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Wisconsin puts citizen engagement first with AI-enabled tools

During the COVID pandemic, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) implemented its first AI-enabled user interface tools to manage the unprecedented increase in claims. While today the pandemic is mostly behind us, DWD Secretary Amy Pechacek says the agency is looking to leverage AI tools in other formats to increase operational efficiency and improve customer service.

In a panel discussion produced by Scoop News Group and underwritten by Google for Government, Pechacek said that at the height of the pandemic in 2020, their unemployment insurance division had a backlog of nearly 770,000 claims. Those claims increased 225,000% overnight with the quarantines and the lockdowns and the department was still using 50-year-old mainframe technology to administer benefits.

The state partnered with Google to build an artificially intelligent super adjudicator that quickly learned key rules of eligibility and processed backlogged claims in a matter of days, Pechacek explained.

“We are at a time when the landscape of technology is shifting, and Google is able to provide complementary solutions to agencies that already have technology in place,” explained Kierston Howard, executive lead for Public Sector at Google.

“Particularly in the areas of automation, in front-end customer portals to make them more accessible, more user-friendly. And mobile-ready, certainly in the area of contact centers — so when you call your call center or go online to the website, you get quicker answers and better responses,” said Howard.

She referred to an “80/20 rule” for public service, where it is estimated that 80% of constituents can access these public service programs, and 20% will struggle with accessibility.

“There’s always that percentage of people who have accessibility challenges — who don’t have broadband or who have literacy issues or challenges that really create barriers for them to get these services in the best way possible,” explained Howard. AI-enabled tools allow government agencies to create new experiences for those harder-to-serve populations.

Pechacek echoed that belief. She shared how her department set up a virtual chatbot. “Mattie Moo” speaks the top three languages of the state — English, Spanish, and Hmong — and is available 24/7/365 and can answer over 100 frequently asked questions so constituents can get information quickly and help them through the claim filing process for unemployment insurance.  Her department is working to expand the capabilities of “Mattie Moo” to allow customers to use a chatbot consistently for any program on the department’s website.

“One piece of advice I will [offer] is that we are very conscientious here in Wisconsin of the potential for bias,” Pechacek adds. Referring to the artificially intelligent adjudicator her agency previously used, if a claim was determined “not payable,” the claim wasn’t just denied. Rather, it was sent to a human team member to do a full investigation.

And recently, this year, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers signed an executive order creating the Governor’s Task Force on Workforce and Artificial Intelligence to ensure the state is capitalizing on strategies that help adopt transformative AI while ensuring the state’s workforce can remain stable, steady and robust.

Watch the full discussion to learn more how artificial intelligence improves state agencies’ ability to serve its constituents.

This video panel discussion was produced by Scoop News Group for StateScoop, and underwritten by Google for Government.