By Axel Marx and Ward Munters (KUL):

The term ‘megatrends’ was coined by John Naisbitt, in his 1982 book of the same name, to describe a  number of large, society-ey-megatrends-2015-6wide changes professedly taking place around the world. Since, the term has been used in futures and foresight research, trend analysis and other domains. It was entered into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2001 under ‘mega-‘ as “an important shift in the progress of a society or of any particular field or activity; any major movement”. Megatrends analysis typically focuses on patterns of change within social, political, institutional, environmental, commercial or other such societal spheres. In this way, foreseeable megatrends can act as a foundational touchstone to formulate scenarios of future developments that will have a considerable impact on how institutions will evolve.

More specifically, within the FIRES-project, our study of megatrends aims to bridge the divide between history and the future by connecting historical analyses with an envisioned future. This is an important step because regional or global future trends can interact with and affect the effectiveness of forward-looking reform proposals towards a more entrepreneurial and innovative Europe. To achieve a clear picture of the many challenges and opportunities that await, our research will progress in three stages.

First, we start by collecting and evaluating the most salient studies that are currently available. A number of international organizations, governments, research institutes, business consultancies or academic institutions are involved in predicting exercises that try to capture the important megatrends over the coming years. Analyses or reports by the European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS), the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) or the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations (OMC), to name a few, offer a robust starting point for our own anticipation of future conditions. Although the methodological framework of these studies is as varied as the number of actors conducting them, they all point to a series of large-scale changes that will profoundly affect society as a whole over a long time period. While it is difficult to directly translate findings between them, the identified challenges and their future impacts are substantially similar between the various reports. Therefore, the issues they put forward merit careful and continued attention.

Secondly, we build on this wealth of predictions to identify and select those global and European megatrends that will have a significant impact on knowledge institutions, welfare institutions and financial institutions influencing entrepreneurship and the creation of an entrepreneurial economy in Europe. Important identified trends and their possible impacts that appear across a wide range of studies, such as changes in immigration patterns, disruptive technological innovations, an evolving concept of education, flows of foreign investment or an ageing populace in developed economies, must be taken into consideration to ensure that enacted policies are adequate, relevant and resilient with a view to the future. Utilizing an inclusive and holistic approach, a more detailed selection of these key trends and the policy questions or choices they entail, is currently underway.

Finally, we shall increase the level of detail once more to identify specific crucial challenges and opportunities for the purposes of FIRES. Almost invariably, the large challenges presented by megatrends can also be seen as great opportunities for renewal and innovation across nearly all sectors of society. From preliminary assessment, it becomes clear that entrepreneurship or entrepreneurs will have a crucial role to play in fostering growth and job creation. Thus, there is a need or, indeed, an opportunity to create conditions that embrace innovation and marry progress to the needs of economic and social life at the heart of an innovation-based entrepreneurial society. Within this context, our work will continue to enumerate, by the use of thorough and more specific statistics and predictions, on select key questions that will be put forward by the range of participants and their findings within the project.

Through this series of progressive steps, the study of megatrends will ultimately allow FIRES to not only build upon the strong and diverse institutional histories within Europe, but to also formulate proposals that can bring about a flourishing and confident Europe of the future.

 

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