Future Session #4: Chatbots

How can we use chatbots to map the needs of vulnerable groups?

Chatbots are computer programmes that can simulate conversations with human users. It is a somewhat elusive technology yet everywhere around us. Chatbots carry the promise of enabling organizations to engage in direct contact with clients and customers. This promise makes one wonder what this technology can mean for the humanitarian sector. How can we use chatbots to strengthen the position of vulnerable groups, for instance? 

Refugee connectivity
Thomas Baar, Tech Lead at HumanityX, opened the session by sharing the latest progress in his research on investigating the need for connectivity among refugees in a camp in Greece. The researchers figured that a humanitarian chatbot could help them in getting access to information. They identified several uses, such as: crowdsource information by sending surveys, check on a patient after a visit to a hospital or give targeted feedback to communities.

Making Syrian refugees visible
Upinion, a research platform that builds communities, recently started the endeavour to apply their expertise on the humanitarian sector. Upinion is a research platform that builds communities through social messaging to collect social insights. Assessing needs, for example of Syrian refugees, is time consuming, complex and expensive. Upinion asked: why not collect data from affected populations through social media?

Upinion walked the talk, as they just completed a successful pilot research targeted on Syrian refugees in three areas in Turkey.

They sent out a survey, asking these people to answer a couple of questions. Within 48 hours, they received 83 respondents. On top of that, 99% of the respondents allowed them to keep asking questions in the future. This means that Upinion has found a way to bind these people to their platform to further improve their data gathering. But most importantly, Upinion has found a way to potentially improve the lives of this vulnerable group.

Gathering trustworthy news
Free Press Unlimited showed that chatbots can also be very useful for gathering local news. Radio Dabanga is a Dutch website that reports independent news for the citizens from Darfur and Sudan. Much of their local sources are people from the community that share their information via an intelligent chatbot. On the basis of specific keywords, the chatbot can ask a specific question to further gather information about the potential news-worthy event.

Free Press Unlimited experienced an increase in efficiency and effectiveness in the process of gathering information and staying in contact with the local communities.

Working with possibilities
All these inspiring applications of chatbots triggered the participants to work with chatbots-inspired exercises themselves. Groups of four re-enacted conversations that diverse development cooperation organizations could expect from their clients. This taught the participants what the process of identifying keywords and enabling a chatbot to react in a correct way looks like.

Next session: the future with data literacy!
In the next Future Session you will get the chance to learn more about data literacy and its relevance for future development cooperation. Sign up here!

Click here, if you want the full report of the Future Session!

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