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Conversational Technologies Specialist (Chatbot)

New York City (United States of America)

  • Organization: IRC - International Rescue Committee
  • Location: New York City (United States of America)
  • Grade: Mid level
  • Occupational Groups:
  • Closing Date:

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The International Rescue Committee (IRC) helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future. Founded in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein, the IRC works with people forced to flee from war, conflict and disaster and the host communities that support them, as well as with those who remain within their homes and communities. At-work today in over 40 countries and 22 U.S. cities, we restore safety, dignity and hope to millions who are uprooted and struggling to endure.

Early Childhood Development Programming

High-quality Early Childhood Development (ECD) programs provide the foundation for children’s future academic success, health, prosperity and wellbeing. A large body of scientific evidence emphasizes the need for increased investment in early childhood, particularly for children experiencing conflict, crisis and displacement; these children are extremely vulnerable to the long-lasting effects that prolonged stress has on the developing brain. With the generous support of the MacArthur Foundation’s inaugural 100&Change grant, the LEGO Foundation and the Bezos Foundation, the IRC and Sesame Workshop have partnered to provide quality early childhood development programs for refugee and host communities in the countries affected by the Syrian refugee crisis in the Middle East. Focusing on children in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria over the course of five years, the Ahlan Simsim, Play to Learn and Vroom projects combine a depth of in-person activities and digital content, aiming to reach 1.5 million children and caregivers across the region.

ECD Digital Projects

In the Syria Response and due to ongoing displacement and population movements across countries in the region, there is a need to ensure maximum portability. The challenges that families were already experiencing in the region have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 outbreak, with thousands of children losing access to schools and educational activities, and caregivers taking over homeschooling duties in already precarious settings. In 2021, smartphone usage is at record highs, accompanied by growing technical literacy and declining data costs in low- and middle-income countries. The explosion of natural language processing and artificial intelligence means that programs are now able to provide a personalized and engaging digital experience for clients at scale.

To that end, at the beginning of 2020, the IRC launched a two-week mass messaging pilot via WhatsApp Business, reaching caregivers of young children with outcome-driven activities for them to do at home with their child. Caregivers were able to select the age of the child they wanted to receive content for, but otherwise received content was prescribed by the IRC. Upon completion of the pilot, analytics data was assessed and qualitative interviews were conducted that provided a strong sense of how users interacted with the program, their level of satisfaction and what features they would like to have in future versions.

We will design future phases of the project based on those findings.

Consultant Responsibilities

We are making major changes to our program design, starting with the system we will use to build our chatbot. We had previously built with a third party vendor whose proprietary design did not meet our feature needs and is not a sustainable option for us. We’re looking to leverage the most recent technology in natural language processing and artificial intelligence to provide the most personalized experience for our clients. And, we are looking to transition to an ideally open platform that allows for building an interactive messaging system tailored to IRC’s needs, such as RapidPro.

We are looking for the specialist to advise on platform selection based on our set of required functions (see below). Being able to make that recommendation with strong justification, we expect this consultant to then advise on design based on WhatsApp constraints (structural, cost, etc.) and build the product for the IRC. We recognize that this may be out of scope for an individual and would request that the applicant include the team they would need in their application and be able to bring on that team as needed themselves. We will then expect the specialist and team to work with us to determine feature build sequence, timeline, cost, operational models, etc.

We expect the product to be created in sections, with a first set of functions piloted as soon as possible, followed by one or more additional phases—enhancing the product based on each round of testing until we have a fully optimized product. Once the product is optimized, we would expect the consultant to support the capacity building of our internal teams to maintain the product, such as replacing or adding content. Additional functions requested beyond initial scope would require the future support of the consultant and a new scope of work.

Expectations for Product and Consultant Capabilities

Requirements for the product from initiation include:

Uses open platforms to create the IRC-managed product

Designed to allow push and pull messages with text, voice, video, images, links

Multichannel, with guaranteed WhatsApp use

Responsive with error messages, feedback mechanisms and capacity for increased complexity, such as understanding client intents

Data collection for indicators such as response time average; ability to clearly articulate available indicators

Platform can be in Arabic, but must be able to send, receive and understand messages in English and Arabic

Additional features desired for additional pilot phases include:

Natural Language Processing and Understanding

Ability to integrate human messaging for escalation, coaching and mentoring


Final optimized product will require:

Integration with other systems, including Dupal or PowerBi for analytics dashboard

User friendly IRC interface for content updates and additions; no dev experience required for simple maintenance

Some key expectations for the consultant:

Take a leading role on the ideation, technical development and launch of new chatbot features.

Put things into a product prioritization framework

Drive product development with a team of engineers, data-scientist and more

Work on chatbot features for client, customer and partner engagement/feedback

The consultant will work closely with the IRC’s Ahlan Simsim digital team to receive product guidance and expectations, as resulted from pilot findings and user research. If the consultant believes support is needed s/he is welcome to invite and work with other developers on this project with prior approval.

Broadly, the IRC is looking for a strategic partner in designing the next phases of this project and is looking for someone who is willing to be the team’s platform expert. This means that the team will expect the consultant to vocalize developmental limitations in team requests, rely on past experiences in chatbot design and working with channels like WhatsApp to provide design guidance, and provide recommendations on changes to the program design as they deem appropriate. We want this relationship to be a conversation, as we will rely on the consultant’s expertise to design and perfect this product.

We do our best to provide you the most accurate info, but closing dates may be wrong on our site. Please check on the recruiting organization's page for the exact info. Candidates are responsible for complying with deadlines and are encouraged to submit applications well ahead.
Before applying, please make sure that you have read the requirements for the position and that you qualify.
Applications from non-qualifying applicants will most likely be discarded by the recruiting manager.

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