Global Trends 2020

Our theory of change

In this edition we connect the global to the local, providing a way to understand how human interaction shapes – and is shaped by – our world.

Our theory looks at how change operates across different timeframes, through longer-term macro forces, medium-term trends in society and shorter-term signals – which express real behavioural change.

Macro forces are the long-term shifts which act across all markets and societies. These form the context against which people and organisations act. We have identified six macro forces: dynamic populations; growing inequality and opportunity; geopolitical tensions; the fragile planet; technological tipping points; and the data world.

At the other end of the scale, signals are localised and short-term expressions of change. They can occur at the level of a single country, or a community within a specific area, and will vary dependent on the target audience.

In the middle, we have trends. These are the core of this report.These are cultural attitudes and values which emerge from the interaction between people and the planet. Trends can emerge, enter into mainstream culture, and fall out of practice in response to macro forces and signals. Importantly, this model acknowledges the role of feedback loops in terms of understanding the complexity in our world. Macro forces impact trends and signals directly – the arrows on the top half of our diagram show the directions of top-down change. But the decisions made by individuals can also ladder up to impact the world through a bottom-up response. Emerging signals of change impact wider trends in society, which over time can have an impact on our planet.

Our model, reflecting the circular nature of change, offers a useful framework to understand the complexity of the 21st Century from either a top-down or bottom-up perspective. Overleaf we provide greater detail on the macro forces we see acting on the world, before revealing the trends we have unearthed through this year’s Global Trends survey.

Most UK offices stand empty

UK-based landlord Land Securities offered a glimpse of the impact of covid on office usage as it reported a £837m loss. Less than ten per cent of its office sites were in use and many of its tenants are now struggling to pay their rent.


Environmental airline bailouts

The French government has provided financial support to the national airline, Air France – but with green conditions. Receiving the money is contingent on the airline cutting its domestic flights where they compete with rail to help reduce their carbon footprint.