Virtual Reality | Interview-Format Soft Skills Training Experience
Role: Experience Design & Strategy Lead | Executive Creative Director | Video Production SME | Scriptwriter and Live-Action Director
Breakthrough Use of Human-Centric Design & Technology to Build Empathy: This training experience uses virtual reality and immersive storytelling to accelerate the development of essential interpersonal and analytical competencies for social service casework. It offers a new route to build advanced skills, as well as to foster greater understanding among policymakers.
In the experience, users (you) practice questioning techniques and exploratory dialog with a family applying for supplementary food and cash assistance. Your job as the caseworker and eligibility interviewer is to engage the family in such a way that you understand their financial and non-financial circumstances as accurately as possible.
How It Was Created: The fictional applicant family was produced with professional actors in a scripted scenario. Your conversation with them is facilitated in VR with dynamic narrative (you choose the path), immersive 360° storytelling, and natural language processing. The experience requires only a wireless Oculus® VR headset, a downloadable app, and a WiFi connection.
Efficacy of VR Training: Experiential training - or training by doing - increases learning quality and improves retention by up to 75% (based on research across multiple industries and use cases). Additionally, we’ve seen a 40% reduction in caseworker training time, a reported 70% improvement in employee performance, and a 75% decrease in training resource costs over traditional methods. In addition to these significant numbers, we’ve entirely removed the need for training-related travel and associated expenses for welfare and human services agencies.
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The video below provides a quick overview of the VR experience and production process. Its underpinning interactive technology can be repurposed for training in areas like healthcare, law enforcement and human resources.
Virtual reality allows novice caseworkers to get hands-on interview experience on day one of training - and that can change everything they learn going forward.
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Development & Production took approximately three months to complete and included multiple phases from ideation to delivery:
Field Research: I facilitated multiple creative work sessions and in-person interviews with Public Services Consultants and shadowed Food Assistance Eligibility Specialists from San Diego, Los Angeles and Sacramento during their customer intake and eligibility determination process.
Developing an Experience that Addresses the Needs of the Caseworker and the Customer: The target user for this experience is within six months of being hired as a public assistance caseworker. Though they've observed supervisors during training, they have not yet completed their first unassisted interview.
Their customers (individual and family food assistance applicants) range in age, financial circumstance, and personal experience with the application process. Some have received supplementary assistance for months or years and others are applying for their first time. Each customer has a unique story, at times complicated with illness, addiction and compounded needs.
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Experience Backstory: The underlying family narrative is highly-detailed and depicts a realistic financial distress situation. This video provides a general outline of their circumstances, and includes context of their time at the intake center leading up to the interview.
Because virtual reality relies on the user's suspension of disbelief and enthusiastic participation, story credibility is critical.
"I feel like I've interviewed the real Patricia at least a hundred times. The characters you've created here are very real to me - it's so close to what our customers are going through". - Stakeholder Interview
Barrier-Free Design: Immersive experiences are most intuitive when the interface is as true to real life as technically possible.
To that end, natural voice recognition allows users to speak directly to the characters - and minimal, gaze-activated prompts follow an established CalFresh interview sequence and are the only graphics visible during questioning (see example at left).
360° Office: The interview takes place in a realistic office environment fashioned after the CalFresh intake center in San Diego.
Noise distractions, including elevators opening and closing, interviews in adjacent cubicles, loudspeaker announcements, etc. are typical in most intake centers. The experience realistically replicates this throughout the interview.
Post-Production: The live-action footage of the actors was shot on a chroma key sound stage. It was then edited and color-corrected before being composited into the 360° office background. 3D/CGI-generated desk & foreground elements, and graphic user interface prompts were added last.
Complete training: The experience provides a learning opportunity that is both experiential and reflective. It starts in virtual reality where users are immersed in a real-world scenario and can practice making tough decisions.
This is followed by a carefully curated seminar in which groups of users work together to unpack their thinking and increase their ability to inquire, observe and interpret human behavior.
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Press | MIT Management: Read how our inaugural application of this technology was utilized by the Indiana Department of Child Services, launching a data-centric transformation. Link
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Recognition for This Work: The experience was awarded a GLOMO® | Global Mobile Award for Best Innovation in Mobile VR at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona - and a South by Southwest (SXSW®) Interactive Innovations Awards Finalist (VR/AR/MR).
Personal Note: The story of Patricia, Carlos, and Theo is fictional, but it reflects the circumstances of many families who require food assistance every day across the U.S. I developed the detailed backstory and script with the input of the County of San Diego Health & Human Services | Eligibility Operations team.
The training is designed to work in all states and can be tailored to accommodate regional & county-level requirements.
I directed the live-action shoot in New York, capturing over 110 individual segments that fit seamlessly into the experience regardless of individual user question paths.
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Reversioning the Experience for Foster Care Training: The images below illustrate how the training scenario can be adjusted through set design and casting. In this Foster Care example, the virtual interview takes place in a chaotic living space where the mother of a young girl and her boyfriend are questioned to determine if the child should be removed from the home.