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Six megatrends that will shape our future


Who isn’t curious about the future?

Humans love future gazing. What is even more fascinating, and endlessly so, is the vision for humanity’s future. What awaits human beings in, say, the next 20 years?

Clearly, that is an onerous task quite beyond the ken of individuals. It requires a lot of pooled knowledge, and shared vision, and is usually the preserve of scientists.

Three years ago, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, better known by its acronym CSIRO, embarked on such a “global foresight” project, not to enlighten the world at large but mainly to guide its own research.

However, its vision was revealed to the world in 2010 when it was summoned to stand in, after a prescient consulting group commissioned to present the future, was thwarted by a failed overseas videolink.

Since then, CSIRO has assembled a new team called CSIRO Futures that shares its vision of the future. It has presented it in the form of six “megatrends” – defined as a major shift in environmental, social and economic conditions that will substantially change the way people live – for the next two decades.

“People need to think about the future because they need to make decisions. Decisions are, by definition, about future events,” the CSIRO said. “There are many ways of thinking about the future. This report is guided by the concept of the ‘futures cone’ – a conceptual framework defining different types of future. The diameters of the circles in the futures cone can be considered inversely proportional to the level of certainty about the future.”

Here are six megatrends identified by the CSIRO, accompanied by a brief description as the research group sees them:

#1. More from less. The earth has limited supplies of natural mineral, energy, water and food resources essential for human survival and maintaining lifestyles. Many of these resources are being depleted at alarming rates. Add to this equation climate change and growing demand. The bottom line: Mankind will need to learn to live on less, or use its ingenuity to get more out of less.

#2. Going, going … gone? Many of the world’s natural habitats, plant species and animal species are in decline or at risk of extinction. Thankfully, while the state of biodiversity is in decline, human response is on the rise. Governments, companies and societies are doing more than ever before to protect valuable habitats and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is hard to place a monetary value on this biodiversity, but we may still have a chance of preserving what is culturally invaluable.

#3. The silk highway. Coming decades will see the world economy shift from west to east and, north to south. We are stepping into the Asian Century, along with the rise of emerging markets in South America and Africa. This will build new markets and business models, and Australia’s cultural composition will grow more diverse. Our nation is well positioned to be part of the new world.

#4. Forever young. The ageing population is a growing asset. Elderly citizens in Australia and many other Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries will provide a wealth of skills, knowledge, wisdom and mentorship. This resource is as yet not fully utilised by governments, companies, communities and families, and this megatrend may well be called “hidden treasure.”

#5. Virtually here. The world is becoming more connected. People, businesses and governments are increasingly moving into the virtual world to deliver and access services, obtain information, perform transactions, shop, work and interact with each other. The rapid growth in connectivity is associated with new meta-level functionality and changed organisational and individual behavior, and will fundamentally change communities.

#6. Great expectations. Like the convict in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, people will increasingly demand great experiences and social relationships, rather than great products alone. This consumer, societal and cultural megatrend captures the expectation people have for personalised services and has implications for the Australian retail sector and human service delivery systems of government and private sector organisations.