Futuring media

2020 Media Futures is a fine example of a collaborative futuring project.  The topic is specific (Canada’s media landscape), but the practices are quite general.

2020MF uses a variety of futures methods:

  • Environmental scanning, or signals from the media future.  These are primarily news stories, arranged under general futures rubrics (Social, Technological, Economic, Ecological, Political, Values, or STEEPV) and media-specific topics (books, tv, etc).
  • Trend analysis.  2020MF determined a series of likely, powerful forces, again arrayed against STEEPV categories.
  • Driver identification, or the forces underpinning the already-selected trends and signals.  Read the full page for a good description of how they managed the group work.
  • Critical uncertainties, the powerful forces which could still appear in very different forms, unlike trends.  Note the way these are very industry-specific:

Critical uncertainties for Canadian media in 2020.



Scanning the horizon: one case

Ford’s in-house futurist describes her environmental scanning method.

First, she emphasizes trend identification:

Q: So how do you track trends? Are you constantly on Twitter or how do you do it?

A: Well, I’ve been doing it for nine years, so it’s gotten a little easier over time, but it’s really about pattern recognition — looking for recurring themes, and seeing things that re-emerge and starting to have an eye for something, what are the drivers behind this, why does this seem like it’s going to be important, and will it have staying power?

Next, environmental scanning:

I have this title of Futurist, and people think it sounds so exotic, and I have to explain, it means 95% of my time is spent reading. And I read anything and everything. Now, the things that I read when I first started out are quite different from the things that I read today. It’s a little bit easier for me to spot trends. But I have an informal database of over 200 trends, and I go, well that’s an example of information addiction, or information overload. And I just start to save those, and keep those running. But I enjoy reading things like the New York Times, the Guardian, the Economist, Wired magazine has really interesting examples. But I also like long-form books. I’m particularly fond of the inspiration I get from the TED conferences, which feature technology, entertainment, and design, showcasing thought leadership from around the world. You just never know. So I just read anything that crosses my desk. (emphases added)

One trend set for 2013

Here’s an interesting list of “four unexpected macro trends” for 2013, from Thomas Frey:

  1. The Shift to Natural Gas Vehicles
  2. The Great Insourcing Movement – The Pendulum Swings Back Again
  3. Multidimensional Literacy – The Evolution of Consumable Information
  4. The Legalized Marijuana Movement – Nudging the Snowflake that Started the Avalanche

#3 is of special interest for educators.  He breaks it down into some useful ways:

People in the U.S. are consuming information 11.8 hours every day, and they are doing it in many different ways:

Photo Literacy – Currently over 250 million photos are uploaded onto Facebook every day.
Video Literacy – Google recently announced that videos are being uploaded to YouTube at a rate of 48 hours of video every minute.
Coding Literacy – With over 8,000 coding languages currently in existence and new ones coming into play faster than old ones are going away, people who are “code literate” are in huge demand.
Game Literacy – The video game industry is expected to grow from $67 billion in 2012 to $82 billion in 2017 with game playing in 70% of all households.
App Literacy – Between Apple and Android, over 1.5 million apps are currently in existence and this number is climbing rapidly.
Device Literacy – The “Internet of Things” is growing exponentially, and Cisco estimates the number of devices connected to the Internet by 2020 hit 50 billion.
Social Media Literacy – One out of every five pageviews on the web is on Facebook. With over 1 billion registered users, Facebook is leading the pack, but there are many other brands of social media like Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, and LinkedIn nipping at their heals.
In addition to the ones listed above are streaming music, podcasts, audio books, movies, courseware, and many more.

On the one hand this recalls classic information literacy arguments. On the other, it’s so broad as to mean “communication” rather than literacy.

One future datapoint to check

Here‘s a metric to check for one possible future:

“The Air Force now buys more unmanned than manned aircraft every year, and that trend is not going to change,” said Lance Janda, a historian at Cameron University. “Within our lifetime, I think you’ll see an end to manned combat aircraft, because unmanned planes are more capable and a lot cheaper.”

It’s also a bracing vision to consider.

(thanks to Steven Kaye)

Trends glimpsed

Here’s a good example of working with trends: “12 Mini Trends to Run With Now”, from Trendwatching.com.

The report outlines a dozen currents in consumer and business behavior, each grounded in real-world examples.  Those currents are named in memorable, creative ways.

For instance, “Artificial Scarcity”:

Note how many examples and trends are based on, or just use, mobile devices.


How not to see trends

“Trends are for Suckers” is a useful caution for those of us busily detecting and assessing trends.

I’m leery of the problems-to-solve admonition.  First, it’s a good reason to reject something (“I don’t see what problem this solves”).  Second, determining the problem is a deep, tricky thing.

(via Estelle Metayer)

A future of work

Dell and Intel asked one consulting group to think about the future of technology work.  The results, “The Evolving Workforce”, are interesting as a trends analysis.

TNS identified seven trends:

Crowdsourcing and Crowdsource service: The workforce of the future, for many industries, could be thousands of people working in different places. Is Cloud computing and other information and communications technology (ICT) applications going to make it easier to distribute more tasks and adhere to a ‘just in time’ labor force model?

Productivity measured in outputs, not hours: Standardized measures of productivity based on numbers of hours inputted would become less relevant in a knowledge based economy. What are going to be the new metrics to assess productivity?

Changes in adoption of devices: The number and types of devices and operating systems are proliferating and changing. Choice of device would become more about the situation, location and occasion. Are employers and the current systems and processes going to allow for increased end-user utility and choice?

Intergenerational kiss and punch: There will be more intergenerational knowledge transfer between younger ‘digital natives’ and the older generation. However, is there an increased risk of conflict and tension between workers of different ages, backgrounds, knowledge and skills?

Values versus rules: It would become easier to tell what employees are doing, but harder to tell them what to do. In this scenario, would employers use pervasive technology to oversee their workforces at any given time? And if so, would distrust of employers accelerate?

Many hats of the IT manager: As employee aspirations change to a greater onus on happiness, autonomy and choice, workplace IT would be one way of recruiting and retaining staff. Will the job of the IT manager increasingly align to the HR department?

Employee-led innovation: The business software of the future will be adopted and increasingly be designed by employees rather than management or the IT department. Are we going to see more networked, de-centralized organizations to facilitate this shifting corporate hierarchy?

A fascinating mix.  Note how many of these are about workplace tensions, either generational or organizational.  Technology is less a driver than are social and political factors.

Some of these trends cover multiple points.  “Values”, for instance, seems to really be about data and privacy.

The report appends a very short case study to each one.  My favorite is about generational differences:

Lloyds of London has moved from a paper-based system for creating, maintaining and updating client contracts to a tablet-based system. However, a significant level of resistance was encountered from some brokers. A solution that employs software that imitates the look and feel of the old paper-based system has now been rolled out. This has been received positively from the brokers.