Atkins: Data for Generation Alpha: Communications & technology go hand in hand
Any discussion about the difference between generations will bring up technology within the first few sentences. Between millennials, Gen Z, and the current Gen Alpha (born after 2010), successive groups have had more in-depth exposure to technical platforms from a younger age, with research suggesting millennials and Gen Z interact more digitally than they do in the real world.
We need to respond to this as a sector and prepare for the acceleration of our communications evolution. There is a high focus on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) for careers’ sake; industry experts engaging with children during their engagement to attract future interest in working within the sector. However, the tech sector is now moving beyond this, adapting technologies to engage with current millennial and Gen Z stakeholders in the channels and languages they are most familiar with, and preparing for digital native Gen Alpha in the future.
A new native language
Atkins Geospatial Team have had an opportunity to trial this first-hand, using genuine Ordnance Survey data, and other open data, and importing them to the popular gaming platform Minecraft. This scheme, developed in collaboration with the DETI Inspire Team at University of the West of England - UWE Bristol, allows primary school students (the tail end of Gen Z and beginning of Gen Alpha) to explore not just data, but their own local area. They can wander from their school to home, considering whether the space really works optimally for everyone, and create changes to the streetscape, to local parks, to buildings, and even their local water spaces.
Some of this urban exploration produces wild ideas but also proposes truly achievable beneficial changes, such as urban greening, and allows users to start considering the art of the possible in a brand-new way. The technology acts as a springboard to understanding of the real world. Blending art, science, and technology, the use of a gaming software and leveraging the children’s local knowledge truly starts democratising understanding of the complexities of the urban environment.
Communication, but Digital
How might a stakeholder consultation meeting on a new masterplan or transportation scheme look in ten- or twenty-years’ time? Atkins Data Intelligence team already promotes stakeholder engagement employing virtual elements, such as extensive interactive WebGIS, augmented reality, data-led presentations and many other digital solutions.
However, it is vital that focus must always remain on how these systems drive engagement, regardless of format or technology deployed. They must be smart, considered solutions which take stakeholders through the issues intuitively and in a manner that works for them. Users can query data in a way that gives greater understanding of the underlying decisions behind schemes, and allows for more in-depth knowledge of hyperlocal issues, with caveats presented in clear jargon-free data limitations.
Going forward, it’s clear that whilst technology will develop, the democratisation of data via clear communication must also develop alongside it. This must occur in a way that furthers our understanding of ideas, aims, and strategy and that drives a deeper and broader engagement with all generations.