Future Trends Wales

If you have read the first of our Shaping Wales’ Future blogs, you will see that the Future Trends Report is one of the three important mechanisms under the Well-being of Future Generations Act which help us understand Wales now and in the future.

We are drafting this report for publication in December 2021 and will be using the Shaping Wales’ Future blog platform to update you on the work as it develops and shine a light on some of the trends and drivers that will feature in the final report.

Why think about the future?

Thinking about the future is never straightforward. Even more difficult is thinking about what the world is likely to look like in 20 or 30 years. We only have to look back on some of the suggestions made decades ago about how the world might have looked by the year 2020 to see how difficult it can be. We are clearly not quite at the stage of flying cars and robots running our lives as some may have predicted. We are, however, seeing Artificial Intelligence (AI) infiltrate almost every aspect of our lives, providing many social, economic, and health benefits, as well as risks and challenges. We are also currently experiencing a shift in our transport systems with a move towards electric vehicles, which has the potential to change transport systems and strengthen our efforts to decarbonise.

Futures thinking is a way of thinking about and analysing possible outcomes in the future, spotting potential opportunities and challenges, and planning effectively around these. It provides research and evidence which can be used to support robust policy development, which accounts for and considers potential changes and possible outcomes. Futures thinking can help explore multiple versions of the future, and bring in alternative points of view when combined with a collaborative way of working. When this evidence and analysis is fed into the policy cycle effectively, it encourages the development of policy, which can respond more effectively to the dynamics of change and a range of potential changes.

Futures thinking and foresight policy exercises are best undertaken when they account for these uncertainties and changing outcomes. They are also most successful when they involve a broad range of stakeholders to feed in different perspectives and encourage systems-based futures thinking. Systems thinking takes account of the complexity of futures. It encourages a joined-up approach across research and policy areas focusing on the way a system’s various parts interconnect and how larger systems drive change in particular areas. Understanding these complexities moves us away from traditional siloed policy development with a focus on short-term, immediate results, and instead encourages a process of thinking holistically through more complex, long-term, interconnected issues.

Source: The Futures Toolkit, UK Government

What is the Future Trends Report?

In Wales, thinking about the future is built into every area of national and local policy development through the Well-being of Future Generations Act. The Act has set into legislation a duty to work together to improve our environmental, economic, social, and cultural well-being both now and for future generations. The Act requires decision-making by public bodies to take place in a way which seeks to ensure that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (sustainable development principle). A key part of being able to do this effectively is taking account of the long term.

The seven Well-being goals set out in the Act provide a comprehensive framework for people, places, and the planet now and in the future. These well-being goals, however, are being progressed in an increasingly uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment. Our ability to understand Wales’ future progress towards improved wellbeing is a key tool in developing resilient and fair policy responses. Wales’ Future Trends Report provides a tool to assist decision-makers navigating this complex environment, helping them use evidence more effectively to think about the future. It is not the only tool available, as you will see from our list of sources at the bottom of the page, but it does seek to bring together a wider range of evidence and analysis of trends under the Well-being of Future Generations framework.

To help us think about the future, there is a duty on Welsh Government to publish a Future Trends Report every 5 years, or 12 months after every Senedd election.

The first report was published in 2017 and identifies key future social, economic, environmental, and cultural trends for Wales under six themes.

The next report will be published in December 2021 and will build on the themes covered in the original report, considering the key drivers of change and focusing on specific key future trends emerging as a result of these changes.

Importantly, the report is being developed and published amidst the biggest disruption to our lives in a generation, when both the pandemic and the impact of the UK’s exit from the European Union are causing fundamental shifts to our social, cultural, environmental, and economic landscapes. Understanding where we may be going, and building future possibilities and uncertainties into decision making, has never been more important. This year’s Future Trends Report will provide a tool for thinking through the changes we might expect to see in the medium to longer term. It will assess the potential opportunities and challenges these future outcomes might have on our ability to meet our well-being goals and providing a sustainable society for future generations in Wales.

In future blogs, we will be sharing more information about what the report will contain, how it will look, and we will be inviting views on how we can make the report and associated resources most useful to decision makers in Wales.

We are also engaging with Public Service Boards on our report as they have to take it into account when preparing their assessments of local well-being.

Find out more

If you are interested in learning more about futures thinking and tools for working with the sort of futures evidence presented in the Future Trends Report, a useful place to start is with the Government Office for Science’s guide to futures thinking and foresight, and Futures toolkit for policy-makers and analysts. The toolkit provides a set of tools to help embed long-term strategic thinking within the policy process, and works through how to manage uncertainty and identify future actions. It sets out practical activities you can use to develop futures capabilities, including tools for gathering intelligence and evidence about the future, exploring the dynamics of change, describing what potential futures may look like, and developing and testing policy and strategy using a futures lens.

The Three Horizons Toolkit developed by Future Generations Commissioner for Wales and Public Health Wales provides a guide aimed at helping decision makers to think and plan better for the long term. The Future Generations Commissioner also provides further information on the role of horizon scanning.  

The Foresight Manual from the United Nations Development programme introduces strategic foresight in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The World Economic Forum’s Strategic Intelligence platform allows you to explore and make sense of connections between different issues and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Observatory of Public Sector Innovation’s Toolkit Navigator provides tools for public sector innovation and transformation.

There are also a range of key reports presenting evidence on the future at both a global and national level. Some key high-level resources which give a starting point for thinking through future trends include:

If you have other sources of information that you think would be useful to share, please use the comments function below.

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