By James Dunn
The fusion of physical and virtual worlds has changed the way we work and live. Although the private sector has been fastest to seize the opportunity with early applications for the metaverse in business, governments and public sector organizations around the world are exploring its potential.
In South Korea for example, Seoul has become one of the first major global cities to join the metaverse. In the form of their avatars, citizens can enter an immersive virtual world to meet with government officials to resolve civil issues. More recently, the ruler of Dubai, Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, announced the launch of the Dubai Metaverse Strategy, which aims to increase the contribution of the metaverse sector to the Emirate’s economy to $4 billion by 2030.
There is no reason to think that other governments couldn’t follow. During the COVID-19 pandemic, even the now 315-year-old institution that is British parliamentary democracy embraced a new technological frontier, holding its weekly flagship event, Prime Minister’s Questions, in a hybrid virtual environment.
Many of these advances seemed unimaginable ten or even five years ago. In fact, when the term “metaverse” was first conceived in 1992 by the American author Neal Stephenson in his book Snow Crash, it was mostly seen within the realm of science fiction. Thirty years later and the metaverse has gone from being a futuristic dream to an active reality.
There are plenty of opportunities for the metaverse to enhance public sector and politics in the coming years. Here are five of them:
1. Workplace collaboration could become more engaging
One of the biggest grievances of many working in government is the frustrating lack of one, uniform platform for conducting official business across departments and agencies. Different departments use different platforms for their work, meaning that cross-collaboration – whether in the form of meetings, document sharing, or editing – proves difficult. As a result, processes are often slow. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw how many government departments struggled to interact with one another due to a lack of standardization across their workplace collaboration platforms. This is where the metaverse could step in. Provided there are adequate security protections in place, the metaverse could provide an engaging and unified platform for staff meetings across various government departments.
There are other benefits the metaverse could bring for government and politicians. MPs, for example, could be afforded easier access to constituents by holding virtual surgeries; local government could hold workshops with national civil servants to discuss best practice, and industry could have more accessible policy development meetings with government figures in the virtual world. The private sector is already using the metaverse to enhance workplace collaboration; there is huge potential for government to follow.
2. Large-scale events could go virtual
The metaverse provides an opportunity to change how conferences are conducted – particularly as government agencies try to set an example for lowering emissions and reaching net zero.
While some things, such as trade negotiations and national security discussions, may remain face-to-face, there is great potential to host big international meetings, such as the United Nations Climate Change conferences and World Economic Forum summits, at least partly in the metaverse. If all this sounds far-fetched, the Economist recently held some its 2023 Enterprise Metaverse Summit https://events.economist.com/enterprise-metaverse-summit/ in the virtual world. There was a physical location for more than 400 attendees in San Jose, California, and a metaverse world available for more than 2,000 virtual attendees. This example shows that physical and metaverse experiences can be integrated into one event programme, helping people explore new ways to engage with each other, learn and network.
3. Representative democracy could be enhanced
There are myriad ways in which the metaverse can help engage citizens and journalists in parliamentary processes. A metaverse “twin” of parliament rendered in a 3D virtual world, with areas that are open and accessible to the public, would allow citizens to better understand democracy in a new, more accessible way, as real-world parliamentary tours do now.
Another option could be to blend physical and virtual worlds so that people can watch a real physical debate like the UK’s Prime Minister’s Questions from a virtual viewing gallery in the metaverse.
There could also be opportunities to include contributions from other political stakeholders such as guest speakers who might have previously joined government meetings via videoconferencing. In the metaverse, guests could join political debates in much more engaging and interactive ways.
4. Providing citizen services in new ways
Service backlogs are a problem across government. While civil servants have continued to work from home in many countries and the government has reduced the size of its real estate, the work itself has not necessarily become hybrid.
This is where the metaverse could help. Government departments could help people with their taxes, find work, start a business, or register a vehicle – all in the metaverse. Offering a similar experience to the physical world, these metaverse-based processes would feel friendly and familiar, rather than a only offering a website supported by a chatbot (the reality for many of today’s government services).
Local government town hall meetings on key issues and virtual city tours to attract tourists and potential investors are among the other ways in which the state could transform its services with the metaverse.
5. Recruitment and onboarding could be transformed
Up-to-date recruitment and onboarding of staff is key to ensuring high standards within government. Civil service open recruitment days held in a virtual world could increase the pool of applicants and showcase the public sector as a hub of innovation.
The metaverse provides a good platform to screen potential employees in a large event format, while also providing a virtual space for one-on-one or small group job interviews. By opening up interviews to people who might struggle with a physical, in-person format, metaverse-based recruitment could boost diversity and inclusion.
Furthermore, an engaging, metaverse-based virtual training programme could go a long way in helping civil service staff satisfaction. Many staff find it difficult to make time to travel to physical training programs, while virtual ones via video conferencing often feel underwhelming. The metaverse could help solve both problems with its fun, engaging, 3D format.
Celebrating not breaking traditions
The metaverse won’t completely replace in-person experiences and is not a threat to political tradition. In fact, with its potential to host ‘digital twins’ of our much-loved physical environments, the metaverse could even provide a way to celebrate and increase access to those very same places and traditions.
Based on our experiences as users and trailblazers of immersive technologies, at DXC https://dxc.com/us/en/insights/perspectives/paper/moving-into-the-metaverse we have a firm belief that the metaverse will have a role to play in the future of democracy, helping people do their jobs better while staying in touch with contemporary society.
About the Author
James Dunn leads the Government and Regulatory Affairs team at DXC Technology working with governments and politicians, in the UK and beyond, to promote DXC’s world-leading approach to digital transformation, cyber security, AI, and other areas. He is on the Board of Disability Sport Wales and cares passionately about all forms of inclusion.