AI project scoops £80,000 funding

Published: Friday, 7th December 2018

An Oxford City Council-led project to examine the use of chatbots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is set to get £80,000 from the Local Digital Fund.

The aim of the project is to look at the opportunities provided by them and see if they might offer improvements to customer service and increase efficiency.

The Local Digital Fund was established by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to help local authorities explore and build common solutions to shared problems. A total of £7.5 million was allocated, attracting 389 expressions of interest from local authorities, from which 150 were invited to make full applications.

The funding will help the project to increase and share understanding of the technology with other councils and examine products that already exist in the market. It will also look at ways to evaluate the suitability of applications for developing AI products to provide information to service users more quickly and cost effectively. A research base will be created to help councils develop business cases rather than duplicating research, and prepare a summary of the technological solutions that are available.

Oxford City Council is leading the project. Its partner councils are:

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

Chatbots allow customers to raise queries, get information or request services using natural language. They can be used in messaging apps like Facebook Messenger or virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa. 

Cllr Nigel Chapman, Board Member for Customer Focused Services, said: "Oxford City Council has always looked to provide the best services we can for the city's residents. We already have automated services available through our website, but we are keen to explore the possibilities that further automation affords. This project, in conjunction with other councils, will ensure that Oxford is on course to remain at the forefront of innovation in providing its services."

The confirmation of the award follows an exhaustive application process that started in October.