The municipality of Oss is located in Noord-Brabant between Nijmegen and Den Bosch and has more than 90,000 inhabitants and 22 residential areas. Despite the size, the municipality is in the middle of the community, not above it. The mission is clear: “Our main task is to help the community to govern itself”.
Collaboration with citizens is paramount. It is precisely what is needed in these times of rapid change. The Municipality of Oss created The Oss Service Organisation for this purpose. This municipality-wide programme led by Annabelle Wagemans aims to strengthen joint service provision and has a direct influence on how the municipality is planning to organise service provision. The organisation consciously chooses to make the primary processes as the most important pillars of the municipality towards its residents.
Battle of the Bots
The development of services for the citizens, with the citizens, was the start of the chatbot project of the Municipality of Oss. Annabelle Wagemans (Head of Public Center) and Astrid Eikenaar (Service Advisor) are always on the lookout for new forms of service provision that are in line with the mission where cooperation with the citizen is of vital importance. The Battle of the Bots was created by Annabelle: ‘The chatbot is a well-known phenomenon, but it is still new. Of course, we are dealing with different inhabitants and the familiarity with chatbots makes it more accessible. We wanted to get to work on this right away and opted for a Battle of the Bots’.
Annabelle consciously opted for a battle: “We noticed that within the government, people often work with a supplier for quite some time. I think it’s important to start an innovation from a partnership with the idea “how can we do this together?”. Instead of a fierce competition, I could see a fruitful cooperation between two suppliers. It is a process of discovering, inspiring and learning from each other in the broadest sense of the word. This process is not only between the Municipality of Oss and the suppliers, inhabitants and employees are involved as well.’
Starting small for a great result
The municipality of Oss chose to start implementing the chatbot on a smaller scale. In the first phase, the chatbot will be focusing on “garbage” in the first phase. This focus ensures that the process of innovation is kicked off immediately. As Annabelle explains: ‘This subject was chosen based on the data of frequently asked questions. You don’t have to start a two-year trajectory for an innovation. You have to show guts and just go live, typical for the Municipality of Oss’.
The development of Chatbot Sonja is in the hands of Astrid. After a dashboard training by Customer Success Manager Guido Postma she got to work. Two months later Chatbot Sonja went live for the first time. Building with Watermelon is easy, says Astrid. She did encounter a few challenges though: ‘After the training I was very enthusiastic and wanted to get straight to work. Thinking through the conversation trees required more brainpower than I had initially estimated. Luckily Guido supported me with this over the phone and by e-mail.’
“You don’t have to start a two-year trajectory for an innovation. You have to show guts and just go live, typical for the Municipality of Oss”
Collaboration is key
Of course the citizens of the municipality of Oss were not left behind during the Battle of the Bots. The citizen panel, consisting of over 900 inhabitants, was invited for a feedback session of chatbot Sonja. Sonja was well received by the panel, says Astrid: ‘Everyone was very positive about chatbot Sonja. The biggest point of “criticism” was that the panel regretted that Sonja was only able to answer questions about waste. For me however, this is positive, this only goes to show that we can eventually roll out the chatbot to multiple subjects’.
During the event CTRL ALT CONNECT of the Municipality of Oss, employees were introduced to various digital themes. Several employees signed up for the workshop building chatbots with Watermelon. A great success according to Annabelle: ‘This was a great moment to also create support within the organization for the chatbot. It became clear that your work is not taken over by a chatbot, but that it changes into a positive sense. It was nice to see this changeover’.
Personality is important, especially in municipalities
When an employee talks to a customer, that person becomes the business card of the company. It is no different when it comes to chatbots. Especially when you are able to shape this personality yourself. Astrid and Annabelle have given this a lot of thought, Annabelle says: ‘Oss is a Rainbow town, we had to take this into account when shaping the personality of the chatbot. What you want to radiate as a municipality is essential’.
A dedicated team taking steps
Building a chatbot with multiple people seems handy, but sometimes it is good to have a small group of people in charge who can take steps and make decisions. Astrid experienced this as well: ‘The people responsible for this project are all able to act rapidly, make decisions and go live. It takes guts and in the end that works out best!
Chatbot Sonja only answers questions about waste, but not all citizens are aware of this. Managing expectations is vital, Astrid has done a great job with chatbot Sonja: ‘The welcome text clearly states that Sonja is learning to manage the expectations of the inhabitants of Oss. It is interesting to see that after going live, the questions are different than you anticipate during the building. Luckily we keep a close eye on the mismatches which are added to the chatbot’.
“It became clear that your work is not taken over by a chatbot, but that it changes into a positive sense. It was nice to see this changeover.”
An innovative cooperation
Cooperating with a supplier is essential, especially in municipalities. The cooperation between Watermelon and the Municipality of Oss is a great one. Annabelle says: ‘Watermelon is clearly engaged in innovation. It is a young, trendy, professional organisation of which you can clearly see that they have really thought through what they do on a daily basis. The contact we have is always very cordial, and they don’t shy away from actively thinking along with us. What I always like is when I ask if something is possible, the answer is always ‘Yes’. Watermelon definitely sees possibilities instead of limits. Astrid confirms this and adds: ‘When I call Watermelon, it almost feels as if they are always waiting for me, whether it’s Guido or another employee, the contact is always very cordial.
Innovatie bij gemeenten is vaak een hoog thema maar brengt een lang proces met zich mee. Met Watermelon kan Gemeente Oss in een korte tijd een behoorlijke innovatie slag maken. Zo concludeert Annabelle: ‘Als het gaat om innovatie moet je lef tonen en stappen durven te maken en vooral niet te lange trajecten aangaan. Watermelon heeft tijdens de Battle of the Bots laten zien dat ze mee kunnen gaan met deze gedachte. Ik ben erg benieuwd hoe deze Battle zich verder gaat ontwikkelen!’
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