Redditch Borough Council is to help explore how chatbots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) could help deliver local services, in a partnership project that has secured £80,000 from the Government.

The work will look at whether and how councils could use the technology to improve customer service and efficiency.

Chatbots allow customers to raise queries, get information or request services using natural language. Their uses include on websites, in messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, and in virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa.

Redditch has partnered with 13 other councils, led by Oxford City Council, to explore the issues between now and April 2019. A bid to the Local Digital Fund for £80,000 to support the work has now been approved. The fund from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is to help local authorities explore and build common solutions to shared problems.

The main aims of the work are to improve local government understanding of the technology, examine products that already exist in the market, and share all the findings with all councils. It will also look at ways for councils to evaluate the suitability of their applications for developing AI products that could provide information to customers more quickly and cost effectively.

It aims to create a research base that councils will be able to use to develop business cases rather than duplicating research, and prepare a summary of the technological solutions that are available.

Cllr Tom Baker-Price, Redditch Borough Council’s Portfolio Holder for Corporate Management, said: "We’re pleased to be playing our part with national partners studying how the latest technology may be able to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and economy of the council’s customer services. Many residents will be familiar with chatbots and AI from online shopping to their smartphones, where they can ask questions anytime, anywhere for an instant response and possible resolution. This project is part of the council’s ambitious digital innovation drive to improve services and reduce costs for our residents, and demonstrates Redditch Borough Council is at the forefront of digital innovation in local government.”

The partner authorities are:

  • Oxford City Council (project lead)
  • Adur and Worthing Councils
  • Bolsover District Council
  • Bromsgrove District Council
  • Calderdale Council
  • Cheltenham Borough Council
  • Doncaster Council
  • Hertsmere District Council
  • North East Derbyshire District Council
  • Preston City Council
  • Redditch Borough Council
  • Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council
  • Surrey County Council