State and local governments tend to be the early adopters of emerging technology in the public sector. Smart city projects, grant management, and regional collaboration have driven localities to implement emerging technology to meet the real challenges of serving citizens. Today, states and localities are experimenting with how virtual reality, and more specifically the metaverse, can help further real-world connections in communities.
Trained by Avatars
Virtual reality has long been used as a tool for training in government - think flight simulators - but today, the technology is being used for more than just tactical training. Virtual reality is helping to introduce scenarios to improve the empathy and understanding of public servants. In the metaverse, public safety professionals can safely simulate responding to dangerous situations (without the real-world risks) while also adding in realistic interactions with "people" behaving as they would during a crisis.
Virtual reality is also being used to improve the response to more routine issues. A pilot project in rural Ohio uses virtual reality to train police officers to be more empathetic with a series of scenarios, each centering around one of two characters -- "Chet" or "Dion." The goal is to give a boost to the empathy expressed by officers when they meet people in situations similar to these familiar characters.
Fostering New Connections
Automated avatars in a metaverse environment can answer citizen questions with a more personal feel. These characters can easily move between languages and quickly access data via AI programming.
Even without avatars, real people can find new connections in the metaverse. Meeting in virtual rooms helps colleagues spread out in offices across the state to collaborate in new ways. The Madawaska Land Port of Entry used technology to share complex and extensive asset and site-existing condition documentation to conduct their pre-solicitation meeting with 140 people entirely virtual. This led to enhanced bid quality and reduced risk and financial exposure for a nearly $50M procurement. Virtual meetings have the added benefit of cutting costs and travel time between offices as well as reducing the environmental impact of that travel.
Citizen connections can also happen in virtual reality. The City of Oceanside, California launched a 360-degree video tour of a water treatment facility as a way to educate the public about how it cleans eight million gallons of water each day and to boost awareness of the region's ongoing water shortage.
Inspecting From Afar
Inspections of buildings, infrastructure, restaurants, and more fall to state and local agencies. Today, they are finding ways to complete these inspections virtually, allowing short-staffed teams to make headway on assigned tasks and backlogs. Several technology solutions are available to inspectors that allow them to use video and photos to look at the status of a site or project, chat in real time with people onsite, and file all of the needed paperwork digitally.
When issues are found, cities are also looking to another emerging technology, 3D printing, to make repairs more quickly with less expense. Historical buildings have parts such as lights, fixtures and crown moldings that cannot be replaced with standard, modern options. New parts have to be crafted to match the historical architecture. Instead of creating the specifications and sending it out to manufacturers to build them, agencies are looking for ways to 3D print them in-house.
Remaking Public Spaces
Digital twins allow city planners to experiment with ideas to inform their projects. The technology to model these twins is becoming more and more accessible from a cost and usability perspective. Dall-E is a machine learning model that can produce realistic cityscapes from text and image prompts, realizing an image in 20 minutes for a few dollars, far reducing the cost and time it would take for staff to do the same job. That staff can instead spend time analyzing the impact of the changes implemented and move to actual work on the project faster.
This same technology can be extended to citizens through websites where residents could request a change (an added stop sign, a new park, a speed bump) and actually see how it would get implemented via the online model. This model would then get proposed to city officials, providing a more informed request.
GovEvents and GovWhitePapers have a wide variety of resources that detail how state and local entities are using technology in innovative ways.
- Creating the Best Constituent Experiences (April 4, 2023; webcast) - Delivering topnotch constituent services should be business as usual for state and local governments. Seamless, reliable services are not only critical to keeping communities safe--they're what constituents want from government. Learn how the public sector can deliver best-in-class physical and digital experiences for the communities they serve.
- State & Local: Using AI & Machine Learning to Improve Services (April 13, 2023; webcast) - Thought leaders from agencies and contractors discuss their experiences implementing AI-based tools, such as chatbots and digital assistants to deliver services to citizens, how it is helping their employees respond faster and more efficiently, and what they anticipate to be their next steps.
- Large City/County CIO Summit 2023 (April 20-21, 2023; Atlanta, GA) - The summit features panel discussions and meaningful opportunities for attendees to connect and learn from their CIO peers across the country. Focused on what is next in government, the conversations and stories of how local government technology leaders are maintaining, enabling and pushing forward will be incredibly beneficial in planning future technology agendas.
- Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo (May 16-18, 2023; Denver, CO) - This conference provides meaningful content and connects a thoughtful community of decision-makers to empower smart cities at all stages of growth. It aims to accelerate the adoption of smart technology solutions, aid in problem solving, and amplify city resources for the betterment of cities, communities, and their citizens.
- Small & Rural Agency Crisis Response: A National Survey and Case Studies (white paper) - The National Policing Institute conducted a study to understand how small and rural law enforcement agencies respond to calls involving people who are in crisis. Detailed case studies were conducted on eight of the responding agencies to identify how they respond to people in crisis, what their typical challenges are, and how they address those challenges.
- Under Pressure: How Public Sector Agencies Can Rise to the Challenge of Secure Digital Transformation (white paper) - All disciplines that previously depended on in-person processes have been forced to pivot to digital alternatives at an uncomfortable speed. Demand for public services application development is outstripping available coding and security expertise. Find out how to meet the demand for digital government within the reality of budgets and resources.
For more on state and local innovation check out GovEvents and GovWhitePapers.