Hot Topic: Megatrends—What Are They, and Who Are They For?
The starts of decades have traditionally been a good time for futurists to offer clients and the public an overview of the megatrends affecting their businesses, communities, and the world at large.
Examples of recent megatrend analyses include the U.S. National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends Project, market research firm Frost & Sullivan’s proprietary report on global megatrends to 2030, and McKinsey & Company’s briefing for the 2019 World Economic Forum, which focused on sources of disruption and resiliency. (See also the WEF’s Global Risks Report 2020, which focuses on looming geopolitical and environmental threats.)
Industry experts often examine megatrends directly affecting a certain sector of the economy, such as automobiles or travel. And the UN’s World Social Report 2020 focuses specifically on the impact on inequality of four megatrends: technological innovation, climate change, urbanization and international migration.
In his seminal 2004 text Futuring, World Future Society founder Edward Cornish described six “supertrends” he believed to be shaping the “Great Transformation” ahead. These are:
1. Technological Progress: “All the improvements being made in computers, medicine, transportation, and other technologies, as well as all the other useful knowledge that enables humans to achieve their purposes more effectively.”
2. Economic Growth: “The accumulation of capital goods (factories, highways, office buildings, railroads, bridges, etc.) as well as consumer goods and social capital (institutions, knowledge, etc.) means that each new generation starts with more capital goods and wealth, making it ever easier to produce still more.”
3. Improving Health: “Technological progress and economic growth have led to improving human health because they have produced more food, more effective sanitation, better health services, and so on. Improving health leads to increasing longevity, which has two very important consequences: population growth and a rise in the average age of the population.”
4. Increasing Mobility: “Technological progress, economic growth, and population increase combine to cause a fourth supertrend: increasing mobility. … People, goods, and information move from place to place faster and in greater quantity than ever before.”
5. Environmental Decline is “continuing for the world as a whole because of continuing high population growth and economic development. … Mother Earth remains sick and is still getting sicker.”
6. Increasing Deculturation (Loss of Traditional Culture): “Deculturation occurs when people lose their culture or cannot use it because of changed circumstances. Due to high mobility, rapid change, economic growth, and other factors, increasing deculturation on a global scale qualifies as a sixth supertrend.”
As we enter the 2020s, are Cornish’s supertrends (or megatrends) still valid as tools for understanding the future? How might Cornish’s supertrends be modified? Should such trend analyses be adapted to meet the needs of the client/audience to whom they are presented, or should all audiences be on the same page? Send your thoughts to CynthiaGWagner@gmail.com.
- James Dator: Just restricting my comments to what is on the 2004 list (and not what else should be on it), I would say it greatly underestimates the role “environmental decline” is having and will increasingly have on all of the other trends, and may be completely wrong about “increasing deculturalization” given the rapid global rise of neotraditional nationalism and cultural revitalization in general (which of course we are very close to us here in Hawaii). You might call it “anti-global globalization.”
- Jim Burke: Ed’s projections are still on track, although they could be expanded to capture the implications of today and tomorrow. [Regarding No. 3, Improving Health] Some indications that increased health can slow population growth. [Re No. 4, Increasing Mobility] Services also move faster and farther. [Re No. 5, Environmental Decline] An increased awareness and more aggressive involvement by businesses and governments could still prove effective in countering this trend. [Re No. 6, Increasing Deculturation] In the U.S., it has morphed into a “dignity deficit” that continues to shake up politics and governance.
Since 2004, the concept of mega-trends has grown and often includes trends that are fashionably big, rather than fundamental. One trend that futurists seem queasy about addressing is the growing attention to spiritual practices, whether it is yoga, mindfulness, or non-religious spiritual practices. This attention has moved from the fad and fashion into sub-cultural movements and could be a counter trend to Ed’s number 6. One that touches all 6 is increasing sensor proliferation and computing power, with advancing algorithms, that are making real the “surveillance society.”
- Peter Eder: Instead of increasing deculturation, I would consider Increasing Polarization. By income, by gender, by age, by religion (or absence thereof), by government, by nations. The common good is truly disappearing. What we envisioned not a decade ago, of the universal benefits of the internet and what has come to be known as “social media” have become tools of polarization. I believe the other megatrends continue to go on.
