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How an immersive experience and 3D tech brought personal testimonies to life

5 April 2022

Finding new and innovative ways to engage people with your cause is exciting. It gives you an opportunity to think creatively and work collaboratively across your organisation as you find ways to inspire audiences old and new with the amazing cause you work for.

At Mercy Ships, we’ve embraced innovation to create an immersive 3D experience that enables us to raise awareness while telling real people’s stories. As we rely on the generosity of our supporters and volunteers, and staff on our two hospital ships, we need to increase outreach and awareness so when a unique opportunity arose to do just that we jumped at it.

Come on board – Introducing a hospital ship to the world

It’s currently a very special time for Mercy Ships. Not only is our hospital ship, the Africa Mercy back in Senegal delivering life-changing surgeries and training, but our new ship the Global Mercy, the world’s largest civilian purpose-built hospital ship is getting ready to go into service. 

The build of the Global Mercy has been over 10 years in the making, and the charity made the decision a long time ago to launch the ship in Rotterdam in 2022. The arrival in Rotterdam of the Global Mercy at the end of February was a catalyst for a series of physical, hybrid and digital events that serve to open the doors and stories of Mercy Ships to the world. For two weeks only, the ship was physically docked in Rotterdam, able to welcome visitors to celebrate the future impact of the world’s largest civilian owned floating hospital.

What we realised early on was that as well as having a physical presence, the ship also gave us a unique opportunity to create something that would ensure this event lived on way past the two weeks. Something that would inspire an existing and new audience for years to come about our work and impact. The result of which is a digital 3D built environment, that showcases parts of the ship, and the physical tour, the Global Mercy Experience, taking the audience on an immersive journey through parts of the ship, and also allowing them to stop to play videos that enable them to witness the impact of Mercy Ships through personal testimonies of patients whose lives have been changed.

Try the virtual experience for yourself here: Mercy Ships Experience

We knew that we were crafting something really strong in the storytelling for physical visitors, but the key question was – how many people could we realistically bring to the ship, amidst a pandemic. What could we do to ensure that as many people as possible can take part in this moment, and continue to be inspired by it afterwards?

What drove me personally, was the memory of visiting the Anastasis in the early 2000s, and the memory of a single patient story shared with me by a family at my church. Those two memories of the impact of Mercy Ships stuck with me. Mercy Ships is something super special, and they complete phenomenal work. The stories of impact are strong, and we wanted to ensure that the stories were shared through the patients and volunteers themselves.  

The 3D experience was rolled out after the physical event, as an ability for people to see more of the ship, and also explore at their leisure. We want to ensure that this storytelling lives on, and lives to inspire both existing and new supporters to be a part of the Mercy Ships story.

Content that could live on

Despite a lot of uncertainty in the world, we decided six months ago that the event to celebrate our new hospital ship would go ahead, in whatever form was needed – be that physical or digital, or better still, a mix of both, with a healthy dose of hybrid thrown in.

It’s very rare that we get an opportunity to throw open the doors for anyone to experience what life is like in Mercy Ships, as generally the ships are focussed on serving nations in Africa. So we wanted to ensure that we used the event to share the vision and impact of Mercy Ships, and ensure that people had an invitation to join the journey.

What resulted is an engaging series of physical and digital events, that ensured that anyone can take part, and from anywhere. Not only that, but the bank of content that’s been created as a result of both the tours and the events themselves, means that we have a digital archive to use as awareness campaigns for months and hopefully years to come.

The physical and 3D experiences

In the physical, we developed the Global Mercy Experience. An immersive tour through key areas of the Global Mercy, showcasing not just the hospital ship itself, but the lives changed and impacted through the work of Mercy Ships. The purpose of this was to showcase not only the ship, but to present afresh the impact of Mercy Ships, through some of the lives transformed.

The Global Mercy Experience was developed with ethical storytelling at its core, and wanting to ensure that the voices of our patients and volunteers were brought to the fore, whilst also showcasing the impact to inspire people to engage with Mercy Ships for years to come. It took very careful planning for the content and experience to be created, and we needed to ensure as many people as possible could take part.

The journey itself is powerful, encompassing a range of different rooms and experiences to showcase the ship, through different people’s stories and types of media including 360-degree rooms, holograms, dressed rooms etc. As the physical experience developed, we were keen to ensure that it wasn’t just going to impact the people who could physically make it to the Global Mercy but also those that engaged with us in other ways too. Mercy Ships would be nothing without the people who support it, and so it’s been important in this, to ensure that people feel part of something bigger.

We decided that it wasn’t enough to just make a video of the experience, and put it online, we needed to develop something that people can be part of.

We wanted to ensure that people had a way that they could really feel that they were exploring the experience and ship, rather than just watching.

For this, we did something ambitious, and I hope that it will last for years to come. We commissioned a digital 3D built environment where guests can not only walk for themselves the tour route from the comfort of their own home, but they can experience the stories and testimonies shared of lives changed that were part of the physical tour.

Take the tour

The feedback so far has been phenomenal. Not just in presenting the Mercy Ships story and impact to a new audience, but also re-inspiring existing volunteers as to why they support, and also the impact that they’re part of. We have welcomed thousands of people to the experience, both physically and digitally, and, so far, people from 117 nations have engaged with the content.

Banner Image: Diego F. Parra on Pexels

Anne Buckland

Global campaigns manager , Mercy Ships

Anne is Global Campaigns Manager at Mercy Ships, and co-founder of We Do Stories. Anne’s background covers producing large events and outside broadcasts, international tv programming, content marketing for impact organisations and PR. She is used to looking at a single moment, and working out how to maximise its reach through the moment itself, and strategic content created and shared around it.