioritise algorithms

Based on the quick scan information, prioritise the algorithms to populate the standard with.

You can prioritise the algorithms based on your organisations’ strategic criteria, for example: expected impact on people, expected risk, expected low explainability of the algorithm, or just availability of information.

Step 3: Gather information

Start gathering the information needed to populate the standard for the first algorithm.

Information to populate the standard can be found, for example, by:

  • Organising interviews, conversations and discussions with colleagues from different departments
  • Executing desk research
  • Consulting technical documentation
  • Consulting functional documentation
  • Making inquiries with vendors

To prepare for the interview, print and read the standard documentation.

During the interview try to go through the attributes/questions one by one, writing down the answers.

Step 4: Create registration

Capture the information by populating the corresponding fields in a separate version of the .csv template or the Excel template. This enables you to share this file with the algorithm contact person to verify everything is OK.

Step 5: Add to the Algorithm Register

If all is OK, copy the row from the separate file to the corresponding entry in the main algorithm register file.

Step 6: Publish (optional)

Create a publication copy of the main algorithm register file.

Be sure to check the publication copy for private information and sensitive information, and adjust it accordingly.

Request permission to publish the publication copy.

Publish the publication copy, for example to your organisations’ website or data platform.

Step 7: Repeat!

Now you created your first algorithm registration, continue with the second.

Don’t forget to plan a revision date for the first registration, to check if the information needs to change over time.

Feedback (optional, but much appreciated)

If there are any questions or unclarities about the standard, please let us know.

We will collect feedback from cities participating in Eurocities’ Digital Forum Lab throughout 2023, as well as other experts, and we welcome your opinions as well. We would love to hear about your experience gathering this information, and from the people with whom you liaised to gather it. Examples of questions that generate valuable feedback are:

  • Is it clear what information is requested?
  • Is the requested information relevant?
  • Is the required information (easily) available?
  • Is the requested information relevant for a baseline data schema?
  • Are the fields names convenient?
  • Are the field descriptions sufficient?
  • Are fields for certain information missing?
  • Is it clear in what format the field should be populated (eg. dd/mm/yy for dates, comma or points as a delimiter, etc.)?
  • What would you do to improve this schema?

— Participating Cities —















About Eurocities

Eurocities is the network of more than 200 cities in 38 countries, representing 130 million people, working together to ensure a good quality of life for all.