How Government Agencies Are Using Data to Transform Social Services


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Technology can improve equity and access to services. With AI-powered and data-driven solutions, Google Cloud is helping the government provide better opportunities to the people who need them most.

As governments seek to provide constituents with seamless access to the benefits constituents rely on, agencies are taking steps to remove barriers and create more inclusive access for people of all backgrounds, language proficiencies, geographic locations, ability status and much more. 

Automated technology powered by artificial intelligence can help bridge that gap, aiding constituents as they fill out forms, retrieve necessary information and navigate the path to gaining access to crucial government services.

Translation Transformation 

A major barrier for both agencies and constituents is language. Historically, when a government agency had to provide forms to non-English speaking constituents, the organization would spend a large chunk of its budget on translation costs. Translating a single government document through a translation firm often came with a price tag of several thousand dollars, says Google Cloud Director for State and Local Government in the Central U.S. Region Brad Hoffman. 

Not only did this practice burn through taxpayer dollars, but it also forced agencies to choose some languages over others, making it nearly impossible for citizens who spoke less common languages to interact with their government. 

Google Cloud’s Translation Hub, a service that leverages Google Cloud Translation API and AutoML to translate a large amount of documents into many languages, provides an opportunity to bridge this gap in citizen services while simultaneously lightening the burden on employees. 

“A citizen from the state can pick from a drop-down of over 100 languages, from Afrikaans to Zulu,” Hoffman explains. “It will translate the language [on the webpage] and replace the text so that it looks exactly the way it did before. The only thing that changes is the language itself.” 

Translation Hub makes it possible for agencies to translate constituent-facing documents, but agencies also need to translate that document back into English for processing. Google Cloud’s Document AI, or Doc AI, solution can help.

“If someone fills out an application, either handwritten or typed, Doc AI allows agencies to translate instantaneously so that an analyst can read the document in English,” Hoffman says, noting that the program can translate 50 written languages and 200 typed languages into English. 

But it’s not just permit applications or digital forms that can benefit from services like Translation Hub, notes Denise Winkler, strategic business executive for global public sector at Google Cloud. 

“When it comes to board meeting minutes, for instance, budgetary restrictions make it hard to provide accessible information to constituents,” she says. “Agencies typically can only release these minutes in English or Spanish, even though there are many other languages spoken in these communities.” 

Google-powered translation solutions are cost-effective, and allow agencies the opportunity to translate public meeting minutes in a wide range of languages, ensuring information is accessible to all citizens. 

Using Data for Good 

Of course, it will take more than language translation to achieve equity in America’s most vulnerable communities. Government agencies have access to troves of valuable data, but too often, this information is fragmented and outdated, leading to data silos and redundancies that can harm already-vulnerable citizens. 

Take, for example, a family that has struggled with addiction for generations. By analyzing large volumes of existing & past case records, agencies can identify patterns and data driven services combinations that empower families  to achieve recovery. However, that’s only possible if agencies can access and draw insights from large volumes of data.  

“For case workers  and public health workers, the Holy Grail has always been able to get a single view of the individual or family – across multiple programs,” says Winkler. “For 30 years — as long as I’ve been in social services — that hasn’t been possible.” 

Enter: Big Query, a managed, serverless data warehouse that enables agencies to securely access and share data with ease. 

As Winkler puts it, Big Query is helping agencies transition from the past to the future. 

Oklahoma is one state that has successfully leveraged this technology to improve citizen services. Its Office of Management and Enterprise Services provides the state with a broad range of services that directly impact constituents. By leveraging Big Query, Oklahoma OMES is building the infrastructure to share data across the state — providing a unified view at all levels of the agency from administrators to front-line worker

Fueling the Potential for Life-saving Intervention

Whereas yesterday’s data warehouses forced agencies to look at data reactively, today’s data hubs can empower agencies to be more proactive — and potentially save lives in the process.  For Hoffman, one of the most exciting things about a solution like Big Query is its ability to help inform critical interventions. 

With real-time data, case workers can infer previously hidden patterns: For instance, they might discover that an individual recovering from an opioid addiction just missed a counseling appointment. The case worker can then reach out and help this individual get back on track. 

These capabilities can also help agencies identify what is known as “hidden populations,” or vulnerable individuals, like someone in abusive relationship or a person potentially experiencing suicidal thoughts, who may need support but are not necessarily seeking it out. By using the same technology advertisers use to microtarget individuals, Google Cloud can partner with government agencies to reach these people — for example, delivering relevant information on suicide prevention and domestic violence hotlines to at-risk populations at the moment they are searching. Using data to target these cohorts with timely and relevant health information can have life-saving implications. 

Additionally, Big Query and Doc AI are helping ease emergency processes like cash assistance and welfare programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) by creating a more intuitive constituent experience with virtual agents that can answer questions via phone or website. This, in turn, takes a substantial burden off of call centers and caseworkers. 

“Doc AI takes the applications and organizes them and any supporting documents so that analysts don't have to spend the time reviewing everything, which takes the 20,000 application backlog down to zero in just a few days,” says Hoffman. 

Merging automated technology into agency services is imperative to removing tedium and freeing up agency staff so they can focus much-needed attention on their most critical cases, but also to provide citizens with the information they need in a timely manner. 

“From healthcare to cash assistance and welfare programs, delivering the right data to the right person at the right time has a massive human impact,” Winkler says. “And now we finally have the tools we need to make that happen.”

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