Ten local government chatbots that are making a difference
The list of local government chatbot names grows by the day, as municipalities and county governments keep finding new ways to utilize this cyber workforce to improve services and reduce costs.
Jazz, Botti, Gem, CHIP, Coda, Angela, BerIT, CityBot, DalBot, Kunta-Kai & Monty…
The list of local government chatbot names grows by the day.
That’s because chatbots are, by nature, an ideal way for municipalities and county governments to keep residents informed, and to alleviate pressure on civil employees by automating responses to the most frequently asked questions.
In the past, chatbots were limited to prompting users for responses, often chosen from a list, and delivering static answers, pulled from a corresponding list. Today’s chatbots are far more flexible, using AI to interpret users’ freeform thoughts and synthesizing responses from knowledge bases on which they have been formally trained.
Local and county governments also benefit from additional features that extend the range of use cases supported by chatbots. These days, chatbots can distribute and receive official forms, verify information against public records, and interface with other services to process payments, permits, and other essential government services.
Municipalities now use chatbots both in traditional ways and to support more focused initiatives in ways that earlier chatbot designs never could. Here are ten ways that chatbots support, enhance, and extend city and county services.
1. Phoenix, AZ
Phoenix is one of the fastest-growing cities in the US, and its municipal agencies are consistently challenged to deliver responsive service to its 1.64 million residents, nearly 20% of them speakers of Spanish. To that end, the city created myPHX311, a web portal and app designed to answer common questions and to put Phoenix’s residents in contact with the agencies best positioned to resolve their issues.
The myPHX311 Virtual Assistant handles a significant volume of traffic on both the website and the app. Developed in AWS Lex, the chatbot uses 69 intents to create a conversational interface in both English and Spanish. Initially designed to facilitate access to the city’s payment portal and to its water and waste-disposal services, the myPHX311 Virtual Assistant has been expanded to address other use cases.
2. Williamsburg, VA
Smaller cities face their own challenges when it comes to delivering effective, responsive municipal services. Williamsburg is home to the College of William and Mary, whose student body accounts for roughly half of its 15,000 residents, and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, whose living history museum attracts more than a million visitors per year. A disparate and fluctuating population called for a nuanced approach to customer service, and Williamsburg turned to an AI-powered chatbot to give residents an easy way to find comprehensive answers to routine questions.
$ $ Developed by Citibot, the chatbot proved immediately successful, answering 79% of residents’ questions immediately and without the need for referral to human agents. The efficiencies made possible by Williamsburg’s chatbot encouraged the city to investigate other ways of informing service delivery and strategic planning with AI.
Singapore has long prided itself on the depth and breadth of its digital infrastructure, and since 2016 has boldly proclaimed its ambition to become the world’s first smart city. To improve the city’s response to common issues, Municipal Services Office leveraged Singapore’s two most widely used messaging apps, WhatsApp and Telegram, to create the OneService chatbot.
In a city-state famous for its insistence on cleanliness and order, OneService fulfills a significant role by allowing residents to report incidents of littering and illegal parking, along with the presence and behavior of both domestic and wild animals. OneService places special emphasis on flexibility, using AI to interpret users’ input and deliver relevant information to the proper agencies.
4. Kawasaki City & Kakegawa City, Japan
Private companies and municipal governments sometimes find common cause in developing chatbots for widespread use. Kawasaki and Kakegawa teamed with the Mitsubishi Research Institute to test a newly developed chatbot service. Originally designed to help residents learn about the cities’ rules and regulations, and to provide information about trash collection and other core municipal services, the chatbot was expanded to support the issuance of official documents related to routine city business.
After the initial pilot earned support from 94.7% of residents and 87.3% of municipal employees, Mitsubishi announced plans to expand it by launching an enhanced version of the chatbot on Japan’s popular LINE messaging app. Kawasaki and Kakegawa received a chatbot solution that added an important new layer of support for residents’ inquiries, and the Mitsubishi Research Institute gained valuable insights from a highly successful proof of concept.
