AskVic, Victorian Government Multicultural WhatsApp ChatBot
Engaging with Victoria's multicultural communities in their language via a WhatsApp ChatBot to stay safe and receive the support they need.
Victoria's multicultural communities have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. As a result of the fast pace of information change and the ever-evolving Covid-19 situation, information is inconsistently translated into their native languages. In Victoria, 26% of the population speak a language other than English at home and 266,000 Victorians are not fluent in English resulting in critical information not reaching several specific communities. The problem that THINK HQ proactively aimed to solve was clear: how do we remove the language barrier for all Victorians to easily access relevant, updated and translated information allowing equal participation in everyday life?
For the Victorian government, providing relevant and accurate information is essential, so when it comes to translating that same information in 7 languages, we could not rely on machine translations which more often than not are prone to error. Our key challenges shifted to how we could use NAATI-certified translations in a fast-paced process that maintains relevancy, accuracy and speed when reaching out to all communities.
From our CALD communities' perspective, accessing this information in a familiar channel and format was critical. Our early research revealed that CALD communities were relying on messaging applications where they could share information in their native languages. Our challenge evolved to offering the NAATI translated information at a pace and in a format that could be easily accessed from a familiar digital destination.
Finally, from a technology perspective, we had to identify technologies that could successfully integrate with a long list of "must-have" requirements in order to meet our user needs. Our technical requirements included supporting 7 complex languages with different alphabets and displays, gaining sufficient flexibility from a content management system for 7 NAATI-translated content flows, and integrating with the popular messaging app WhatsApp. The task was big and had never been done before.
We created the AskVic WhatsApp ChatBot in 8 languages respecting the cultural and linguistic nuances, and accessible from a familiar channel already used by CALD communities. The WhatsApp ChatBot covers all essential topics for CALD communities to equally engage in everyday life: COVID-19 and vaccinations, Jobs and careers, Business, Housing, Transport, Social support, Education, Law and justice. Accessing the ChatBot is incredibly straightforward, users simply text 0480 032 278, saying "Hello" in their native language. The AskVic ChatBot can respond in 8 languages: Hindi, Arabic, Vietnamese, Turkish, Punjabi, Spanish, and Filipino (Tagalog), as well as English.
Easy to use and accessible to all
One of the preferred features by users is the simplicity of accessing the ChatBot. Being able to converse with AskVic in the WhatsApp application means users can ask any question with one touch of the app, any time of the day, any day of the year. Using seamless AWS Language Detect, the bot associates the requested language to a user ID on the first "Hello" and behaves consistently in the preferred language.
Engineering prowess to last
From a technology perspective, the AskVic WhatsApp ChatBot is a marvel of engineering prowess. The solution integrates the open-source RASA Artificial Intelligence engine with BotFront.io interface which acts as the content management control for all languages. It brings the RASA AI engine into a content-friendly interface so AskVic content managers can tweak dialogues, add new topics, and train the bot to become more human over time and further understand the verbal nuances of expression-rich languages. The messaging through Twilio brings the bot to life within the WhatsApp interface. The BotFront built-in analytics provides the Victorian Government with great insights on what CALD communities are asking and how the ChatBot can further improve to meet their ever-evolving needs.
In respect of cultural and linguistic nuances
The content architecture was engineered to allow for control of the dialogues, topics and user input categories (intents) and bot responses in one consolidated interface for the 8 languages. This interface is the heart of the product allowing a content manager to maintain relevancy across 8 languages working with NAATI certified translator to improve or add further dialogues into the bot. This same interface provides content managers with the opportunity of training the bot's Artificial Intelligence over time, validating the bot's understanding of user input at times the bot was not 100% confident.
While the AskVic ChatBot is just getting launched, the test and feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive as a large majority found ChatBot useful or extremely useful (70%+). As WhatsApp has become a key communication channel for connecting people throughout Victoria's multicultural communities, we expect the AskVic ChatBot will increase trust in and use of the wide range of translated information the Victorian Government provides.