Article / Policy Innovation
Published: 25.07.2023

Climate turbulence, social sentiment that changes with just one click, the pandemic that took millions of lives – everything spins and speeds at such a fast pace that we do not know where to focus.

Signals of change unfold in every nook and corner of the world. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) realised that these signals can predict future trends, the team collected them in places across the globe, analysed, found the commonalities, and categorised them to shed some light on possible future trends. This is not a forecast but more of putting the puzzle pieces together to gain perspective among the ocean of information, as summarised in the UNDP Signals Spotlight 2023 Report.

Where did the signals come from? How did the team analyse them?

The UNDP Strategy & Futures Team collected the signals of change during September-December 2022. The team analysed the information collected and categorised them by these three criteria  

(1) Themes that merit greater attention given their importance for development, now or in the future. 

(2) Themes that point to a potentially interesting or consequential change of direction. 

(3) Themes highly relevant for development but whose direction or potential impact is unclear.

When comparing these signals, our analysis shows common trends, such as the team receiving signals that (1) state of emergency is often used during the pandemic as a pretext to limit the exercise of freedom (2) governments have implemented laws that are push backs on bodily autonomy (3) governments have barred protests for gender equality. These three signals both reflect the governments’ attempt to restrict civic freedom. They foreshadow trends towards a “more authoritarian government” or “erosion of democracies,” falling under the theme “when democracies autocratise.” After that, all the themes are categorised, and drivers are identified based on their long-term effects on global change such as demographic change, urbanisation, and climate change. 

From the signals analysis, we analyse them into 3 drivers and 13 themes:

  1. Useful tension is categorised into 5 themes:
    When democracies autocratise, Can the courts save us?, Dare to be unpopular, Shaping our digital lives, Will techno-optimism make us complacent?
  2. Novel collaboration is categorised into 4 themes:
    Regulating the unknown, “OPECs” for everything, Climate changing the financial system, New wave of debt swaps for climate and nature
  3. Value investing is categorised into 4 themes:
    Rethinking the governance of ESG, The changing face of altruism, Why aren’t we talking about a social recession?, The looming jobs crisis

A single signal can be interconnected – it may relate to several themes and drivers. The restriction on protests for gender equality and backlash on reproductive rights is also related to the theme “Why aren’t we talking about a social recession?” since it can create an unsafe environment for LGBTQI+ and cause LGBTQ+ rights to regress. Stories are always complicated and interconnected, this we must remember. 

Source: UNDP Signals Spotlight 2023 Report


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