Ok Chatbot: What Is Your Value for Humanitarians?

Emily Aiken and Joseph Agoada | ICT Works | July 20, 2017

Whether or not you are aware of it, you have probably interacted with a chatbot – whether checking your finances, making a travel reservation, or even ordering a pizza. But what opportunities exist to use chatbots to assist humanitarians and development practitioners? Chatbots are conversational computer programs that can read message questions, interpret responses, and perform actions or make decisions, without any assistance from a live person on the other end. For example, cosmetics supplier Sephora’s chatbot asks potential customers a few questions on beauty preferences, produces personalized product recommendations, and then allows the user to make purchases without ever leaving their messaging application.

In the same way a chatbot can successfully give personalized information on makeup choices to a shopper, the technology has the potential to be an innovative tool for development and humanitarian organizations to better communicate with their constituencies. The ability to deploy a scaled outreach campaign while not heavily burdening staff with regards to time and training has the potential to be one invaluable use of chatbots to development organizations with and without an ICT focus.

Chatbots smartly guide beneficiaries and other end users through surveys, making the surveys easier to understand and complete correctly. There are options for additional functionality using artificial intelligence and machine learning in the interpretation of messages and sending of information. With smartphones, social media and Wi-Fi connectivity becoming more widely prevalent worldwide, another value of chatbots can be reaching captive audiences that are now using SMS for their daily communication. Chatbots can also reach people without being totally reliant on mobile network access...