As to how the needs of the client / audience presentation ... I don’t think it is adapt or adopt alternative that should be applied to one or the other. The total audience should be on the same page on the broad scale, but it needs to be segmented perhaps, considering the focus and influence of the audience.
Foresight Report: Financially Advantageous Approaches to Sustain the Ecosystem
In his latest white paper for AAI Foresight, NASA chief scientist Dennis M. Bushnell (Langley Research Center) offers an overview of financial incentives to promote climate change mitigation and ecosystem preservation. This approach has already yielded success in accelerating renewable energy generation and storage, he observes, as there had been little progress until costs dropped to the point of being the best solution financially.
“There are two obvious high-level sources of financial benefit for both the ecosystem and climate,” Bushnell writes. “These financially beneficial approaches strive to mitigate the trillions of dollars of negative effects from current trends continuing, and they strive to promote alternative technologies and approaches that have major profit potential.”
Download “Financially Advantageous Approaches to Sustain the Ecosystem” by Dennis M. Bushnell. Foresight Report, Winter-Spring 2020.
Making the Most of the Next Decade
We’ll need “all the determination, energy, and resources we can muster in order to accelerate a global transition toward a net-zero-carbon economy well before 2050, or #NetZero<2050,” writes AAI Foresight guest blogger Young-jin Choi in “How to Make This New Decade Count.”
Choi, who serves as an expert for systemic/climate impact investing at PHINEO gAG, notes that it is mostly the post-millennial, 21st-century-born generations who will bear both the consequences of climate change and the responsibility for making a difference. “We never asked for such an enormous responsibility, yet we are finding ourselves in this extraordinary period in human history, where our collective action—and inaction—is shaping the planetary conditions for life on earth for thousands of years to come,” he writes.
He recommends strengthening the climate movement through a range of means, including climate activism and nonviolent civil resistance, and exposing “any ill-fated attempts at discrediting or trivializing the climate crisis, climate science, climate activism, and climate solutions.” [Read more]
Mark Your Calendar: Future Day
March 1 is Future Day, and one of the highlights will be The Millennium Project’s seventh annual 24-hour conversation around the world via video conferencing. One of the participants this year will be Vint Cerf (“Father of the Internet”), who has agreed to join the live feed at noon, Berlin time, according to TMP co-founder and CEO Jerome C. Glenn. For details, contact Jerome.Glenn@millennium-project.org or visit http://www.millennium-project.org/tmp-news/ Young futurists interested in a parallel conversation, which will also be integrated into the global event, may contact Ted Kahn, email@example.com.
Because March 1 falls on a Sunday, Teach the Future has elected to celebrate Future Day on Friday, March 6. TTF’s Finnish hub has prepared resources that participants can use for their own events, including activity suggestions, worksheets, and teacher guides.
“Futures Day aims at achieving 10,000 futures discussions globally during the day. Future discussions can be organized in schools, municipalities, libraries, workplaces or anywhere, in any community,” says Laura Pouru of the Futures Day Team at Finland Futures Research Centre. Users may select resources designed for elementary, secondary, or college-level groups and in several languages. [Learn more]
Reforming and Strengthening the U.S. Congress: Event Report
The United States needs to strengthen congressional effectiveness because Congress has ceded a lot of its power to the executive branch and lobbyists, said Lee Drutman, a senior fellow in the Political Reform Program at New America, at a recent Brookings Institution panel on congressional reform.
According to Drutman, Congress could invest in expanding members’ budget allowance and supporting agencies like the Congressional Research Service, for example. He also endorsed efforts to bring back the congressional Office of Technology Assessment, describing it as a trusted institute that benefited all. But it should be called “something a little jazzier,” Drutman said.
Brookings and R Street co-hosted the January 9 presentation by the American Political Science Association’s Task Force Project on Congressional Reform. The task force comprises half a dozen subcommittees addressing key challenges to congressional effectiveness: increasing capacity, improving staff retention and diversity, improving the budget and appropriations process, using new technologies, improving floor and committee procedures, and optimizing the congressional calendar.
