User research into Chatbots and AI (Local Digital Exemplar Project) DISCOVERY

Project details:

Organisation Oxford City Council
Collaboration Level Open To Conversation
Budget £50K > £100k
Key Contact Neil Lawrence
Phase start 07 December 2018
Phase Estimated end 29 March 2019



This is a joint project between Oxford City Council, Hertsmere Borough Council, Cheltenham Borough Council, Doncaster Council, Preston City Council, North East Derbyshire District Council, Bolsover District Council, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, Bromsgrove District Council, Redditch Borough Council, Surrey County Council, Adur and Worthing Councils

There is a drive amongst local authorities to embrace the potential opportunities provided by AI and chatbots as a means to improve service to their customers, solve complex issues in service delivery and release efficiencies through reduced staff resource requirements.

However, there are problems for local authorities looking to adopt these solutions;

  • There is no shared understanding of the technology and its advantages/disadvantages as a solution to key issues. For example, what type of application is it best suited to in order to ensure the best return on investment
  • There are a variety of products and platforms that already exist on the market, but no objective evaluation of each to identify the most appropriate to use.
  • There is a risk of duplicating effort, wasting time and resource in the discovery phase to arrive at the same conclusions that others have already reached
  • Without a sound evidence base, there is a risk of inappropriate chatbot/AI projects being pursued that have poor prospects of meeting their objectives, wasting further time and resource

This discovery project aims to resolve these problems by delivering;

  • a methodology for evaluating the suitability or otherwise of a particular application for developing into a chatbot or AI product
  • a research base to assist local authorities developing their individual business cases to save time and resource rather than duplicating research
  • a summary of the potential technology solutions that are available with their individual advantages and disadvantages of each, and their applicability to different circumstances
  • a set of case studies drawn from participating councils in how the framework can be applied

In pursuing this it will also;

  • explore the feasibility of adopting or developing a common, open source platform for local government to use to develop chatbot/AI solutions
  • for the participating councils, deliver a set of recommendations on how to proceed with their use cases to alpha stage
  • Enable (an) alpha project(s) to take over from the discovery phase for the case studies, either funded collectively by participating authorities or through the MCHLG Local Digital Fund.




Status Updates

25 March 2019

  • Neil Lawrence

    Sprint #2: Waste and Recycling services

    • 24 user research interviews across 5 councils (Doncaster, Rotherham, Bolsover, North East Derbyshire and Cheltenham)
    • 9 stakeholder interviews across 4 councils
    • Data surveys completed for customer call volumes with subject split, and website analytics explored
    • Show and tell session to close the week; early findings indicating significant savings possible in this area

    A full update is available on the project website 

16 March 2019

  • Neil Lawrence

    Sprint #1: Planning services

    • 18 user research interviews across 3 councils (Oxford, Hertsmere and Cheltenham)
    • 6 stakeholder interviews across 3 councils
    • Data surveys completed for customer call volumes and subject split, and website analytics explored
    • Show and Tell session to close the week with early headlines on findings
    • Preparations for Sprint #2 next week

    A full update is available on the project website;

11 March 2019

  • Neil Lawrence

    Week 3  - final preparations completed;

    • Data for four research areas being compiled (phone, web, face to face)
    • User research training provided for all councils
    • User and stakeholder recruitment commenced for all research areas
    • Project website updated with project resources page
    • Week 3 blog post published

20 February 2019

  • Neil Lawrence

20 February 2019

  • Neil Lawrence

    Project kick-off has now started following completion of the Digital Marketplace procurement

    Full information on the project website at