Why does the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) employ a game designer?
“The government needs to know what the future looks like when designing services for its people. The future is screen-less,” says Hazel. “No monitor, no mouse, no keyboard. Instead, think virtual reality – goggles or headsets that overlay 3D holographic content into your real-world space.”
“Everyone born after 1970 is part of the gamer generation, growing up with consoles and knowing about game play interactions. When our growing digital native population interacts online with government, for them the ‘flow’ of the experience often feels backwards.”
The government’s public service interactions can often be very different to people’s more usual intuitive and easy online experiences. However, even with government offering its services digitally and making the process far easier, as with the new online passport service, this will still be over-taken before too long. “The future is still galloping ahead,” says Hazel who has a PhD in Human Interface Technology.
For example, the government could enable people to get a driver’s licence online – but who needs a licence when driverless cars are just around the corner? For that matter: who needs taxis? Uber and Zoomy? Or their drivers? Who even needs a designated driver when driverless cars mean people can drink and ‘drive’!
And who even needs to drive or go to the office if the future means you can sit in a room anywhere and discuss your work with holograms of your colleagues?
She says much of what’s online is now easy to access, however government still generally puts information online and passes the burden onto people to navigate it as best they can. “Sometimes what’s up there doesn’t even make a lot of sense to the public.”
"Game developers know how people and groups think – every single game everywhere is a skill-based learning environment: you might get to grow a plant, crush jellybeans, drive a supercar – and there’s a feelgood factor involved at the end of that.”
Vast pots of money – beyond many government budgets - is spent developing the technology used in the highly profitable games industry. That’s why governments and other non-gaming entities ride on the industry’s coattails.
It’s not about making online interactions with government fun or even ‘gamified’ – though Hazel says there’s no reason why interacting with government shouldn’t be enjoyable. Her work is in the same serious league as military and medical developers who focus on complex problems and how to engage with people in a way that suits the human brain.
Hazel’s current work uses game-engines – software that acts like a 3D theatre set where people can interact with simulations of public service scenarios. Such as finding out about services and their eligibility for funding.
For example, a parent-to-be is offered a ‘gameful interaction’ to walk through various scenarios that help them decide whether, say, it is financially viable for them to return to work after six months.
“It’s a bit like role play with public service design in the same style as role-playing games like the Sims.”
“Government information might change but this can be quickly updated within game engine software. It’s so much faster than writing an RFP document, looking for a vendor and then all the to-ing and fro-ing that’s involved in the current way we offer our digital services. Services can become reactive and agile.”
Hazel has many other strings to her bow: she’s developing a measurements framework that will enable agencies to accurately track and quantify how effective their initiatives are in achieving the government’s four wellbeing capitals. She also plays a leading role in New Zealand’s debate around the ethics and impacts of artificial intelligence (AI) on society included the impact on the future of work and un-conscious bias in AI programming.
Don’t know your AI from your VR…?
They’re how our screen, mouse and keyboard are being replaced.
What is AR? - Augmented Reality is an overlay of information onto the real world usually via a screen and mostly in 2D. Think Pokemon Go.
VR? - Virtual Reality is an immersive experience via a headset where the real world is replaced with a virtual one.
MR? - Mixed Reality is where the real world is overlaid with full 3D holographic content. In this you wear a headset like glasses to see the images.
So, what is AI? Artificial Intelligence is best seen as a smart little helper that will work on a complicated problem with you and remember your preferences.
Service Innovation in a nutshell
The Service Innovation team works with other agencies across a range of projects, usually focused on improving services around a Life Event. You’ll find them either at ‘the Lab’ on Thorndon Quay or Level 10, 45 Pipitea St in Wellington. Its work is about creating opportunities to work in different ways; exploring the ‘unobvious’. The team works collaboratively and openly. Often the outcome sought, or issue to be resolved, cannot be owned or addressed by individual ministries.
The Lab is located off-site to offer neutrality for people coming in to work from diverse agencies, as well as from the private sector and Non-Governmental Organisations. People are encouraged to think outside the Business as Usual mindset so working in the Lab helps removes them from daily distractions. It strategically co-locates and invites agencies into the Lab because it knows innovation is often sparked by rubbing ideas together.
Among the Service Innovation team are software developers, service designers, researchers, those knowledgeable in the ways of government and support staff who work alongside agencies, providing skills and guidance to progress ideas as they grow through relationship-building, scoping, discovery, design, alpha and beta phases to full roll-out – or are justifiably dropped along the way.
The team explores tikanga and te ao Māori in its work to support outcomes that are fit for all New Zealanders. Funding comes via the Department of Internal Affairs from a several areas including the Digital Government Partnership Innovation Fund and the work programme is determined by a Working Group comprising DCE-level staff representing several core government agencies.
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