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As metaverse takes shape, does public service fit?


September 9, 2022

What would happen if the internet evolved from something we access on devices to an immersive virtual space where we can live and work together?

It sounds like something from a science-fiction novel. But the metaverse is rapidly taking shape in the real world.

While there are many metaverse definitions, Accenture sees it as an evolving and expanding continuum of technologies and experiences. These technologies include, for example, virtual reality (VR); augmented reality (AR); apps driving new experiences; design tools and digital assets. And they’re all underpinned by connectivity technologies such as 5G and cloud.

The Metaverse Continuum — a spectrum of digitally enhanced worlds, realities and business models — is poised to reshape life and enterprise in the next decade. As it fuels the next wave of digital change, forward-looking organizations have a chance to act today and be ready for the future.

If you have questions about the metaverse, you are in good company. If you’re like me, you may be wondering:

  • Is this simply the latest version of the internet or will it drive more fundamental shifts in how we live and work?
  • What distinguishes the metaverse from digital transformation?
  • Most of all, what does it mean for mission-driven governments, nonprofits and other public service organizations?

As with any technology revolution, the answers to these metaverse questions will be dynamic. For now, though, here’s how we’re thinking about this new frontier.

How does the metaverse build on the technologies that came before it?

The 1990s introduced the internet of data. In the 2000s, we welcomed the internet of people. The 2010s gave us the internet of things. Now, in the 2020s, we’re entering “Web 3.0” — the internet of place and internet of ownership. The metaverse is enabling us to go beyond browsing to participating and/or inhabiting in a persistent shared experience. The metaverse experience reaches across the physical world, a fully virtual world and the space in between.

How is the metaverse different from digital transformation?

“Digital transformation” is a phrase that means different things to different people. From my perspective, digital transformation has focused on digitizing business processes: moving paper information into digital forms. Streamlining and automating processes for greater speed and efficiency. Capturing more, and more accurate, data to enable advanced analytics.

Fundamentally, it’s about doing the same things — just in a different, better way.

The metaverse, on the other hand, is a chance to completely rethink how people collaborate personally and professionally. It’s not about moving old ways into a new environment. It’s about combining technologies — from virtual reality/artificial reality to blockchain — to create entirely new ways of working together.

That might include working with data in a virtual environment to solve problems in real life. In the public sector, it could be everything from bringing together multiple social services agencies to deliver service to citizens with greater coordination and convenience to creating highly personalized recruitment experiences for young people considering a career in the military or law enforcement. More likely, it will include innovative approaches that we have yet to envision.

What are some of the most intriguing opportunities for public service to move into the metaverse?

As part of the Accenture Technology Vision 2022 survey, 96% of public sector leaders agree that the realization of Web 3.0 over the next decade will fundamentally change how businesses engage with users online. Indeed, the metaverse is poised to transform every aspect of every organization — from supply chains and enterprise management to customer and employee experience.

For the public sector, testing out ways of supporting internal government operations in the metaverse may prove a wise way to start. It’s an opportunity to “walk” with your workforce before you “run” with the public.

Whether for internal or external collaboration, what we want to avoid is simply recreating existing public service delivery in a virtual environment. In other words, we don’t want citizens’ avatars walking into a Department of Motor Vehicles, taking a number and finding a seat as they wait to renew driver’s licenses.

Instead, we need to find completely new ways to work and focus on using the metaverse to deliver better value to communities.

For me, the revolution in music delivery is a great analogy. We used to buy, store and play music on physical media. There were some advancements as that media shifted from vinyl records to cassette tapes to compact discs. But when music moved to streaming in the cloud, it wasn’t a move to smaller or sturdier physical media. It was a totally new approach that has forever changed how we discover and consume music.

What are some of the risks of the metaverse?

In the Accenture Technology Vision 2022 survey, 70% of public sector leaders indicated that they expect the metaverse to have a positive impact on their organizations. Alongside that potential for positive impact are potential risks.

Like their counterparts in the private sector, public service organizations need to consider several dimensions of metaverse responsibility. When it comes to trust dimensions, government agencies will need to address privacy, resilience, security and protection of intellectual property rights. There are also human dimensions to look after — including safety, sustainability and well-being. For any organization, but especially for government agencies, metaverse experiences also need to be inclusive, equitable and accessible.

What now? Let’s learn together

The metaverse is the future that we need to start building today. If you’re like me, you probably still have questions about the opportunities and implications for public service. My colleagues and I welcome the chance to think through the questions and considerations with you. Let’s connect via LinkedIn or Twitter.


Valerie Armbrust

Managing Director – Health & Public Service, Technology and Cloud