Cased 2015 winner: Museum of Future Government Services

Filed Under: Inspiration Tags: Competition , Case study , Cased
Client
Prime Minister’s Office of the United Arab Emirates
Project Title
Museum of Future Government Services
Duration
October 2013–February 2014
Description

In 2014 and again in 2015, Tellart leveraged the reflective cultural space of the museum into an impactful setting to both design and encounter new potentials for the future of government services. The Museum of Future Government Services (MoFGS) is a three-day immersive experience featured at the annual Government Summit in Dubai. It explores the ways advanced technologies can transform interactions and portrays a vision of a technologically empowered future wherein governments and societies work together to improve their lives and environments.

Forward-thinking policies are made possible by the communication of visionary approaches, and we believe that the best way to understand a service or product is to experience it. The working prototypes of future potential services at the MoFGS allow thousands of leaders to interact with and experience, rather than merely hear about, imaginative potentials.

The design of these services and their live presentation required intensive creative thought and attention to the cultural traditions of the region. The impact of this program has been enormous: it inspired the launch of two major international innovation competitions, beginning with Drones for Good in 2014, as well as the upcoming launch of a new museum and incubator for innovation, the Museum of the Future in Dubai.

Project brief

In 2010, the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced “Vision 2021,” a national charter setting out an ambition for the UAE to become one of the best countries in the world by 2021—the year in which the UAE will celebrate its golden jubilee.

With this goal in mind, the Prime Minister’s Office set out to create a new initiative that highlights the possibilities of the near future and the role we play in shaping the future, to government leaders who hold the responsibility of improving the lives of citizens. The goal of the MoFGS project was to educate and inspire leaders by exploring and communicating how the technologies of tomorrow could impact the relationship between citizens and government, and provoke meaningful debate on the social and economic issues raised by these developments.

The culmination of the project was to be a large-scale exhibition, presented as an important part of the Government Summit—a World Economic Forum-like conference that brings together more than 4,000 of the region’s highest ranking dignitaries and business leaders, along with high-profile visitors from around the world.

Today’s technological rate of change is extraordinary. It is difficult for anyone, much less busy government officials, to keep up with the advances of new technologies across so many fields, and to apply them effectively. And yet, policymakers and business leaders make important decisions every day that affect the lives of citizens, and rely heavily on a good understanding of these developments.

Traditional foresight and strategic planning techniques result in the creation of a report or presentation that serves to inform readers sufficiently, but can be boring and difficult to digest. The Government Summit provided an opportunity to propose an alternative, with the potential to impact change across all corners of governance in the region.

Background

The United Arab Emirates has undergone transformational growth since becoming independent from Britain in 1971, and its economy is now the most diversified from the dependence upon oil and gas amongst Gulf Cooperation Council members. Dubai, its most populous city, is a global transport hub for trade and tourism. It is a place of innovation and of fast-paced ambition. Government forms a central role in this, but in sometimes unexpected ways—from federal services such as education, healthcare, immigration, and so on, to the provision of services operated in the private sector, such as petroleum refineries and distributors, hotel chains, real estate development, and taxi services.

As a design project, the MoFGS is an exercise at the intersection of some relatively nascent modes of critical inquiry: design futures, critical design, speculative design, design fiction, and experiential futures. In its execution, it employs many disciplines: graphic design, industrial design, user experience design, architecture, interior design, scenography, culinary design, etc.

The MoFGS is an embodiment of a conceptualization and experiential narrative method that has never before been applied by a world government at this scale.

Budget

Development budget: Confidential/not available
This project is: Neither a retainer nor an in-house, ongoing monitoring relationship
Production/execution budget: Confidential/not available
Source of funding: Client

Strategy

The Museum of Future Government Services has had two instances so far: at the 2014 and the 2015 Government Summit. The first instantiation of the MoFGS was conceived of by the UAE Prime Minister’s Office, Tellart, and key collaborators Dan Hill and Fabrica during the summer of 2013, less than six months before delivery was due.

At the outset of the project, there were many unknowns. We knew we were embarking on an extremely ambitious and high-profile project, on a very short timeline. The UAE was a new place of business for the team, and we knew little of the culture or history of the region.