5. Kolkata, India
As municipalities struggled to turn the tide against COVID-19, Kolkata, India looked to an innovative chatbot to facilitate vaccination registration and improve the efficiency of the city’s vaccination efforts. WhatsApp is enormously popular throughout India, and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation used its API to reach a wide swath of the city’s residents via a medium with which they already felt comfortable.
More than a quarter million unique visitors used the chatbot in the ten weeks following its launch in mid-May 2021, and more than 75,000 appointments were booked directly through the service. In its early days, only three vaccination centers were connected with the chatbot, but the service proved so popular, and so effective at scheduling appointments for maximum throughput and efficiency, that more than 100 vaccination sites were quickly added.
6. Boston, MA
Hunger remains a very real problem in US cities, and one fraught with paradox. Most cities have more than enough food to keep all of their citizens healthy. Getting food into the hands of the people who need it most, however, can be a challenge. Boston’s food resources SMS chatbot addresses that problem with a lightweight, easy-to-use service that helps the city’s residents connect with food resources or donate them, and to connect with related support systems.
Created by the Mayor’s Office of Food Access, the new chatbot builds on Boston’s successful implementation of a food-delivery chatbot meant to facilitate contactless food delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic. As an SMS service, it requires no internet connection, making it more widely and readily available than website- or app-based chatbots. From the start, the service has been available in the city’s eight most commonly spoken languages.
7. Derby City, UK
Smoking places significant burdens on municipal government—one study estimates that tobacco-product cleanup alone costs the average large US city more than $ $12 million a year$ . While local regulations can help curtail the public presence of smoking, that’s not enough to help most residents break the habit. Derby City doubled down on England’s annual Stoptober smoking-cessation campaign with the help of a chatbot.
Built on Facebook’s Messager platform, the chatbot provided an immediate, easily accessible resource for smokers who needed a bit of extra support during the 28-day challenge. The chatbot also featured games designed to give edgy quitters a bit of a distraction along with an opportunity to work off a bit of the nervous energy typical of nicotine withdrawal.
8. Cabarrus County, NC
The COVID-19 pandemic put an even greater strain on rural areas already facing serious problems with housing security. Cabarrus County, in south-central North Carolina, found that too few of its residents were able to avail themselves of federal housing assistance, so it partnered with content-management company Laserfiche to provide a comprehensive, easy-to-use chatbot geared toward helping residents identify and apply for federal support.
The chatbot included templates that guided residents through the application process and instantly confirmed their approval or disqualification for government subsidies. Integrated with Laserfiche’s ERP system, it also facilitated the distribution of funds, all from a clear, easily navigated interface. The results were inspiring: more than $300,000 worth of housing assistance reached Cabarrus County residents through applications originating with the chatbot.
9. Los Angeles, CA
Large cities rely on extensive, often complicated, procurement processes to keep things moving. Procurement works best when vendors and city officials are on the same page, but getting there can take some work. To ease the burden of its staffers, Los Angeles created Chip, the City Hall Internet Personality—an AI-powered chatbot trained to answer a wide range of questions from contractors, vendors, and anyone wishing to do business with the City of Angels.
After its final round of training on roughly 700 commonly asked questions, Chip’s AI algorithms continued to add to its knowledge base in response to its direct interactions with humans. The project was an immediate success, reducing emails to the city’s business-assistance network by more than 50% and freeing procurement staff to address more complex issues.
10. Ronneby, Sweden
Chatbots can be extraordinary vehicles for serving large populations with large, complex sets of data. But they can also pay great dividends in more limited use cases. The town of Ronneby in southeast Sweden supports its municipal employees with BerIT, a chatbot dedicated to answering common IT questions, freeing its IT staff to address more complex issues. BerIT has proven especially useful during new software rollouts and other events that prompt similar questions from large numbers of Ronneby employees.
BerIT continues a string of investments in AI by the town of 12,000. It previously automated its booking and scheduling process for substitute teachers, and facilitates applications for financial assistance through a partially automated system.
More chatbot use cases
For more examples of how local governments are utilizing chatbots to improve services, streamline processes and reduce costs, check out our growing collection below.