Future opportunities. Photo: Topias Dean, Sitra

International news

Sitra will mark the start of the new year by publishing the Megatrends 2023 report, which will provide a big-picture view of the most significant changes of our time and bring understanding to this era of surprises. Apart from providing insight into megatrends, the report highlights obstacles to change and opportunities for the future.

In the midst of surprises and uncertainty, the future appears unpredictable, even frightening.

Crises such as Russia’s war of aggression and the Covid-19 pandemic have diverted our attention in recent years, narrowing and shortening our horizons for the future. People are understandably focused on coping with the challenges of the present. But the megatrends of our time have not gone away. Megatrends, or broad arcs of change, help us understand this era of surprises and turn our eyes farther into the future.

Why is it important, even in the midst of acute crises, to pay attention to broad developments driven by multiple factors?

“Surprises do not come out of nowhere. They are driven by longer-term changes, which are known as megatrends. Understanding these changes also helps us build insight into more unexpected developments and the opportunities created by them. If there is one thing we can say about the future, it is that there will be more surprises,” says leading foresight specialist Mikko Dufva from Sitra.

Sitra’s most recent megatrend report was published in early 2020. Since then, a lot has happened in the world and crises have spurred big changes at many levels. The role of megatrends is not to surprise, but to draw attention to developments that we cannot afford to ignore. In the 2023 update new emphases have been added to the megatrends, and the tensions between the megatrends have also developed as time has passed.

“The megatrends remind us that we still have an urgent need to protect the carrying capacity of nature, address challenges related to well-being, strengthen participation and defend democracy, and ensure that the economy and technology are developed and utilised in a fair and sustainable manner. If we do not take the future seriously, we will face these issues later in crisis mode,” says Katri Vataja, Foresight and Strategy Director at Sitra.

Megatrends 2023: the big picture of change

Sitra’s megatrends 2023 describe the overall picture of change through five themes: nature, people, power, technology and the economy. At the centre of it all is the ecological sustainability crisis and the erosion of nature’s carrying capacity: the climate is heating up, biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate, natural resources are being overused and waste is increasing. Human activity places a burden on living and non-living nature that exceeds its carrying capacity, thereby compromising the very basis of our economy and well-being. Challenges to well-being are increasing as many simultaneous changes affect people’s daily lives: a population that is ageing, diversifying and becoming concentrated in growth centres, and increasing mental health problems.

The battle for democracy is intensifying, democracy is being challenged both from within and without, and societies are being put to the test as crises accumulate. At the same time, there are disputes about the rules of the digital world, the resources required by new technology and, more generally, the direction of technological development, meaning that competition for digital power is accelerating. Cracks are also showing in the foundations of the economy as global inequalities grow and the ecological sustainability crisis unfolds, intensifying the need to reform the economy.

No change happens in isolation, and rather than focusing on individual trends, we should look at the big picture of change and the linkages between trends. For example, environmental degradation is reflected in growing geopolitical tensions, deteriorating economic capacity and well-being problems related. Solutions must be found to address multiple challenges simultaneously.

The big picture of change. Photo: Topias Dean, Sitra

Future opportunities

The overall picture created by megatrends may seem bleak and even oppressive. We are in a period of transformation where many structures and ways of doing things are changing. There is no going back to the old normal, but the future is not predetermined. We can influence it.

We can adapt to the limits of the earth’s carrying capacity by investing in ecological reconstruction to quickly phase out fossil fuels and put a stop to the overconsumption of resources.

Sustainable lifestyles are also a precondition for comprehensive well-being, where the well-being of people and the well-being of nature is seen as fully interdependent. In a restorative and regenerative economy, the positive impacts of the economy, or the handprint , are larger than the footprint.

The crisis of democracy can be addressed by building trust in democratic institutions and the individual empowerment. At the same time, we can expand digital power and build a fair digital world where the use of data creates prosperity and competitiveness and helps develop societies.

“Hope in this era is not found by clinging to the past, but in the opportunities to contribute to a fair, sustainable and inspiring future. That is why, in addition to the megatrend report, we are publishing a range of tools to make the most of megatrends,” Vataja explains.

Alongside the Megatrends 2023 report, Sitra will also publish an update of the popular Megatrend Cards, which will also be available in digital format for the first time. In addition, several tools will be published on Sitra’s website for groups and anyone interested in the future to help them work on megatrends. Sitra’s megatrend work will also be discussed at the Megatrends 2023 launch event on 12 January. The online event will be open to everyone. Almost 6,000 people have already signed up for the event, and up to 1100 organisations are organising related events to continue the future-oriented debate on megatrends.