Early efforts were dedicated to understanding the crucial facets of the project: the design constraints; the specifics of the audience we would be addressing at the Government Summit; what the protocols were for communicating to high-profile government leaders; the regional political and media landscapes; cultural sensitivities; and stakeholder expectations. The project would be a first for the Prime Minister’s Office, and Government Summit attendees were not privy to its existence. In addition, the field of experiential futures is relatively new, with no other project having been attempted at this scale. In short, there was much to learn.

This plethora of unknowns and the extremely short turnaround time necessitated an agile project approach—in terms of the practicalities of running the project, but also in the design approach itself. To this end, the iterative design process at Tellart became a driving force. With no precedent and identifying important new design constraints every day, every step in the process was a design proposal upon which we iterated, from the very high-level decisions, such as how theatrical and/or didactic the exhibition should be, right down to the nitty-gritty details, such as where mini speakers should be located to maximize the desired effect.

Research

The project team visited Dubai to research the subject of government services in the region, and performed design ethnographies in several government service centers. We met with the leaders of several key government ministries to understand their roles, but also to understand their decision-making values in order to develop a better awareness of how potential technological advancements of the future would influence their areas of expertise.

The design ethnographies were combined with desk research that helped to uncover key societal cultural, political, economic, and technological drivers of change. Examples of these included mass migration, global resource shortages, or aging populations. In addition, we reviewed important technological trends such as artificial intelligence, cheap robotics, or low cost sensors and actuators. These were then combined with weaker signals of change into vectors of alternative futures, with many early ideas generated during ideation workshops.

Another key part of the research was the inclusion of stakeholders in the exhibition design ideation process. Involving regional and subject-matter experts ensured that we were able to gain insights that were essential ingredients to enable successful communication outcomes.

Design solution

The Museum of Future Government Services meaningfully engaged the government leaders at the Government Summit. The use of interactive, experiential exhibits to describe and propose potential futures in government services was a highly effective manner for exposure to sophisticated audiences. We found that by immersing participants viscerally in a 1:1 scale physical encounter with the future, we were able to generate interest and debate on pertinent topics.

The 2014 museum consisted of a collection of immersive, interactive experiences organized around the key themes of immigration, education, healthcare, and infrastructure. Exhibit areas included:

  • A low-friction and high-performance approach to border control, welcoming tourists with the customary hospitality of the local culture while dealing with issues such as citizenship, biometric identification practices, and contagion control.
  • A body-scanning bathroom that brought preventative and curative medicine into the home, while putting forward ideas about genetics, electronic records, and algorithm-induced wellness.
  • A classroom in which students engage in a plant bioengineering game to learn about biodiversity and directly manipulate their country’s climate and natural ecosystem.
  • An augmented overlook of the Dubai of the future, revealing infrastructural automation and city services driven by intelligent systems leveraging sensor networks.

While the 2014 exhibition was designed to create discrete vignettes that told different narrative stories of the future, in 2015, the exhibition was structured around an interactive, life-sized “smart street” of the future. This thematic and scenographic approach framed the content within a cohesive narrative, taking visitors on a tour of future services through a series of connected immersive experiences:

  • The smart street of the future: an augmented, futuristic street scene featuring a data-rich environment that intelligently revealed information to participants such as investment opportunities and infrastructure performance. Robotic systems and “street programmers” wearing safety- and strength-enhancing exoskeletons perform the dull, dirty, and dangerous work of maintaining the city, and intelligent energy-efficient misting systems cool pedestrians in the hot climate.
  • The government service prototyping showroom: an exhibit proposing forms of participatory design where members of the public are involved in a live co-creation laboratory environment. The service showcased in this iteration focused on the use of self-driving cars for delivery of government services and other useful activities.
  • An immersive medical diagnosis gaming environment that performs health analysis and supplies digital medical records through play.
  • A curative wellness café garden where participants receive targeted medical care in the form of molecular gastronomy in a comfortable and social setting.
  • The adaptive learning lab: an interactive 360-degree dome experience of the future of education, in which artificially intelligent teaching agents tutor visitors on cutting-edge subjects. Participants are guided through a lesson on extraterrestrial living habitats while remotely exploring a human settlement on Mars.

