Eight “Buckets” of Trends Defining Our Futures

Richard Lum | 02/19/2019

One of the best indicators of the future are trends—changes happening over time. We can’t predict the future or know for sure if a trend will continue to move in the same direction, but we can forecast what things might look like if the trend continues, accelerates, slows down, or even reverses.

We at FORESIGHT are performing a Futures Scan to get a picture of the trends most likely to impact health and well-being in the short term (~10 years) and long term (~50 years), as well as two other things related to trends: emerging issues and stabilities. Emerging issues are signals of change that may or may not become trends in the future (such as quantum computing and lab-grown organs), while stabilities are impediments to change that can slow, stop, redirect, or reverse trends (such as traditions and powerful stakeholders). Since both of those gain their impact by their relationship to trends, we’ll just focus the rest of this blog on trends—but keep in mind, we’ll also be scanning for emerging issues and stabilities within these same buckets.

To get started, we needed to make decisions about how to focus the scan. There are so many factors influencing health and well-being that there’s no way we could scan them all without infinite time and personnel. I know from my work in futures that futures scans work best with a range of 5–15 trend “buckets” (broad categories) that can guide the work and make the most fruitful use of scanning resources.

So the FORESIGHT architects put our heads together at a February 12-13 gathering in Austin, Texas to identify the trends that research has shown to shape health and well-being, informed by the input of our philanthropic partners. We landed on eight clusters of trends, which we will list below. We decided to name broad clusters instead of narrow groups or individual trends; if our starting trends were too specific, we’d risk closing ourselves off to some of the other trends that we haven’t yet noticed or can’t even imagine.

In defining this starting point, we needed to remain open to what futurists (including me) would detect in our scan. My go-to metaphor is that each specific trend we might uncover is a LEGO® brick, and to start off our Futures Scan we need to find the buckets those bricks come from and start digging around in those buckets for the blocks that have the most potential to disrupt or transform.

Example: Broad Trend Buckets v. Specific Trends

If instead of “technology” as a broad trend bucket, we had listed the specific trend “increased use of wearables for tracking personal health,” then the Future Scan team might end up overlooking another technology that we didn’t list (and perhaps didn’t even know about), such as increased use of prosthetics or advances in gene therapy.

The FORESIGHT architects represent widely varied backgrounds and viewpoints (including a large amount of work with health and well-being, and with regions and their residents), so we were well-equipped to set FORESIGHT’s starting point. Over the coming months, we’re going to remain open to making the following list and the scan even better as we learn more from our affinity groups (Philanthropic Partners and Regional Connectors) as well as regional residents, especially those from underserved groups that are all too often overlooked.

 

With that said, here are eight topic areas that will serve as the focus for the initial work of the Futures Scan:

1. Equity

Explore changes in the patterns of access to resources and opportunities across gender, race, place (urban, rural, etc.), age, income and wealth, immigration status, sexual orientation, and other vectors.

2. Economics

Investigate changes to the US economy, which include critical trends like globalized trade, growing wealth inequality, and the changing nature of work as we continue to move from a manufacturing economy to one revolving around services and content creation.

3. Climate change

Examine the ways that climate change affects, and will affect, health and well-being, considering a wide range of impacts including natural disasters, population displacement, and socioeconomic impacts on politics, industry, and Americans’ daily lives.

4. Demographic shifts

Understand how population changes are impacting health and well-being. The three that have come up most often are an aging US population, the shift from rural to urban centers, and rising immigration—but we’re on the lookout for more.

5. Technology

Probe the effects of technology on health and well-being. This category is interpreted quite broadly. It encompasses everything from overall infrastructure, to wearable technology, to automation, to AI, to prosthetics—and all things in between.

6. Culture shifts

Study changes to what is considered normal and acceptable within society, how those norms open and close opportunities, and how they could influence public health and well-being. Some examples include the rising acceptance of homosexuality in the last few decades, and the shifts in public perceptions of Muslims following 9/11.

7. Two-way relationships

Explore potential changes in the two-way relationships between individuals and their communities, between the employed and employers, and between the government and the governed. These could include, for example, how these relationships change in response to the design of social safety net programs, public education, and health funding.

8. Health care system

Delve into an extremely broad range of trends including policy, payment, delivery, value-based care, telemedicine, and the recent disruptive moves by businesses, such as CVS’s bid to become your one-stop health care shop and Amazon’s steps into the health care sector.

The Importance of Varied Viewpoints

The FORESIGHT architects were asked to come to their February 12-13 gathering with an idea of their personal worst-case scenario for the future of health and well-being. One of the most common answers amounted to “a bunch of privileged people in a room made decisions impacting the future without designing ways for the people most impacted to have meaningful influence.”

So what do you think?

Is the list above a good start? We’ll have to wait for the future to materialize to find out, but in the meantime, we want to gather as many varied perspectives as possible. Do you have a trend or issue that you think is emerging that we missed? Comment below, and reach out to us on social media using the hashtag #FutureForHealth.

The world is changing fast. It’s time we design a future for health together.
Our work begins with FORESIGHT.