23rd March 2022

Developer Q&A: Helping the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) deploy information gathering chatbots in Ukraine

Over the past few weeks we’ve had the opportunity to help the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) use Twilio to build chatbots to directly help those fleeing their homes in Ukraine. Here we get the chance to sit down with Callum Cox, Junior Developer at Zing to find out more about the work.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Callum. How did you become involved in this work?

Callum: Zing has worked with the NRC for a number of years and I've worked on the chatbots that are used in Mali, Lebanon, Palestine and Sudan. When the opportunity came up to play a part in helping those in Ukraine, I was keen to be involved.

What’s been the process?

Callum: We’ve been using Twilio Studio to build flows that enable relevant messages to be sent to users based on their previous responses. This means users are only asked relevant questions, making the process simpler.

The first version of the Ukraine chatbot was developed at the start of the month. It enabled those in need to tell the NRC what they needed by providing information such as their location, how they had been affected by the situation and their urgent requirements.

Once that version of the chatbot went live, work began on enhancing the experience, and we added the ability to complete registration forms and log complaints / feedback. Version 2 of the chatbot is now live.

What do these chatbots enable people to do?

Callum: The chatbot collects information about the beneficiary via WhatsApp so that NRC can provide the best assistance possible.

Beneficiaries are able to complete three main tasks; register, complete a needs assessment and provide feedback / complain where necessary.

All of the tasks can be completed by the beneficiaries themselves or NRC staff assisting on the ground. When a member of NRC is messaging the chatbot, the bot provides relevant prompts to make sure they gather the most thorough information possible.


Why is this work so important?

Callum: The bots gather vital information required for the NRC to help those in desperate need. They provide scale, enabling those affected to register and request assistance at a suitable time for them.

It also gives NRC the insight required to group assistance. Because the chatbots are doing the admin work, staff can focus on providing assistance.

Where are the chatbots live at the moment?

Callum: The chatbot is currently live and helping people in Ukraine and surrounding countries such as Romania, Poland and Moldova. It is assisting people who have fled, plan on fleeing or have been affected by the invasion.

What does it mean to you to be able to work on something so important?

Callum: Working on this project has made me more aware of the depth of the situation in Ukraine and I’m happy and proud that the chatbot we developed will assist NRC in helping those in need.

After hearing the feedback from NRC, I feel very proud of the work we've done to create this chatbot. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work on such an important project.

Finally, we asked Christopher Hoffman, Global Project Manager at the NRC, to comment on the work. Here is what he said:

For the past two years, NRC and Zing have been working to scale digital communications in humanitarian emergencies on four continents. Following the mass displacement from the Ukraine Crisis, NRC was able to utilize the tools that have been tested in more than 27 countries to immediately roll out a needs assessment and registration communication channel over WhatsApp developed by Zing.

This service is now operating in all countries affected by the crisis and providing a life-line for communication to those in need. Without Zing’s quick work, ingenuity and great partnership, this could have never happened.

Thank you Callum and thank you Zing!

Christopher Hoffman
Global Project Manager at the NRC


Callum: Thanks Chris and thanks NRC! We’re just happy to have been able to help in some way, at a time when it’s easy to feel helpless.

What next?

Callum: It is likely that the requirements of the chatbot will develop and need to be updated in the future to reflect the situation. Therefore, it’s likely the chatbot will be updated and enhanced further to assist NRC in collecting relevant information about the situation as it changes.

NRC’s main focus areas in the days and weeks ahead will be cash aid, shelter and water. If you can, please consider making a donation.

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The NRC’s main focus areas in the days and weeks ahead will be cash aid, shelter and water.

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