Challenges

The project was an exciting and rewarding one for all of the team members involved. With a supportive and creative client, challenges could be met and greeted as design constraints and opportunities.

That being said, challenges were abundant in this project:

  • Theatrical, immersive storytelling techniques: Creating viable, realistic, and believable scenarios that show the potential of technology on near-future government services. It was critical to balance the didactic elements necessary to underpin complex concepts with the theatrical immersion required to elicit a visceral emotional reaction.
  • Understanding citizen needs: Rapidly developing a thorough understanding of the cultural needs and background of the UAE that would help to drive concepts and design solutions for valuable government service design concepts.
  • Multiple logistical challenges: Within the timeline of the project, sourcing and managing high-end fabrication of the exhibits, arranging for the logistics necessary to stage the interactives for testing, and then bringing them to the UAE for final installation. This required the speedy and temporary scaling of our company up to three to four times its normal size to deal with the volume of work required.

Effectiveness

The Museum of Future Government Services has met and exceeded the initial goals of the project. Although it is difficult to see the small effect the museum has had in the day-to-day within various echelons of UAE government, the long-term and large-scale effects of this approach are already beginning to unfold in amazing ways.

The project has had a significant impact on the landscape of foresight in the UAE. Having become an integral part of the Government Summit, its featured concepts have triggered several multi-year, multi-million dollar innovation initiatives. The UAE Drones for Good Award is an ongoing innovation prize dedicated to “transforming the innovative technologies behind civilian drones into practical, realizable solutions for improving people’s lives today.” The prize encourages innovation at home and abroad, with a $1 million (AED) prize for the national competition, and a $1 million (USD) prize for the international competition. During 2015, more than 800 entries from 57 different countries were submitted. Finalists ranged from mine-sweeping underwater drones to fog-dissipating aerial drones. A sister award has since been launched—the UAE Robotics for Good Award—with similar ambitions: to leverage innovations in robotic technologies to improve lives.

It has triggered the Office of the Future initiative, currently under construction at the foot of Emirates Towers (Dubai’s government headquarters); attributed as the world’s first 3D-printed office building.

In addition, a permanent institution has been announced: the Museum of the Future. With the motto “see the future, create the future,” the museum aims to not only present speculative future scenarios but to also actively bring about real change. In addition to exhibition space, the building includes innovation labs for cutting-edge research and development, meeting spaces for workshops, and an auditorium for lectures.

The MoFGS was exhibited in a highly exclusive environment that was not accessible to the general public, and so the summit organizers have not released accurate data regarding attendance. The data we do have shows that roughly 80 percent of Government Summit attendees visited the museum during the three days of the event, and many returned for second and third visits. Speaking to visitors revealed that people were returning in order to discuss particular subject matter they had encountered in the museum.

Additional information

Vision for Dubai’s “Museum of the Future,” The National

The Museum of Future Government Services was the winner of the Speculative Designs category in the 2015 Core77 Design Awards.

“Museum of the Future [is] an integrated environment empowering creative minds to test, fund and market ideas for futuristic prototypes & services.”––His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Museum of the Future

Comments from the Jury

“The depth and expansiveness of this exhibit blew me away. It relentlessly provokes, its story unfolding throughout the space, bouncing effortlessly between physical, digital, and environmental components to achieve a beautifully integrated, immersive, and cohesive experience.”—Sara Frisk

“I was blown away by the amazing things they were able to show and demonstrate regarding the future of the United Arab Emirates at this show. The various disciplines and teams of people needed to develop each section are palpable in that there are so many layers of thinking, of technology, of development, of social analysis, and of dreaming that it could not be done by one team alone. And to bring it all around to objects and technologies that already exist, letting guests know that pretty much everything they just experiences is without their grasp was a nice touch.”—Bryony Gomez-Palacio

“It’s unexpected and encouraging to see an endeavor like this be sponsored by a government body given governments can often associated with bureaucracy, inefficiency, with not being especially forward-thinking or technologically savvy. It’s highly interactive and neatly executed in a manner appropriate for the topic at hand. The outcomes and impact of the museum are noteworthy. Overall, it’s inspirational and instills a sense of wonder, which is fitting given the purpose of this three-day immersive experience.”—Alia Hassan