Immersive Technology
in the UK’s Public Sector

About This Research

Public First has worked with Meta and techUK to convene the immersive tech sector across the country. This research reflects Public First’s independent findings from a series of industry workshops hosted in Bristol, Glasgow and Manchester, along with new public opinion polling and expert interviews.

Immersive Technology in the UK

What is immersive technology?

Extended reality (XR) technologies, including augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR) and  virtual reality (VR), allow a user to become “immersed” in the digital world.

Unlike two-dimensional computing interfaces such as the smartphone, laptop or tablet, immersive technologies offer a sensory experience that allows the user to interact with digital content in a three-dimensional way; overlaying or completely replacing their immediate surroundings with digital enhancements.

Individuals are often most familiar with VR headsets – such as the Meta Quest device. However, headsets are not the only way to experience XR. Mobile phone or tablet applications can themselves be XR, as well as immersive simulators with 360 degree screens.

Similarly, XR involves the utilisation of more than just sight and sound. Haptics introduce physical stimulation through touch, and there are also examples where scent cartridges are used to incorporate smell into the immersive experience.

What does the UK’s immersive technology sector look like?

The UK has a dynamic immersive tech sector, with a robust ecosystem of startups and more established organisations developing and deploying immersive solutions in numerous contexts. Immerse UK estimates that there are well over 2000 active immersive specialist companies operating across the country – 80% of which are microenterprises with fewer than 10 employees.1

How widespread is this technology?

This is clearly still a relatively nascent technology with significant untapped potential. According to new public opinion polling by Public First:

Whilst 90% of UK adults report having heard of immersive technology, only 8% could explain what it is to a friend.

17% of UK adults use the technology with any kind of regularity, compared to 61% who have never tried using immersive technology for themselves.

Our research also underlines how immersive technology is still predominantly understood in a media, entertainment or gaming context. Of those who had experienced immersive technology:

40% had used immersive tech to play video games, 25% at an arcade, theme park or fun fair, and 20% to watch video content at home.

Just 8% of respondents had used immersive tech as part of their day-to-day job.

What are the usecases for this technology?

The UK has seen an 83% growth in immersive reality companies in the last 5 years.2 Gaming is a significant proportion of this growth, but businesses dedicated to education & skills, health, and urban planning are also some of the largest sectors for XR operation.3 This lends an exciting dimension to the future digitisation of public services.

Our research shows that there is a clear public appetite for this technology to be integrated into a whole suite of different scenarios.

59% of UK adults felt that the public sector could benefit in some way from investing more into immersive technology – rising to 67% amongst 25-34 year olds.

When asked what use cases were most exciting, the most popular responses included helping children to learn about new topics in the classroom; training a surgeon to safely conduct brain surgery and training a pilot to safely land a plane.

Hence, there is a real opportunity for the UK to capitalise on immersive technology – and to consolidate its reputation as a world-leading market for XR innovation.

Which of the following ways that immersive technology could be used would you be excited about, if any? Select any which apply.

Opportunities in the Public Sector

In order to better understand the benefits and barriers to adoption of immersive technologies in the public sector, we have focused on three areas:

Summary of Recommendations

We found that XR presents new solutions to age-old policy problems such as waiting lists, personalised learning and community engagement. But equally, innovation risks being stymied by the usual budgetary and capacity constraints that continually haunt the UK’s public sector.

In order for public sector organisations and XR businesses to ensure that the benefits offered are fully realised across education & skills, healthcare and urban planning, we recommend the following actions.

In Education & Skills:​

Improve digital infrastructure

Any meaningful roll-out of XR will depend on strong technological foundations in schools, colleges and other public sector learning environments. This will inevitably require targeted funding and associated IT support. Whilst there are a lot of competing priorities in the education sector, laying the groundwork for digital integration is an absolute priority, closely followed by access to high-quality EdTech solutions.

Upskill teachers and training providers

Educators need support in identifying and utilising the right tools for their learners. Central and local governments should therefore work with XR providers to release official up-to-date guidance on the educational benefits associated with XR, along with advice for practical implementation in different education and training settings.

Prioritise partnerships between technology providers and established bodies

Formal networking opportunities between technology providers and groups such as subject associations, awarding organisations or professional bodies may help to facilitate new partnerships or accreditation processes. This may, in turn, give educators renewed confidence in the efficacy of XR tools, services and curricula.

In Healthcare:

Expedite a national vision for XR in healthcare

The NHS should accelerate development of a national strategy to enable effective and safe use of XR in health and social care. This should have a focus on transparent evaluation frameworks, and implementing proportionate regulatory requirements.

Appoint XR champions in each NHS Trust

A dedicated individual or team should be responsible for integrating XR technologies in their local area. They should lead cohesive change-management strategies that support XR adoption, and offer expert end-to-end technological support to their colleagues.

Prioritise outcome-based procurement

Procurement processes across UK health services should focus on what the desired outcome is, rather than strictly defining how the outcome should be achieved. This will allow technology providers – including XR experts – to offer more innovative solutions to the challenge at hand.

In Urban Planning:

Appoint a Digital Planner at each Local Planning Authority

Many Local Planning Authorities lack the technical expertise to lead large-scale procurement and deployment of PropTech – including VR, AR or XR initiatives. Appointing a ‘Digital Planner’ with responsibility for digital workstreams would ensure solutions can be thoughtfully implemented, and stimulate a fundamental cultural change across the planning system.

Embrace XR as a master planning tool

Whilst the PropTech Innovation Fund has instigated valuable pilots regarding XR for community engagement, more can be done to use this technology as a master planning tool that supports the whole design process. For example, the government could add a fourth track to DLUHC’s Digital Planning Programme, to fund more innovative use cases for the tech.

Improve data quality, availability & interoperability

Building on the Planning Data Platform and Open Planning Data community, local authorities should move towards a modernised, open data approach that creates a reliable national picture of what is happening when it comes to urban planning.4 Opting for open source models will help LPAs avoid limiting the tools available to them in the future.


We are grateful to the representatives from the following organisations that have participated in this research.

Crocodile Media
D&T Global
Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
Digital Energy Group
Digital Health and Care Innovation Centre
Digital Urban
Divergent Solutions
Draw and Code
Frazer-Nash Consultancy
Glasgow City Council
Make Real
Manchester Metropolitan University
Metaverse Learning
New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering (NMITE)
Reality in Virtual Reality (RiVR)
Rescape Health
Salford Council
Sopra Steria
Talent for Tech
University College London
University of Glasgow
Victim Support Scotland
Virtual Speech
Welsh Digital Service
West Midlands Growth Company
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