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Exploring optimistic futures

The Virtual Reality (VR) demonstrator creates a VR experience showing a day-in-the-life of a typical person in 2070.

It explores an optimistic future state based on emerging technologies, trends and user needs to improve people's experience of services in the future. We hope that the showcase has helped encourage a national and international discussion about optimistic futures which will help us deliver better services for everyone.

The VR showcase was designed as a call to action for visitors to imagine and discuss optimistic futures. We wanted to explore with visitors the kinds of future they want to work towards and, in doing so, to consider the role of government in enabling such futures.

The showcase demonstrated the need to collectively explore potential future states for how we live, so together as individuals, organisations and communities we can work towards something meaningful and not simply recreate the past with shiny new things. 

The Department of Internal Affairs is continually exploring the art of the possible. We did some early work on future modes of service delivery based on user research and feedback.

Lab+: Exploring optimistic futures

Lab+: Potential future states for government service delivery

We have also made the VR experience available as a downloadable app, as well as in video and script format, for greater accessibility. In addition, you can check out the future state papers from various government departments on our Service Innovation Toolkit, which we will add to over time.

Service Innovation Toolkit

How does the approach work? 

As part of the New Zealand Government's Service Innovation Work Programme, we identified three challenges that are impeding the design and delivery of inclusive and trusted public services. 

  1. Firstly, most people are designing to address problems or pain points, not to explore opportunities, which often reinforces status quo systems and assumptions. 
  2. Secondly, people tend to design and deliver based on what they know, so we often end up with better websites and apps rather than holistic services that can support multiple channels as they emerge. Often the terms 'channels', 'products' and 'services' are used interchangeably and the result is that people may design better single-channel products without purpose, rather than better services or experiences for people. 
  3. Finally, there are many ideas, principles and concepts and an emerging vision of the future. However it is important that government's views and those outside of government's views are cohesive so we can collectively work towards improving services for all. Without a shared vision, we risk reinforcing the past rather than reimagining the future. 

The key concepts the VR demonstrator used to help people experience 2070 included:

  • personal empowerment – individual control, active and seamless engagement in the world; a personal artificial intelligence (AI) by way of an AI mechanism, tethered to the individual to help navigate the world
  • user control – increased and different control over personal data and experiences from what we experience today; real-time support to make better choices and dialling up or down the need for government assistance; and predictive analytics to help understand consequences to self, business and community
  • participatory democracy – the opportunity to provide real-time feedback to policy and laws
  • emerging technologies and trends – inclusion of technologies such as IoT (the Internet of Things), artificial intelligence, and machine learning, VR and augmented reality.

We also explicitly included a New Zealand context with the integration of Māori culture, language and ethics into the experience.

The VR experience will be uncomfortable for people in places and this is an important part of the experience.

What is the future of the technology?  

This demonstrator was a prototype and designed to stimulate feedback and conversations about optimistic futures. We will be applying the lessons learned to the Service Integration Work Programme and will be making the VR experience widely available, as best we can, so others can build upon it as is useful. We will also be sharing the lessons learned about VR and its application through our Service Innovation Toolkit on 

Service Innovation Work Programme

Service Innovation Toolkit


‘Exploring optimistic futures’ featured in the Digital Government Showcase, which was part of Digital 5 2018, the 4th annual gathering of the world's most advanced digital nations that NZ hosted in February 2018.

D5 group of digital nations

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