Inspiration

This project provided us with an opportunity to collaborate with an individual with a high level of expertise in digital technology to create something that is out of Leap’s ordinary comfort zone, as an organisation that until recently has limited digital engagement with its stakeholders.

We hope that our Alexa Skill will enable us to achieve greater reach through our work. We are based in London, but this skill gives us an opportunity to engage partners, community groups and organisation outside of London and the Southeast. We see this as an exciting opportunity to inform others about our work and to demystify conflict, which often carries negative connotations.

Since the coronavirus pandemic, we have been thinking hard about innovating our work for an online environment. Part of this is working towards creating new opportunities for digital engagement among young people and developing partnerships for the future, including with adult professionals and organisations.

The Alexa skill will enable us to receive donations from France, Germany, US, Italy and UK in the various languages via Amazon pay using only Voice. This is a quick and easy process that offers a solution to the challenges we have faced previously in receiving international donations through platforms such as JustGiving. We hope that this additional fundraising feature will support our organisation through a time of financial hardship as we emerge from the coronavirus crisis into an economic downturn.

What it does

The Alexa Skill allows its users to learn more about what Leap Confronting Conflict is doing in English. It also allows the ability to get it's contact detail and make a Donation of up to £5000 British Pounds to the charity in multiple languages just by using voice.

How we built it

It is built using the Amazon Alexa SDK for Node JS. Deployment is through AWS Lambda and AWS S3 is used to store the graphics and media assets. Javascript is the language used for implementation. Various actual Amazon Echo devices were used for testing. For testing, ngrok and a local debugging facility has been set up to allow quick turnarounds of deployment.

Challenges we ran into

The challenge for us has been trying to translate our work onto an app that we do not use or fully understand. We recognise that AI technology is part of the 'new normal' but prior to this project, we had never foreseen Leap featuring on Alexa because our delivery has always been face-to-face, dependent on relationship building and human connection. However, our training also relies heavily on interaction and playfulness, including games and role play to convey our conflict frameworks, so we have tried to use this to our strength through our Alexa skill.

Technological implementation-wise, the Amazon Pay integration was the biggest challenge. As the Alexa Skill is required to take a Donation, we find that setting up a Charity's Amazon Pay account is a long process and we have to find a workaround temporary solution to get test accounts working in order to develop of which we cannot obtain for the Charity until the application have been submitted. There are lots of factors that we need to take into account when accepting digital payments. Also had to learn about the limitations of conversational user interface and somehow make sure what we want to deliver take this into account.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

  • the no friction, convenient and fast way to get a donation in less than 5 minutes just by using voice!
  • the creation of awareness of the option and possible path of getting donation for a charitable organisation using an Alexa Skill
  • have the ability now to reach out to stakeholders via an innovative method
  • the integration and implementation of the Amazon Pay technology to collect the donations in multiple countries in multiple languages.
  • the skill itself utilises the latest Amazon Alexa ASK-CLI 2.0 structure which is recently introduced.
  • multimodal capabilities for an Amazon echo device have been generously utilise in the Alexa Skill such as audio, video and graphics
  • perfected a template for a charity to accept a donation quickly in the future from multiple countries in multiple languages

What we learned

This experience has made us aware of the difficulties of capturing the essence of our training, and the multi-dimensional nature of our work with conflict, and to translate this in a digital format for a broad audience with a wide range of different interests in our organisation and our work.

Technology wise, we've learned in detail the implementation of a payment facility and implementing Amazon's Alexa Skill technologies.

What's next for Leap Confronting Conflict

We will take this learning and use it to inform our future digital development, I.e. brand uplift and the redesign of our website. We will also continue to polish and improve the Alexa Skill charity donation template. More work will also be done to refine the information delivered about Leap Confronting Conflict itself via the Alexa Skill.

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