UN IGF 2008 Workshop Proposal: Virtual Worlds for Delivering Public Service & Innovation

For the 2008 UN Internet Governance Forum meeting in Hyderabad India the UK Government proposed the workshop detailed here. The workshop did not occur due to the disturbances in India at the time.

The official workshop proposal can be found in the IGF site here: http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/workshops_08/showmelist.php?mem=46

A summary of the workshop is as follows:

The workshop will showcase Virtual Worlds as a way of providing an innovative and effective way of delivering public services, engaging with citizens and society, inclusively discussing the fact that there may be a number of possible legal/investment barriers to the achievement of the benefits of Virtual Worlds. The aim will be to facilitate the exchange of information and best practices, making full use of the academic, scientific and technical communities; showing how stakeholders have helped to find solutions and have used virtual worlds as an effective way of delivering public services.



IGF HYDERABAD, DECEMBER 2008

UK GOVERNMENT/BERR WORKSHOP PROPOSAL:

“Virtual Worlds for Delivering Public Service & Innovation”

Table of Contents

Rationale for workshop    3
1. Introduction    3
2. Types of virtual world    3
3. Why do virtual worlds matter?    3
4. Efficiency and environmental gains    4
5. The public policy challenges    4
6. Beginning the necessary international dialogue – the workshop    5

IGF workshop proposal    6

Rationale for workshop

“Virtual Worlds for Delivering Public Service and Innovation”
1. Introduction
Virtual worlds offer exciting and unprecedented opportunities for mass participation and collaboration across nations via the internet. The aim of this key workshop will be to break new ground in the IGF by bringing industry and governments together to look at some of the current major initiatives and to discuss the impact and policy implications of utilising these highly interactive environments.  This will be the first time the IGF has explored virtual worlds as a topic.

2. Types of virtual world
Virtual worlds are online, simulated, persistent environments where users are able to simultaneously interact with one another in real-time using 2-D or 3-D graphical representations of themselves known as avatars. There are many types of virtual world: for entertainment, for social interaction, for work collaboration, for education.   Governments and public sector organisations, in both the East and the West, are experimenting with virtual worlds for the delivery of public policies.  For example, the Chinese government Dotman project represents a significant investment in not just one, but several, virtual world hubs for the delivery of public services to Chinese citizens.  UK and US government agencies the National Physical Laboratory, NASA and NOAA are routinely utilising virtual world environments to share knowledge with one another and to conduct multi-disciplinary research projects.  Governments are also using virtual world environments for civil defence, medical and emergency planning, military training, school education, healthcare and social services.  Universities and other academic bodies are also actively partnering both public and private sector bodies in the use of virtual world technologies for furthering scientific research.
Some major corporations and household brand names are using virtual worlds for customer engagement and for corporate interaction.

3. Why do virtual worlds matter?
What makes virtual worlds so exciting and significant is their potential reach and scale.  Virtual worlds are international spaces where literally millions of individuals can interact and collaborate with one another in real-time.   The size of some virtual world subscriber communities can be enormous.  For example, the social interaction world for 8-14 year olds,  Habbo Hotel (Sulake/Finland) now has over 100 million registered users and receives around two billion visits per month from children across Europe, Asia and the Americas.   It has been reported that there are well over 100 other virtual worlds in development for children this year (2008).  The game world Maple Story (Nexon/South Korea) has over 60 million subscribers and localised versions of its world for users in South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Thailand, South East Asia, Europe, Hong Kong, Brazil, and Vietnam.  The social and business networking world for adults, Second Life (Linden Lab/USA) has more than 15 million registered users and more than 50,000 unique users per week drawn from across Europe, North and South America, Korea and Australia.   Virtual worlds therefore facilitate interactions between individuals and groups from many different cultures, all sharing the same experience.  These inter-country interactions will increase thanks to the rapid growth of these virtual communities (double or treble digit growth year-on-year in many instances) and the pace of technological change.  Virtual world developers and major ICT organisations are collaborating over infrastructure development for virtual worlds to permit avatars to move from one virtual world to another; to permit multi-hosting of such worlds; to facilitate virtual world-to-virtual world exchanges.  Virtual worlds are also places to do business, to buy and sell goods and services. Some virtual worlds have their own virtual currencies and thriving e-commerce. Linden Dollars is a fully-convertible currency used in Second Life; in-world trade of virtual assets and services for the month of August 2008 was just short of $L20 million i.e. approximately $US 80,000.  A recent study (August 2008) from Manchester University in the UK asserted that “gold farming”, that is external suppliers who sell in-world currencies and other virtual enhancements to users, had become a significant economic indicator for many emerging economies, particularly China and was now comparable in size to the Indian outsourcing industry.

