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Delving into future trends – is there cause for optimism?

Despite some worrying global trends, Sitra's foresight expert insists there are reasons to be cheerful...



Autumn is the time of year when Sitra compiles its list of trends for the coming year. What does the future hold from the perspective of foresight? There is cause for optimism, writes our foresight specialist Elina Kiiski Kataja in the research team’s Weekly notes blog.

Our annually published Sitra Trends List provides one interpretation of the directions of global change-related phenomena – megatrends. Trends can be studied in various ways: through strategic and participatory foresight, scenario work, gathering weak signals and looking for wildcards. At Sitra, the foresight activities for compiling the Trends List combine two types of foresight: participatory and strategic.

We are currently busy compiling the Trends List. Mapping trends begins with gathering mass data: by studying various trend lists, compilations and reviews. We are particularly interested in the foresight activities of global organisations similar to Sitra. For example, the future and foresight-related projects and results of organisations such as Nesta in the UK, the US-based Institute for the Future, the Bertelsmann foundation in Germany, as well as the Jaques Delors Institute, the Compagnia di Sao Paolo and the Calouste Gulbenk Foundation are all vital sources of information.

At the same time, we are conducting participatory foresight across Sitra – after all, we all work with the future in our respective fields. In participatory foresight, it is important to involve as wide a range of views as possible, thus further broadening the material and perspectives.

Once these phases are completed, it is time to move on to strategic foresight. At this stage, we seek to find long-term views and different alternatives, focus on a number of perspectives, and then continue to look for further information and examples. After this, choices must be made on the phenomena to be included on the list and the perspective through which to discuss them.

In a nutshell, the trends selected for inclusion in Sitra’s Trends List are those that are seen as globally significant phenomena or developments and which also have a major impact on Finland.

The future consists of action

Trend lists and future-related activities are of little use if the emerging issues remain at the level of general interest or one-time presentations. In many cases, the best foresight work is done by organisations that are not so much focused on mapping the future operating environment but rather on implementing new approaches – on creating the future they want. In this effort, it is naturally important to have access to plenty of information on possible future development paths. On top of that, however, what it primarily takes is an innovative approach, experimentation and the ability to do things in new ways.

At the moment, Sitra’s trend activities are centred on participatory foresight and gathering material. The difficult situations in many regions, both domestically and globally, are also strongly reflected in our current trend activities. Many issues have emerged that initially give cause for concern. Suddenly, many themes that have long been highlighted by researchers are topical here and now. These include the refugee crisis, which is caused by many factors related to climate change, the changing global safety environment and the still uncertain global economy. 

Nevertheless, there is cause for optimism. Optimism exists where things are already being done differently: in the companies and organisations that have come up with new operating models and among those who are solving the great challenges of our time, such as climate change and the eradication of poverty. Great progress has been made on all these issues, even if the challenges are enormous. Examples include the view put forth by Sitra’s Advisor Oras Tynkkynen that there are many good reasons to be hopeful about climate change and a recent article in the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper on how the world is slowly becoming a better place (both articles in Finnish). A positive example of an established Finnish company that has turned its operations towards strong growth is Finlayson (link in Finnish); other examples include companies that are creating entirely new forms of sustainable business, starting up in environments such as the Peloton Innovation Camps, initiated by Demos Helsinki.

In our time, comprehensive individual solutions are becoming a luxury, but many small ones can generate major changes. Let’s advance towards that future together.

P.S. The Sitra Trends List will be published soon – watch this space!

The trend activities have primarily involved Sitra’s network of foresight expertise, consisting of experts specialising in forecasting, Sitra’s management group and the contribution of Sitra’s Advisory panel, which includes top international experts.

Weekly notes is a series of blogs offering insights into the topical issues being discussed each week by Sitra’s research and strategy team. Our Weekly Notes are gathered together here.