Read “Event Report: Reinvigorating Congress” by Cindy Wagner, Foresight Signals Blog, January 24, 2020.
WFSF Adds Youth Membership
WFSF Junior is a new membership category dedicated to younger generations that the World Futures Studies Federation board initiated in 2019. WFSF Junior is open to school-age children provided that at least one of their parents or legal custodians is a WFSF member.
In an interview with director Victor V. Motti, WFSF Junior member Arsam Matin explains, “I wanted to learn more about futures studies to build an amazing future for all children around the world. … I would also like to teach other kids to about future and help them to create their future.” [Read more]
New Partnership: Design Thinking in Classrooms
Teach the Future Netherlands will participate in a two-year EU-funded project called D-TIPS (design thinking in primary schools). With its wide international network of educators, TTF will work with Erasmus+—the EU’s program to support education, training, youth, and sport in Europe—to incorporate futures thinking skills into this project. [Learn more]
Call for Papers: Futures of Communities
The journal Futures will publish a special issue devoted to futures of communities, be they digital or traditional, transnational, scientific, artistic, academic, professional, religious, or other.
The issue seeks articles that offer (1) critical assessment of future-oriented decision and policy-making processes involving communities at various levels; (2) novel methodological approaches introducing the concept of community in foresight and scenario design; (3) discussions of the future temporalities and of the transformations of communities over time, including scenarios on the futures of specific communities; or (4) analyses of the role of communities in the anticipation and the management of sustainability issues, such as the ruling of global commons in a long-range and future-oriented perspective.
The issue will be guest edited by Fabrice Roubelat of the University of Poitiers, Anne Marchais-Roubelat of Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers–Paris, and Jamie Brassett of Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. The deadline for submitting full papers is March 31. [Learn more]
Quoteworthy: Collaborative Foresight
We’re “living in a moment where futures thinking and foresight is very much in vogue,” Institute for the Future Executive Director Marina Gorbis tells Female Futures Bureau founder Tracey Follows. “People are hiring foresight practitioners, including perhaps a chief of foresight, and it’s kind of an amazing moment.
“But the most exciting thing is that it’s no longer about an individual futurist working on their own, it’s about building communities,” she continued. “There are huge uncertainties in the world, potentially scary scenarios, and where we are right now in this moment, people are finding futures thinking very helpful. Now it’s participatory, and that really is exciting, a move towards a more collaborative foresight.”
Gorbis also reflects on the influence of women in futurism and others who have inspired her, including game designer and digital advocate Jane McGonigal and ITIF distinguished fellows Kathi Vian and Lyn Jeffery. [Read more]
Dubai’s “Most Anticipated” Museum of the Future
Smithsonian magazine has named Dubai’s new Museum of the Future one of the most anticipated institutions opening in 2020. Scheduled to open later this year, the museum is a project of Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and the Dubai Future Foundation he chairs. “The future belongs to those who can imagine it, design it, and execute it,” he states. “It isn’t something you await, but rather create.”
The museum has already created exhibitions for the World Government Summit, held annually in Dubai, focusing on the role of future technology in government services, health care, climate change, and food security. Future interactive and immersive exhibits will invite visitors “to look beyond the present and take your place within possible worlds to come,” the website states. The institution also aims “to be a place of tolerance where varied cultural, philosophical, social and spiritual outlooks are welcome.” [Read more]
In the January 2020 issue of Foresight Signals, the story about Argentina’s new futures institute, Entrepreneurship, Prospective and Innovation Unit (UNEPI), incorrectly identified Pablo Andrés Curarello as a faculty member. He is a member of the advisory council of UNEPI and promoter of the initiative.
In Memoriam: John G. Honig
We were saddened to learn of the passing of John G. Honig on January 30. He was 96. Among his many professional accomplishments, John worked with the Naval Research Laboratory and other defense related agencies, including the Institute for Defense Analyses. A member of the World Future Society and of the Montgomery County, Maryland, Commission on Aging, John remained active into his 80s and 90s and engaged in numerous community, civic, philanthropic, and cultural projects. Among his survivors is his wife of 39 years, Elaine. [Read more]