When fellow guru Jonathan Bradley sent me a message asking me “what would the ultimate citizen engagement platform look like?”, it got me thinking.

Interconnected worlds have interconnected problems.  Take global food security, climate change or economic stability as urgent examples.  However, there are very few mechanisms for a global debate other than fragmented local and national dialogues about these very topics.

Social media hasn’t done much to advance the agenda .  Believe it or not, very little social media content is opinion.  The social networks do not have global reach and they reinforce consensus instead of promoting conflict. Views are more likely to get entrenched and advertising has taken over.  However, social media does have a positive (networking) affect which extends the reach of user generated content to millions of viewers – allowing people to mobilise more easily.

Foremost we need space to innovate.  Last year, I was lucky enough to secure funding from InnovateUK to build a “participation data” warehouse to explore the idea of mass attitudinal insights.   Data is the new oil but you need the patience to collect it and vision to exploit it.  When you work with people who are not interested, it’s a dead duck.  Don’t just take my word for it – there is a tender worth thousands of pounds in from ONS in circulation right now for the supply of job data going back to 2017.  The lesson is – if you have data (or access to it), start collecting today!

To formulate some sort of sensible response, I started to think about all the emerging and disruptive technologies.  There is no escaping the power of AI – but the technology tends to focus on removing the human from the equation.  Data-driven decision making might be sexy but it misses the point.  Engagement is more than just collecting views – it’s also about other things like building trust, education and debate.

Enter the Metaverse.  You’ve probably tried Second Life (a place to escape reality) and your kids are probably hooked on Roblox.  The next iteration of the concept is going to be much more about shared experiences and being social; a civil and civic environment with rules and sensible avatars.  It’s in-tune with the ever-advancing world of VR and immersive technologies and it’s much more about a sense of community.

“The virtual world of Second Life is one big world that you share together, as opposed to a bunch of different highly tuned filter bubbles”

– Philip Rosedale, founder of Linden Labs

Gartner think that within the next 10 years, one in six hours will be spent in the Metaverse.  Barbados is already building a diplomatic embassy in the Metaverse, leading the digital diplomacy push.  Metaverse Seoul is charging ahead with transactional and therapeutic services.  Brands have already begun to use virtual reality as a way to get customer feedback, to try out new experiences and run simulations.

The trick is to get people hooked and this is where the existing iterations have faltered.  To effectively build true community engagement, the experience is now focused on enabling a sense of: –

  1. Epic Meaning & Calling
  2. Development & Accomplishment
  3. Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback
  4. Ownership & Possession
  5. Social Influence and Relatedness
  6. Scarcity & Impatience

With this sort of momentum and connection potential, digital engagement in the Metaverse is surely the new frontier.  In-fact, the Metaverse has the potential to be the next frontier of human interaction.   It’s not science fiction, either – Horizon Workrooms is already built and it has the necessary collaboration tools. What’s missing are the civic spaces and arrival of connecting organisations.  Most importantly, mainstream adoption.

More impressive is the World Economic Forum Global Collaboration Village.  This is built on Microsoft Mesh and claims to be a collaborative space for businesses, international organisations, governments, civil society, artists, academics and youth to work together to address some of the world’s most critical challenges.”.

If these new online spaces are filled with respect and inclusivity, there is a good chance that the decentralised nature of the platform will breathe life into reshaping our democracy and the real world.

Jonathan, if you’re reading, I’d say that the ultimate citizen engagement platform is already built but it’s not yet configured.  Moreover, decentalised autonomous organisations will rule the roost – and that’s why ACEP network is so important.

What to do next

Members: Read more about Testing Virtual Reality for Citizen Feedback on Public Space Design Options

Everybody: Read the Brief Study of the Metaverse by the Digital Government Authority

Everybody : Come and join us after work on 8th June (in London) for our first world networking event to chat more about the possibilities of the Metaverse.