On arrival in a new country, migrants and refugees, collectively referred to as third-country nationals (TCNs), have to quickly adapt to new social and linguistic contexts. Many are suffering from physical and emotional stress after long, often dangerous, journeys before facing significant bureaucratic requirements to get access to social, health or legal services. To ease the burden of this integration process, the EU-funded WELCOME (Multiple Intelligent Conversation Agent Services for Reception, Management and Integration of Third Country Nationals in the EU) project is developing a platform called MyWELCOME, which includes a multilingual personal assistant app, based on conversational agent technologies. The team also drew on learning from the previous KRISTINA project, which had included several WELCOME partners. “Each TCN is assigned their own digital agent to help with tasks such as form filling or providing local information on topics such as schooling and health services,” explains project coordinator Leo Wanner from Pompeu Fabra University in Spain. To complement the app, WELCOME is also developing virtual reality (VR) learning and coaching, alongside a decision support module targeted at public administration and NGO TCN integration support workers.
Understanding the needs of new arrivals
To first ensure that the technology would meet the needs of TCNs arriving in Europe, the team conducted interviews with around 45 TCNs, alongside 20 NGO and local authority staff members. By understanding their personal and family situation, including their legal status, origin, cultural background, skills and medical records, WELCOME, is able to better meet the needs of migrants. The approach is shared by the cluster of projects funded under the same call, all putting co-creation and co-design at the core of their ICT solution. easyRights is focused on ensuring the right to public services is met, MIICT on removal of bias in public service provision, MICADO on developing effective communication and data exchange, NADINE on improving employment prospects, and REBUILD on enabling personalised support in accessing public services and to informing policymaking. The cluster, besides working together in pilot activities, workshops and policy roundtable events, successfully prepared scientific publications and a policy white paper to support the EU’s future migration policy. “What we all want to achieve is customised support. A lot of bureaucracy is designed to be one-size-fits-all, but TCNs have very different needs and also qualifications and skills to offer that we just don’t tap into,” says Wanner. “By automating processes and joining up information across services, our technology can do some of the integration heavy lifting, freeing up time for a more personalised welcome.”
After installing the MyWELCOME app on a mobile device and registering basic personal information, users are assigned their personal agent. Interaction can be voice- or text-based. User speech is automatically translated into English for semantic analysis with the underlying planning algorithms triggering the appropriate responses – as information, guidance or answers to questions. The agent expresses itself using natural language generation and text-to-speech techniques. The system currently accommodates English, alongside Catalan, German, Greek and Spanish, representing host countries. Moroccan and Levantine Arabic (the most common TCN languages in Catalonia and the rest of Spain, Germany and Greece) are currently under development. “While we want to extend the languages available, for now modules for processing other languages can be added easily as plug-ins,” adds Wanner. WELCOME also offers educational VR-based activities, with language and social inclusion training delivered through serious gaming, where TCNs solve specific task challenges or rehearse scenarios such as job interviews. The decision support module, accessed via the system’s Platform Manager, helps support workers with tasks related to the analysis and correlation of TCN data. This includes performing functions such as clustering TCNs with similar characteristics, notably language proficiency, using visual analytics to present the information in accessible ways.
A range of possibilities
WELCOME has already tested the entire platform, with 54 TCNs and 15 stakeholder organisations participating in the first prototype trials. The team is currently fine-tuning the second prototype, co-designed, as was the first, by user groups (including TCNs), technical developers and external TCN stakeholders. “The platform has been warmly welcomed. After ironing out teething problems, we might further enhance and possibly commercialise the final project version or expand the system, potentially to include health or social work settings,” concludes Wanner.
WELCOME, third-country nationals, refugee, migrant, conversational agent technologies, app, public services, integration, mobile, virtual reality, social inclusion, social innovation