The Future – Will They Do Things Differently There?

12th Dec, 2014

It’s been an interesting week here at Trajectory – with a variety of projects, appointments and discussions, in what follows I will attempt to chart a course through those varied topics.

Staring with our thinking on the UK in 2015, I was only too pleased to take the Havas Media Insight team through our PPT. So soon after the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement it served to highlight how little has changed and how little rebalancing has happened in the global and the UK economy.

At a global level, as referenced in last week’s blog, we have seen overall debt reach 212% of global GDP in 2014, compared to a pre-financial crisis peak of 184%. In the UK the state spending and deficit reduction plans for the next parliament (2015-2020) are predicated on the assumption that consumer debt will reach 55% of household income by the end of the parliament. That compares to a pre-crisis peak of 44% – which had fallen to 37% as a result of deleveraging and retrenchment from consumers during the initial stages of the financial crisis and recession.

Little evidence of a rebalancing or a focus on building sustainable growth here – as reflected in the enduring UK obsession with house prices, rather than house building (itself reflected in the stamp duty changes announced).

In light of which it was interesting to revisit the work of The Millennium Project – who write very eloquently about the positive long term changes occurring globally – including the Millennium Development Goals but also advances in connectivity, education and peace – but temper their positivity with reference to the extreme and growing dangers to be addressed – including climate change, organised crime, corruption and rising refugee numbers.

Such a balanced approach appears in contrast to the business as usual approach seemingly adopted by governments around the world today.

As such it was interesting to go to a couple of Institute for Government events – the first exploring A Programme for Effective Government and the second, in partnership with the Open Data Institute, exploring the achievements, progress and future of the open data movement within the UK government. This in the week that the UK hosted the inaugural meeting of the D5 grouping of the most advanced digital governments in the world.

The tantalising promise of data is of course that it will lead to a transformation of evidence based policy making – as well as unleashing a new wave of innovation in partnership with business, civil society and technologists, and positive behaviour change at the individual level.

And yet, as we reflected in discussion with PHD Media, the UK consumer today is embroiled in a climate of cynicism and distrust – part of what we have coined The New Morality.

More than that there is a disproportionate level of anxiety surrounding the future – not simply as Kantar revealed that the UK is exiting the recession fatter, scruffier and more miserable – but on a more profound level in terms of economics, income and employment, namely the capacity of the economic system to deliver for us and for the next generation.

This socio-economic insecurity is exacerbated for many by climate concerns, geo-political anxiety, and new demands on individuals to take responsibility for issues such as our pensions, long term care for our parents, child-care for the young (the privatisation of risk).

How do brands respond and how should they operate in this climate?

Perhaps this is where we can profitably weave these conversations together, rather than the big bold promises of yesteryear brands should focus on how they can demonstrate empathy with their audience by providing practical and meaningful assistance in different areas of life.

This links naturally into local, community orientated initiatives and brand focus – getting under the radar of the uncertainties surrounding the national and global picture – and when linked to the promise of data to an exciting era of small differences rather than big promises?

How this can be realised in tandem with the rapidly growing sharing economy is an interesting question – the sharing economy is of course now the subject of government interest, with ambition to make London the global capital of the sharing economy.

Listening to the inimitable Rory Sutherland speak at the Annual IDM lecture the other week was a reminder of the importance of the small details and the potential of micro-interventions.

But where’s the magic in that at Christmas time?