Sustainability, Paradigm Shifts, Driving Forces and Trends
-- a university of arizona course on methods and approaches for studying the future

There is no disagreement that the developed world, has moved from an AGRICULTURAL society (or era) to an INDUSTRIAL society and then to a SERVICE society. Many believe we are now in an INFORMATION society and some might even add a "TECHNOLOGY" society. I agree with the first two, but rather than use the term "information" I would "digital" and place it under TECHNOLOGY (this is not the conventional wisdom but it seems appropriate to me). I believe we are also seeing the early trends that will usher in the next era (it is hard to tell in advance); my guess is the next era will be described by something like sustainable or "sustainability enhancement" (see below for definition).

It is important to realize when using the term ERAS we are talking about the DOMINANT portion of society or the workforce, and that ALL of these sectors still are at play today.Only the relative emphasis changes over time. In some societies, today, some of the earlier ERAS are still dominant.

Within these big ERA shifts, there are paradigms, and driving forces. These links are to get you started. You can see many more options by using a search with terms you want to find more about.

Sustainable (or Enhanced Sustainability)
Sustainability represents "Meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs (definition from 1987 Brudtland Commission of the United Nations). However, maybe we should think about "Sustainability-Enhancement" (where you sustain what you have but you also improve it). Go to "eras" for more information and examples of what might be coming next and a brief review of earlier eras.
Paradigm Shifts - Listing of examples
Paradigms represent a strong background force for the way society or specific components work - they can be thought of as the unwritten rules of society. They give a context for the more specific data oriented information in driving forces and trends. When you move from one paradigm to another, many people don't know the change has occurred until much later. Those that can 'anticipate' these shifts in paradigms are at an advantage, as they have the overall context for change without having to spend lots of times looking at specific data (and often finding so much data that they are lost in detail and no longer have this overall context provided by an understanding of paradigms). An example is the movement from the 'cold war' of post World War II era and into whatever you want to call it now. The cold war "paradigm" gave a mindset that created assumptions and actions; now that it does not exist, we have to have different assumptions and possible courses of action.
Driving Forces
When similar trends are clustered, they become driving forces. When you see a number of trends of different characteristics all pointing in the same general direction, they you have more confidence that change (or continuation of the trends) change be defined by the driving forces. These clusters are often defined as technical, social, political, or economic in addition to the specific interest of the group (e.g., educators would want to have a category for education). Generally you don't want a lot of driving force categories - probably 5-6 is a good target.
Trends and Outlooks
Trends can be consistent, vary over time, or be entirely shifted from the historical projections by a perturbation. Understanding trends and how changing conditions may affect the trend in the future is useful (but not simple). Examples of trends include: population growth rates and age distribution, economic conditions, technology changes, social acceptance of values or behavior. You might need a lot of trends to develop the above driving forces, especially is there is inconsistency among some of the trends.
Transformation Description and Map
See how all these factors (and more) come together to allow for change. You can also review some information about change.


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Prepared by Roger L. Caldwell
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