Finding alternate futures

Generating useful analysis of what may happen in the future is difficult.

Future events emerge out of the interplay between a wide array of factors within highly complex systems — as all human societies and economies are. We cannot acquire and process enough granular information to track all relevant factors. And often we are not aware of decisive factors until events have already happened.

For these reasons, futures analysis techniques focus on trying to understand the decisive trends and drivers at a high level and then aim to explore how these may play out in different ways – rather than trying to predict

This approach, often referred to as ‘foresighting’, seeks to develop multiple scenarios or ‘alternative futures’ to understand the different ways the future is likely to turn out.

Basing decisions on a range of likely futures — rather than relying on a single prediction — provides more robust analysis for decision-making, as you are better prepared for the range of things that could actually happen.

The Futures Forecasting series

The goal of our Futures Forecasting series is to publish a range of plausible and realistic scenarios, based on current trends, that challenge our assumptions about the world we will inhabit in 2035.

We asked contributors to work within the ‘foresighting’ tradition and develop scenarios of what is likely, based on the trends they see happening now.

To reflect some of the complexity at play in the real world, the contributors were asked to select two or three trends from different subject categories and analyse the impact of these trends together.

The categories we proposed include Identity, Sovereignty, Society, Technology, Democracy, Economics and Connectivity.

The output from each article in the series is not a strict prediction, but rather a forecast about what seems likely, based on the expert analysis of the contributor. These forecasts are designed to provoke our thinking about what might plausibly occur — and in turn how we might need to respond — but should not be used to as rigorous planning tools.

Thank you to our generous contributors for embracing this exercise and sharing their forecasts, knowing these would be only partial explorations of their area of expertise. These contributions are invaluable in the pursuit of public policy excellence.

Asia’s increasingly volatile role in international order

Asia will go from being a global centre of economic growth and political stability, to a centre of economic power but political instability.

The problem of hedonic adaption

The problem of hedonic adaption must be confronted, because not doing so will see democracy at risk of being replaced by technocracy in 2035.

Australia faces a struggling Southeast Asia

Economic growth in Southeast Asia will taper off, regional integration will stagnate, and governments will move closer to China.

The coming era of big government

We are entering an era of ‘big government’ — governments around the world will have more power and control over markets and society

Why reducing global vulnerability is paramount

Without a shift from current trends that focus vulnerability on segments of society, the impact of conflating natural hazards will overwhelm the global community’s ability to absorb the coming shocks.