Beca is piloting conversational artificial intelligence (AI) to help Local Government in New Zealand improve public engagement, reduce costs, and create better outcomes for communities.

Co-creating with ‘hyperlocal’ communities

The Beca AI we're trialling is based on an approach called ‘co-creation’ - directly involving the community in the creation of Local Government plans, programmes and initiatives. Successful co-creation requires public engagement with the full cross-section of the community, as well as high levels of trust and transparency.  

Yet this is not easy to achieve. The annual Edelman Trust Barometer indicates most people distrust initial messages from local authorities. Compounding this is a disconnect between the often-uniform messaging from local councils, and an increased public focus on ‘hyperlocalism’ - a greater awareness and ability to engage with issues that directly affect you or your values, particularly through changes in technology. 

For example, those who engage with the consultation process for a transport project will typically be limited to people on or near a specific route, and who believe that they are negatively affected. Those who are located further from the project, or agree with it, tend to be passive or disengaged - part of what we refer to as the ‘silent majority’.

Social media platforms, just like public meetings, struggle to reflect more than the most strongly-held and advocated views. It’s easy for the loudest voices to dominate mass and social media, while the silent majority (who may well support a project) remain invisible and disengaged.

Technological changes in our ability to access information have also influenced our expectations. People don’t simply want to provide feedback, they want their views to be heard, considered and incorporated in a timely way.

Successful co-creation can’t occur without the engagement of the silent majority, which is where Beca AI comes in.

Chatting with a machine as naturally as you and me

Beca AI, driven by machine learning technology, is designed for natural and engaging conversations in multiple languages, is infinitely patient, and trained to be interested. It can be accessed through the web, over the phone or via social media.

Unlike typical consultation and focus group processes, which relate to specific projects or initiatives and run for a set period of time, Beca AI is available 24/7 and is happy to talk about whatever community issue you wish to raise.  

Using the powers of Artificial Intelligence, Insights are provided based on the topics that the community is talking about, how sentiment changes over time, and the different ideas that people propose or support. The Beca AI approach guarantees that everything you say will be anonymously included and considered in the analysis.  

Importantly, Beca AI allows you to opt-in to a ‘relationship’, with the system being able to re-contact you after the first experience. This might be to ask more detailed questions, or alert you to new projects or plans that are directly relevant to your location or interests.

We’ve already seen a transformation in how people engage with the system. Some of this will be due to the novelty factor, but it’s also a way to share views in a way that is safe, easy, convenient and even fun.

AI into the future

The use of Artificial Intelligence is accelerating, but it needs to be driven by those with experience in customer engagement, rather than by ICT and technology firms. Consultation requires trusted skills, and AI components need to be trained to achieve the right results. In this context, an understanding of Local Government constraints is also essential.

Each time Beca AI is used, the personality of the system will be adjusted to reflect the local context, and the system is trained by our consultation experts so that it better understands and reacts to the diversity of people’s views.

The system is not intended to replace formal consultation and focus groups. It’s about getting the views of the silent majority and being able to demonstrate to our clients the complex and changing sentiment of the community towards their plans and programmes.


Keen to hear more about how Beca is making everyday better by harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and helping our clients integrate it into their own business or organisation? Visit our Beca Digital page today.

About the Author
Matt Ensor

Business Director - Advisory Services

View on LinkedIn
Email Matt Ensor