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Multiple Intelligent Conversation Agent Services for Reception, Management and Integration of Third Country Nationals in the EU

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - WELCOME (Multiple Intelligent Conversation Agent Services for Reception, Management and Integration of Third Country Nationals in the EU)

Reporting period: 2020-02-01 to 2021-01-31

The number of refugees in the world continues to grow from year to year. What seemed to be the absolute peak in 2015 / 2016 turned out to be just an outlook on what Europe has to be prepared for in the times to come. Therefore, the reception and integration of Third Country Nationals (TCNs) remain a leading societal challenge for many EU countries. The challenge is threefold: (1) the assistance of such a high number of people calls for allocation of significant resources; (2) TCNs who come to Europe do not form one homogeneous group: they have diverse educational, cultural, and social backgrounds that are all radically different from the European backgrounds; and (3) TCNs often are required to deal with more complex documentation than migrants from other European Economic Areas. This implies the need for a big effort in personalized communication, education (including language learning) and cultural and social immersion. Personalization is the key. The overall objective of WELCOME is to facilitate the reception and integration of TCNs through comforting, easy to comprehend, personalized technology solutions. WELCOME will develop immersive and intelligent services in which the individual agents act as dedicated personal assistants of TCNs and gather information to support the decisions of actors in the host countries. The agents will utilize embodied multilingual conversation and decision support capabilities, each one with a specific topic expertise. The agents will interact with the user in a real or virtual /augmented reality environment as well as with each other to interchange information and negotiate the best training respectively decision support strategy for each individual case and for each decision to be taken. The personalization of the interaction strategies will be dynamic and depend on the profile and behavior of the TCN, and be socially and psychologically grounded (e.g. interaction with an adult will be different from the interaction with a minor; it will be different with a traumatized person and a person who is not). The WELCOME agents will be grounded in empirical research and co-creation to ensure maximum adherence to cultural competency and flexibility to adapt to the many different cultural, religious, social and political diversities among TCNs. WELCOME appreciates the added value of virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) technologies. Interactive VR/AR technologies have become increasingly prevalent as a means of improving knowledge and skill retention – also in terms of “gamification”, which is growing within the business and training industries. WELCOME furthermore acknowledges that the knowledge (personal data, level of language proficiency, degree of integration, etc.) acquired in personalized interaction with TCNs is essential for asserted decision making of the authorities related to TCN reception and integration. To this end, WELCOME will use visual analytics techniques to build decision support services.
During the first 12 months of its lifetime, WELCOME achieved two of its five milestones. In particular, the Consortium, firstly, successfully initiated the Project by establishing the Project identity in terms of its website and compiling a series of plans and guidelines for the research and development activities in the Project, including (i) the project management and quality assurance plan, the (ii) initial privacy, data protection, social and ethical issues preliminary guide for WELCOME design and development, (iii) the initial dissemination plan and communication material, (v) the preliminary user requirements and use case scenarios, (vi) the initial evaluation plan, and (vii) the initial self-assessment plan. Secondly, the Consortium developed the roadmap towards the implementation of the WELCOME platform, designed the architecture of the platform and set up an operational skeleton of it, in which the individual module shells are able to interact with each other. The development of the individual modules (such as, e.g. the mobile WELCOME Application, automatic speech recognition, language analysis and generation, text-to-speech synthesis, agent core and dialogue management, knowledge base, and visual analytics based decision support) also progressed. Important advances have been furthermore made with respect to the study of the psycho-social variables that need to be taken into account when personalizing the interaction between intelligent agents and individuals with different cultural and social backgrounds, who are furthermore potentially traumatized from experiences in their countries of origin. Finally, the Consortium advanced in the design and implementation of virtual environment setups - especially in the context of language teaching scenarios and in the development of a visual analytics-based decision support workbench, to be used by the authorities and NGOs for a better assistance of TCNs.
In accordance with its overall objective, WELCOME will go beyond the current state of the art in personalization of the interaction between an intelligent embodied conversational agent and humans. This will imply advances in the state of the art in a number of different scientific areas, and in particular, in: (i) context-aware semantic service coordination and dialogue modeling and management in agents; (ii) multilingual spoken language technologies; (iii) knowledge representation, acquisition and interpretation; (iv) Personalized TCN-agent interaction environments; and (v) personalized decision support environments for authorities.
The Consortium expects to deliver at the end of the Project an operational mobile device-based application, via which a TCN will be able to interact with a personalized conversational agent on a series of selected topics related to reception and integration either in their native tongue or in the language of the host country. Overall, WELCOME will cover Syrian and Moroccan Arabic, Catalan, French, German, Greek, and Spanish. Employees of the NGOs and authorities will be able to manage the profiles of the registered TCNs and maintain the necessary background and complementary information via a platform manager interface. Furthermore, a visual analytics-based decision support workbench will allow the employees to analyze the obtained data, correlate different variables, etc.
As a result, WELCOME is expected to have a strong impact on the quality of the TCN reception and integration practices and on the efficiency of public administrations to manage TCN reception / integration. The outcomes of the WELCOME project will also generate a number of positive societal impacts with respect to societal inclusion, gender equality and protection of vulnerable individuals and policy making. These impacts will necessarily open a wide range of economic opportunities and thus trigger a significant economic impact in the sector of social, cultural, and educational services.
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