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Can A Local Government Chatbot Help Communication With Constituents? | by Stephanie Vautour | Jan, 2021

If you’ve ever talked to people who work in a 311 call centre for a city or at the city administration office, you’ll probably have heard at least a few of the most commonly asked questions that they answer every single day. Often, the questions and the answers are simple and relatively quick. Even if each call is only three minutes long, if the same query is answered 30 times in a day, that’s 1.5 hours spent on saying, “Yes, after the holiday weekend, waste pickup services will return to normal schedule.”

Imagine how much better city representatives could serve local constituents with more complex issues if they didn’t have to spend 1.5 hours per day on the simplest of questions?

AI is quickly becoming more useful, helpful, and secure. It’s something that local governments could benefit from embracing to help improve citizen engagement and free up employee time to work on more complex issues. Chatbots are one such avenue that many governments are taking advantage of to improve their communications with constituents.

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

On a federal scale, government agencies like Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) are both starting to use chatbots to improve service delivery, although for now, the bots are internal, helping employees find information faster.

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In 2018, Public Safety Canada implemented a chatbot as part of their campaign against driving high. At a minimum, 50,000 Canadians interacted with the bot via Facebook Messenger, and over 21,000 clicked on the option to find a ride home.

The City of Ottawa announced that they were launching a chatbot as part of their 311 services in late 2019. The chatbot would initially help site visitors with questions about waste diversion, and over time it would be developed to address a broader range of topics.The City of Toronto launched a COVID-19 chatbot in the spring of 2020 to help residents easily find information about COVID-19 in the city, including how the pandemic has affected city services and amenities.

Besides the examples above, a local government chatbot can be used in a million different ways. For questions from citizens, local governments and elected officials could use chatbots to:

  • Handle reporting for potholes, noise complaints, or snow removal issues
  • Answer simple and repetitive questions, like “when is Christmas garbage pickup?”, “how do I renew my dog license?” or “when is City Hall open?”
  • Direct residents to the correct resources or department for permit or policy questions
  • Collect feedback on civic services and projects
  • Direct visitors or tourists to information about the city and its amenities
  • Offer support to users browsing a FAQ page
  • Create awareness about legislation to users on specific pages

Chatbots can also be used efficiently by government representatives like council members, MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly), or MPs (Members of Parliament). Politicians can use chatbots to:

  • Answer FAQs, or direct users to FAQs
  • Allow constituents an easy way to connect with representatives when gathering in person is limited
  • Explain party views on certain campaign topics
  • Help users better understand the policies the party or representative wants to implement
  • Inform constituents about what is currently happening in local government

These are just a few ways to use a local government chatbot to help you communicate with your constituents. As you can see in the real-life examples above, chatbots are already in-use to support better government service to Canadians.

The Government of Canada has laid out guidelines for using AI that local governments can follow if they would like to implement an AI solution.
Interested in developing a chatbot for your local government, but not sure where to start to make sure it’s safe, secure, and affordable? Start a conversation with the ChatC development team.

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