Government Chatbots Now a Necessity for States, Cities, Counties

Before COVID-19, a few leading governments were dabbling in chatbot technology, using AI to address common resident queries. In 2021, it’s hard to imagine government doing the people’s business without them.

Governments are using chatbots to help handle a massive influx of questions from the public during the pandemic. Chatbots typically use some form of AI algorithm that can handle common questions and leave less common or more complicated questions for human staff to answer.


Most jurisdictions that use bots have a definite list of questions they are capable of answering. They are often structured for weeding out of people whose questions can be answered easily. This is especially important during the pandemic because people have been turning to the government more than usual for things like health testing, unemployment benefits, and other kinds of assistance.

In states across the country, chatbots served a vital role in augmenting the capabilities of human staff members to deal with unrelenting waves of questions from applicants of unemployment programs.


A lot of the jurisdictions surveyed used chatbots for COVID-19-related purposes. Connecticut’s COVID chatbot did the work of four full-time employees during a four-month period.

Placer County, Calif., has a bot capable of answering more than 375 questions. IT agencies San Joaquin County, Calif., and Fairfax County, Va., worked with other departments to figure out what their needs were and what their most frequent questions were so that they could build those into their chatbots.

In May 2020, Minnesota’s chatbot tools, combined with its live chat function, saved an estimated 1,700 hours of staff time.

The Cabarrus County, N.C. chatbot is capable of pulling in information from other systems in order to help the user. Missouri’s Department of Revenue worked with Accenture on a virtual agent named DORA, which answered 100,000 resident questions in its first three months, fielding questions on taxes, driver’s licenses, and motor vehicles.


A key feature of chatbots is that they’re designed to answer a growing number of questions over time. Many governments use data analysis tools to follow the kinds of questions citizens ask so that they can add answers to those questions over time, and so bots can learn how to respond to variations.

Chatbots can also take input in many different forms, which gives them the unique ability to serve citizens across multiple channels. Several jurisdictions got into chatbots by first making them available via text, a more ubiquitous option a few years ago when the technology was first taking off. Jurisdictions have since added web functionality and texting to their bots. San Joaquin County also built its bot to work in three languages.


Survey results and the trends of government technology during the pandemic point to a time of growth for government chatbots, especially if they can help make digital services, emergency operations, and telework more workable.


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