Victorian multilingual chatbot to provide Covid-19 support

The AskVic WhatsApp chatbot will provide culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Australia’s state of Victoria, with Covid-19 information and support

The Victorian government has rolled out Australia’s first multilingual WhatsApp chatbot to provide the state’s culturally and linguistically diverse communities with Covid-19 information and support.

Developed by Think HQ, a Melbourne-based communications agency, and Victoria’s department of families, fairness and housing, the AskVic chatbot was built to remove language as a barrier by serving in-language information to user queries and link out to further information and support services.

It provides information in eight languages, including Hindi, Arabic, Vietnamese, Turkish, Punjabi, Spanish and Filipino (Tagalog), as well as English.

Think HQ’s head of digital, Olivier Laude, said AskVic was the result of the “perfect balance of human-centred design, content and cultural relevance, and technology prowess”.

“The AskVic WhatsApp chatbot will provide essential information to audiences that are too often forgotten from traditional communications in Australia,” he said.

“We are proud to have delivered an innovative technical solution built with users to reflect all the cultural and linguistic nuances,” he said.

Think HQ said it integrated the nuances and cultural communications styles of different languages into the conversation design of the chatbot, which was tested in each language with native speakers to humanise the dialogue to align with what speakers would expect in their native languages.

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Jessica Billimoria, head of CultureVerse, Think HQ’s multicultural communication and community engagement consultancy, said the chatbot responds to all requests in the familiar WhatsApp application that is widely used by Victoria’s various communities.

“We know that WhatsApp and other messaging platforms are vital communication channels connecting people throughout Victoria’s multicultural communities, so it makes complete sense to be providing government information in this channel,” she said. “We expect this will increase trust in and use of the wide range of translated information the Victorian government provides.”

The tool was built on open-source technology, including the Rasa conversational AI, and uses the BotFront authoring platform to facilitate multilingual content management.

To overcome the challenges of delivering a complex application with multilingual requirements, Think HQ defined a common functional flow and architecture that provided a robust foundation for each language, with the flexibility to tailor dialogue and retain cultural relevance.

Although the chatbot was developed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been designed with a longer-term purpose as an information source for migrant groups to support equal access and participation in Victorian life.

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