Global Trends 2020


With the whole world affected by COVID-19, people, governments and organisations are focusing on their immediate measures for survival. The Ipsos MORI Trends and Futures team has taken a step back to reflect on what this crisis could mean for the future.

What will ‘normal’ look like after this?

Our theory of change is based on the empirical evidence that macro forces usually impact slowly on human beliefs, trends and signals, and that groups of signals gradually influence trends and even macro forces over a longer time frame.

Macro forces are the long-term shifts which act across all markets and societies. These form the context against which people and organisations act. At the other end of the scale, signals are localised and are short-term expressions of change. They can occur at a single country level, or a community. In the middle, we have trends. 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.

For example, the fragile planet – which includes climate change – is one of the macro forces we have identified in this year’s Ipsos Global Trends.  As a result of this macro force, we see rising trends in plant-based food and more concern than ever about the environment. However, we also see many signals at play, such as the British bakery Gregg’s launching vegan sausage rolls.

Sudden shocks to the system – like COVID-19 – cause immediate seismic shifts in everyday life, creating a tsunami of new signals which can accelerate change and disrupt our norms. The new COVID-19 signals that are impacting life now may result in impending change to our future societies.

However, even with a shock like this to the ecosystem, it still takes much longer to shift underlying trends and macro forces before a ‘new normal’ is created. For example, it took years of war in the 1940s to create the conditions for the eventual post-war settlement in many countries. In Britain, for example, the war led to changes in human values, including recognition of the need for more collectivist solutions, eventually leading to the creation of the NHS and the welfare system.

Everything may change, but values will change more slowly

It can be tempting to read the dramatic changes we are living through as a sign that society and business will be changed permanently on many dimensions. But when we look at the signals of change in response to COVID-19, we see many examples of people interpreting its impact through the lens of the values they already hold.

In Ipsos Global Trends 2020 (detailed on this website) we explored people’s values in depth, and how these change gradually over years. These values still hold true over the medium term – please see our recent webinar on this below.

A tsunami of signals accelerates change, but values hold

In the many sudden changes wrought by the arrival of COVID-19, we see a number of signals rippling through societies. These signals are examples of people becoming more heavily entrenched in the values they hold. When shocks occur, people look for ways to reinforce what they already think, or that they want to believe to be true – our understanding of public perceptions acknowledges the strength of confirmation bias.

We show this by mapping today’s signals on to our Global Values Map, to show how they align with different value groupings.

While values remain relevant at present, the interesting question posed by COVID-19 is how the signals we are seeing now might influence longer-term change. Will family matter more now many families are closer together? Will offices, traditionally the primary workplace of millions, diminish and shrink? Whatever the future holds, people’s underlying values will continue to constitute the framework through which they interpret the world.

Which signals will dissipate and which will be ‘sticky’?

Our theory of change and the shock of this pandemic suggests that we can expect something to shift; there is no facet of our modern, global society which has been untouched.

For now, we are going to collect and monitor signals relating to COVID-19 and link these to people’s underlying values in a number of ways:

  1. On this website you can find our collection of COVID-19 signals
  2. We are monitoring public opinion and behaviour via our COVID-19 tracker
  3. We have launched a syndicated qualitative study – CovidWatch – which will monitor consumer response to the outbreak across the world. Please contact Oliver Sweet for more details.

During our monitoring, we may find that some habits might snap back immediately, and potentially harder. Travel may be a good example, as after potentially months of isolation and postponed trips the urge for nomadic aspirations will be strong for many.

But some disruption may reveal that our value-based needs were underserved; and here we might expect some real change arising from this crisis. For example, citizens could re-evaluate their relationship with the wider economy and support extending employment rights to the gig economy workers – unless the allure of continued cheap taxi travel is too strong. Americans may demand better state-supported healthcare. All over the world, we may re-appraise how much we need offices, after working remotely for so long. We will be watching.

Our short series of articles reflects on our monitoring, and hypothesises what a post-Covid future might look like.  We explore how COVID-19 Signals relating to our underlying values are playing out in this disrupted world.  The first article launched on 20 April explores the future of work, and how brands, business and society might respond.