If you work in advocacy, you have probably wished that you could somehow show what people are experiencing. You have certainly asked others to ‘put themselves in somebody’s shoes’ but, have you thought about making that happen without even leaving the room?
Immersive technologies can be an effective way to bring us closer to people and places. From going on a leisurely stroll down the coast to telling compelling stories supporting advocacy or fundraising efforts, virtual imaging technologies can be a truly useful tool to show the world from a different angle and experience reality the way others do.
Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) or mixed/hybrid reality can create engaging and compelling experiences. As technology gets better and cheaper and we, the users, get more used to these new environments, its potential to win people’s hearts and minds will only grow faster and wider.
The International Data Corporation estimates that the AR & VR market, valued at $5.2 billion in 2016, will grow to $162 billion by 2020. So far gaming has been the most popular application but as demand for headsets increases, we will see an increase in demand for VR video and other types of entertainment. This will certainly pave the way to using this technology for advocacy purposes.
In somebody else’s shoes
In an interview with Quartz, Grace Ahn, a professor of communication and advertising at the University of Georgia studying the impact of VR on decision making, explains that “in order for policymakers to really understand what they’re deciding on, virtual simulations will be a really great way to highlight the issues.” Her research shows that VR has more persuasive effects than simply imagining the other person’s perspective. Do these effects last over time? Further research is needed.
Taking storytelling to the next level vis-à-vis policymakers has been a Brussels obsession for years. Sure, white papers and printed reports still matter, but we have seen an explosion of videos in the last couple of years (more than 2,000 videos were uploaded by EU trade associations in 2018 securing over 2 million more views compared to 2017) in all kinds of formats, from interviews to event highlights or computer generated animations, etc. Is VR the next big hype?
Obviously, not every single story is perfectly fitted to be told in a VR environment (although most can certainly be adapted with some creativity). From an advocacy point of view, and in addition to journalism pieces delivered as VR, the areas that seem to be more likely to become VR early adopters include those where feelings and emotions are key such as charity & fundraising for social causes, human rights or animal welfare.
VR can be a powerful tool for influencing legislation around issues related to social justice, poverty, inclusion, migration. Animal rights activists have already experimented with VR at the European Parliament because as explained by a US activist to The New York Times, “the meat industry always complains that we’re using selective footage, narrow vantage points and editing to make things seem worse. But with VR, you’re seeing exactly what we saw and hearing exactly what we heard.”
Other areas where VR will certainly make fast strides include tourism, medicine or science such us this exhibition at the European Parliament about space exploration. Anytime there is a need to tell compelling stories, VR can help. This is something which has clearly been embraced by the UN as part of its United Nations Virtual Reality (UNVR), a project implemented by the UN SDG Action Campaign using immersive storytelling to inspire viewers towards increased empathy, action and positive social change. They have released 21 films since 2015.
Not just a gimmick
VR is certainly here to stay but how quickly the technology will be embraced depends on many different factors. Lowering production costs and the price of good quality headsets will be key. Just as we went from looking at smartphones as an unnecessary tool to not being able to live without them, VR is likely to impact our future in ways that we are yet to understand. The same will happen in advocacy – what today is seen as a tactic or tool to get people’s attention may become mainstream in a not so distant future. ‘What will be next?’ is probably the question we should be asking ourselves. Smell-o-vision perhaps? Teleportation?