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Prevention of solitary deaths through smart care ICT (KakaoTalk, mobile phones, and AI)


With the rise of single households and an aging population, society is demanding a guarantee for healthy living and welfare services. The district has launched customized caregiving services using KakaoTalk messenger, mobile phones, and AI speakers to promote the health and well-being of the socially vulnerable class in particular. To deal with the issue of solitary death, the district utilized their strength in information and communications technology to tackle the issue.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

- Objective of the initiatives
The number of isolated deaths of people living alone is increasing due to the weakening of social networks and bonds driven by social changes such as the rise in single households, low birth rates, and an ageing population. As of 2017, single households account for 28.5% of the total population in South Korea. Along with a steady rise in the number of single households, consequently the number of solitary deaths has risen. More than 10,000 cases of solitary death were filed over the past six years alone. To deal with the issue of solitary death and prevent the tragedy of accepting death in solitude, the district utilized our strength as a powerful country in information and communications technology to tackle the issue.

1. (KakaoTalk) A welfare blind spot reporting service was launched using KakaoTalk messenger. District residents can report neighbours living in difficult conditions through the messenger so that the district can connect the optimal welfare services to the people in real time. In addition, people who cannot walk freely by themselves can use the messenger service to speak with welfare providers staff.

2. (Mobile phones) Utilizing the fact that South Korea has a mobile phone distribution rate of 100%, the project established a system where designated welfare providers receive an automatic notification if the mobile phone of a welfare service recipient is turned off for more than 3 days.

3. (AI) AI speakers were distributed to senior citizens living alone and socially disadvantaged single households so that they can have someone to talk to, listen to music, and receive life-related information. In particular, the project developed an ICT caregiving service where the AI speakers can recognize emergency signals and respond to them promptly.
As a result, the groups who are at risk of solitary death were quickly identified and customized caregiving services were provided to vulnerable single households based on this information so as to prevent solitary deaths.

- Improving major weaknesses in the current public service
The conventional approach in public welfare service was to increase the number of staff if the demand for a welfare service increases. Likewise, if the frequency of solitary deaths increased, the frequency of field visits would follow. In other words, welfare services were understood and planned based on the idea that they are fundamentally face-to-face services. However, there is always going to be a limit to the number of staff that can be newly recruited since the department works under a budget. It was concluded that it will be difficult to handle the welfare demand that is increasing at an exponential rate if face-to-face methods are insisted upon. In particular, the socially vulnerable groups such as the elderly and the handicapped require care services day and night. Providing an adequate level of service to address solitary deaths, which are happening simultaneously in the middle-aged group, would be impossible with the basic workforce available. The lack of staff was successfully solved by applying technologies that are in tune with the 4th Industrial Revolution, such as information and communications technology (KakaoTalk messenger and mobile phones) and artificial intelligence technology (AI speaker). These technologies allow to monitor the status of the elderly for 24 hours so that staff can quickly respond to emergency situations even during off-duty hours.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

The welfare report service using the Cheonsa Talk messenger program is the first of its kind in Korea. The fact that the service relies on local residents to look for neighbours in need indicates proactive cooperation between citizens and the government.
The solitary death prevention system using mobile phones is an example of an innovative solution to solitary deaths that offers high effectiveness at low cost, with a monthly budget of less than 1 dollar per person.
The AI speaker can automatically generate emergency rescue notifications, and can also analyse the language used by the subject to identify the psychological status and notify the designated welfare provider if necessary.

What is the current status of your innovation?

A great workforce is required to provide thorough social services to the rapidly increasing vulnerable single households. The current capacity limits the provision of seamless services. In order to reinforce the public welfare service, information and communications technologies were used to drive a digital revolution of public institutions.
1. (KakaoTalk) A messenger service was used to build a closely intertwined human network where neighbours can keep a friendly eye on each other.
2. (Mobile phones) Mobile phones were used to create a monitoring system where designated welfare providers receive automatically generated notifications if an abnormal pattern of use is detected on a welfare recipient’s mobile phone.
3. (AI) AI speakers were used to not only deliver personal messages to welfare recipients but also to send out emergency rescue signals, achieving a 24-hour caregiving service.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