4. Efficiency and environmental gains
Virtual worlds offer efficiency gains for governments, business and for social institutions in enabling enhanced interaction with consumers and customers at much lower cost in time and money terms than real-world activity. As higher-speed broadband and next generation networks are rolled out more widely across the globe, more and more countries will be able to benefit from these efficiencies.  There are potential environmental gains, too. Virtual worlds can assist in reducing carbon emissions by taking away the need for conference travel, air travel, car journeys as business executives and consumers can meet in-world instead. Finally, virtual worlds can also foster consumer and business innovation and collaboration; job creation; learning and knowledge-sharing and ICT-related skill formation.

5. The public policy challenges
The potential power of virtual worlds for social, scientific and business collaboration can only really be harnessed, however, if governments and industry work together on developing more flexible and adaptable regulatory regimes to support these innovative new media and to safeguard the interests of the consumers who use them.  Feedback from industry and academic stakeholders obtained by the UK government in July of this year [see link: http://www.virtualpolicy.net/_Downloads/VP08/VirtualPolicy08-SummaryOfPolicyDiscussions.doc]
indicates that there are many jurisdictional challenges and uncertainties for both industry and consumers in utilising virtual worlds which require urgent attention.   Being web-based, virtual worlds are often serving international communities.  Many virtual worlds have developed their own governance frameworks to guide the behaviour of consumers in their worlds.  Yet virtual world developers and consumers also have to look to national jurisdictions to stay within the law themselves.  This can often present legal uncertainties when local laws between jurisdictions vary or even contradict one another on such relevant policy areas as e-commerce, taxation, intellectual property rights, data privacy, and child protection.  Establishing overall jurisdictional liability for a particular virtual world can in itself prove to be a major hurdle for any company or consumer wanting to stay within the law or to seek redress.

6. Beginning the necessary international dialogue – the workshop
As with all emerging technologies, governments have a duty of responsibility to their citizens and to their evolving industries to look out for their interests and to provide appropriate and clear regulatory frameworks, including enforcement.  International media such as virtual worlds present additional challenges for regulation and for public policy since they will very often operate across national boundaries and borders.  This workshop will provide the first-ever opportunity for governments, civil society institutions and for industry to begin an important and urgent debate about the regulatory environment and governance of virtual worlds.   See overleaf for the workshop outline.

* * * * *
IGF workshop proposal

Internet Governance Forum Workshop:
Virtual Worlds for Delivering Public Service & Innovation
Hyderabad, December 2008

Organised by the UK Government’s
Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR)

The workshop programme will comprise three sessions:

1. Introduction to virtual worlds

A brief introduction to the variety of virtual worlds which exist and the way in which they are used, for the benefit of IGF stakeholders who may not be familiar with them.  This will be given by David Hendon, Director of Business Relations at BERR and Ren Reynolds, Adviser to the UK Government on Virtual Worlds & Social Media.

2. Innovation in virtual worlds

A discussion panel followed by Q&A which will showcase and explore  innovations in the use of virtual worlds in both the public and private sectors. The panel will be chaired by Ren Reynolds (see above) and is likely* to comprise:

□    A representative from the Chinese China Recreation District department, commissioners of the Dotman project;
□    Dave Taylor*, Imperial College, London, St. Mary’s Hospital; and co-creator of the UK National Physical Laboratory/US Agencies’ SciLands continent inside Second Life;
□    Ian Hughes*, Metaverse Evangelist for IBM, currently working with Linden Lab on ICT infrastructure development of Second Life and the porting of avatars to OpenSim;
□    Dr Parvati Dev* who was up until very recently the Director of Stanford University’s Medical Media and Information Technologies Department (SUMMIT), pioneering use of the ForTerra/Olive virtual world in medical training and emergency planning.

*NB: Names of representatives are subject to confirmation

3. Public policy, regulation and virtual worlds

This second and final discussion panel will draw out some of the key public policy and regulatory issues presented by virtual worlds which may require further study by IGF stakeholders.  The panel will be chaired by Sacha Wunsch-Vincent, Senior Policy Analyst for the OECD Directorate for Science, Technology & Industry.   See overleaf for panel members.

Panel members are likely* to comprise:

□    A senior representative from Sulake (Finland), creators of Habbo Hotel;
□    Dave Taylor*, Imperial College/NHS London;
□    A senior representative from NCSoft (Korea), creators of Lineage II and other popular online game worlds;
□    Patrice Chazerand*, Secretary-General, International Software Federation of Europe;
□    Chris Francis*, IBM (UK) Government Relations
□    Ren Reynolds, Founder – the Virtual Policy Network. Adviser to UK Government on Virtual Worlds & Social Media

*NB: Names of representatives are subject to confirmation

4. Concluding remarks and close

The workshop will close with some brief summary remarks from David Hendon, BERR.

- end -


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One response to “UN IGF 2008 Workshop Proposal: Virtual Worlds for Delivering Public Service & Innovation”

  1. david hendon - StartTags.com

    [...] chairman Bob Gilbert … Its head honcho David Hendon suggested a corporate governance review. …UN IGF 2008 Workshop Proposal: Virtual Worlds for Delivering …This will be given by David Hendon, Director of Business Relations at BERR and Ren Reynolds, Adviser [...]

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