Drivers of change – on fast-forward?

Drivers of change – on fast-forward?

We’ve noticed recently how SAMI’s six Drivers of Change seem to be super-charged, on fast-forward. We identified the major areas of change some years ago and still think they are the most relevant. But what were once novel thoughts about future developments are rapidly becoming part of the mainstream discussion, and we may need to think further about less obvious implications.


Under Population Dynamics,  we flagged the coming peak in population growth mid-way through the century, and declining fertility rates leading to major reductions in populations in many Western societies. The recent peak in the Chinese population, being overtaken by India, with its own peak coming by 2060, was widely reported. Migration remains high on the political agenda, though we are seeing signs of the push-back that we suggested, where labour shortages (in future caused by the rapidly ageing population) start to create a competition for migrants.

Geo-politics has become an even worse challenge for than we originally thought, with the Ukraine war and Chinese posturing over Taiwan. Economic growth remains largely stagnant and inequality rife. None of this is now a surprise. Whatever the outcome of the Ukraine conflict (now probably down to two main scenarios of Russian defeat and frozen conflict/uneasy compromise), the ramifications will continue for at least a decade.

Climate breakdown  is also now widely acknowledged – there are very few climate sceptics left. Remedial action remains beyond the reach of most governments, and the 1.5C milestone seems likely to be breached imminently. There are continued advances in energy technology, but if we are to avoid run-away heating we need to be using technology that already exists.

Artificial Intelligence hit the headlines with ChatGPT, and is now becoming totally pervasive, for example with BT planning to cut customer service jobs with its use. “Artificial General Intelligence” still appears a long way off, though several leading scientists have argued we need to start preparing now (see our blogpost). Drones are a major feature of the Ukrainian war.

Bio-technology was our way out of the pandemic with new vaccine developments, now opening up many other new opportunities. AI analysis can help point to new opportunities more rapidly.

Awareness of changing social attitudes  has become common, though much of this is centred around “culture wars”. The Welsh Government’s “Minister for Future Generations” opens up new areas of debate.

So where do we look beyond these immediate critical concerns?  We have always said there were many “complex and inter-related” trends. It seems likely that this is where we need to focus for the 20 year horizon.

Geo-political conflict and climate breakdown will both create significant challenges as migrants flee afflicted areas. The lack of a commonly agreed global framework for migration and health will lead to major tensions. As we have argued, far-sighted governments in advanced societies with falling fertility rates will begin to see migrants as an opportunity – fit, young, entrepreneurial people joining your economy could be a huge boost. Social attitudes seem likely to change in favour of this approach.

Alternatively, AI could become the solution to a labour shortage. The difficulty here is that it is the relatively low-paid roles in the care sector and agriculture that are the least amenable to being replaced by AI, while more white-collar roles may be under threat. Perhaps the “key workers” we needed in the pandemic will become a more valued section of society (can you argue that futurists are “key workers”?).

Radical action on fossil fuels to reduce carbon emissions could have dramatic implications for the global economy – the stranded assets of oil companies would have to be written off. This could also affect geo-politics as petro-states become less powerful. African states with spare land and plenty of sunshine could become the new power sources of the world (in both senses).

The application of bio-technology to climate issues – drought and heat-resistant organisms -has already begun. The interaction of healthcare successes with an already ageing population could go in several directions. We could see longer years of heathy living – or more challenges cause co-morbidities only partially addressed. Bio-technology as a part of geo-political conflict could be frightening.

Social attitudes are perhaps the hardest area to predict, because they are both cause and effect of other global changes. While recent years have seen populist surges being successful in many countries around the world, most polling suggests more liberal attitudes in younger generations. Social dynamics in repressive regimes are even more challenging. China appears to be a monolithic centrally controlled society, but its sheer scale makes that difficult to sustain. Currently it is beset by a wave of industrial disputes; other internal tensions could yet result in catastrophic breakdown.

You may already be starting think more widely about how today’s norm may be disrupted. But you should think beyond what is in the current media to second and third order effects. Futures Wheels could be a good tool to help you.

Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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