A partnership or contract was established with SK Telecom (a mobile network provider) and KakaoTalk (a messenger app provider), which have the highest market coverage in the country, in order to secure the maximum number of applicable service receivers. This has a positive effect in increasing the base for the services.
Also, efforts are being made in the promotion and distribution of the services to benefit from the snowball effect in lowering costs that come with a greater number of users.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

High-risk single households, such as those in welfare blind spots including the socially vulnerable, elderly living alone, and middle-aged men are target groups of the project.
Local residents in the community are relied on to notify the district of high-risk households in the neighbourhood. A preventive system is then established to prevent emergencies.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

High-risk single households, such as those in welfare blind spots including the socially vulnerable, elderly living alone, and middle-aged men are target groups of the project.
The innovation relies on local residents in the community to notify the district of high-risk households in the neighbourhood. A preventive system is then established to prevent emergencies.
Via mobile phones, abnormal patterns or activities are detected via indicators such as usage patterns and how long the phone stays switched off. In the event of such cases, automatic notifications are delivered to the designated welfare providers so that they can check the person's status. In addition, the AI speaker is designed to recognize emergency signals such as “Help me” and to take immediate actions to prevent solitary deaths.

Challenges and Failures

For evaluation, the service underwent a test operation period. During this time, issues were resolved and details of the project were improved through collaboration between the department of welfare policy, individual community service centres, SKT, and Lucis. The community service centres selected the potential service recipients and the district office established partnerships and funded the project, while the telecommunication company offered its services along with system development and management capacity. A social enterprise also offered system operation and data analysis and reporting services. As such various interested parties cooperated to improve the sustainability of the project, in the end an innovate solitary death prevention system was successfully created.

Conditions for Success

The project was launched through private-public cooperation. A private telecommunications company possessing the right technology cooperated with the district office, which is a provider of welfare services, with the shared goal of revealing welfare blind spots and preventing solitary deaths. Starting with a feasibility meeting, the district had numerous meetings with the telecommunications company to develop the system. Both parties invested 2 years to develop a customizable service system. Over these 2 years, monthly meetings were held on a regular basis, and the staff communicated with each other whenever needed. Through the process of signing an MOU and technology usage contract, the service could then be launched officially in 2018.
The vertical cooperation between the district and community service centres also plays a major role in the systematic execution of the project.


Cheonsa Talk has been currently applied to 25 cities including Yeonje-gu in Busan, Youngdeungpo-gu in Seoul, and Anyang-si. These cities are continuously sharing the current operational status, searching for ways to improve the system.
The mobile phone visiting service was benchmarked by the Busan Metropolitan City Government, and support was provided in project planning, implementation, and troubleshooting. The service was launched in September of 2018. The Seungdong-gu Office in Seoul and Seo-gu and Buk-gu Offices in Gwangju are also implementing the services based on our know-how. It has been nearly two years since the services were launched at full scale, but inquiries and opportunities for benchmarking in other regions are being steadily received. The services are expected to be used in even more regions next year.

Lessons Learned

Welcoming the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution, we must revolutionize public administration and actively seek to harness private technologies. We must accept the fact that private services have greater efficiency, convenience, and acceptance than public administration. For the sake of citizen welfare and the betterment of their lives, we must actively adopt the excellent technologies and systems of the private sector and adequately implement them in public administration.
Starting with the use of KakaoTalk messenger, mobile phones, and AI speakers based on collaboration with the private sector to create an innovative way to identify welfare blind spots and to prevent solitary deaths, we will continue to integrate our services with cutting-edge technologies to lead innovation in public administration.

Anything Else?

Since Cheonsa Talk(messenger) utilizes a pre-existing application, there is no cost associated with update or management. The service can be maintained in a stable manner thanks to the steadily increasing number of users.
The mobile phone visit service has a business structure where the cost increases as the number of users increases. Accordingly, to ensure the sustainability of the project, the service is being steadily promoted while other regions are encouraged to benchmark the project.
The AI speaker provides an innovative ICT-based caregiving service through continuous system upgrades and additions of new features using private technologies.

Year: 2017
Level of Government: Local government


  • Generating Ideas or Designing Solutions - finding and filtering ideas to respond to the problem or opportunity

Innovation provided by:


Date Published:

15 January 2021

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