Our Future World Megatrends – what do they mean for our health and wellbeing?

While the airwaves and public consciousness were dominated by global and national events such as the election of the Albanese Government, the Ukraine crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, a landmark report largely went unnoticed.

Our Future World by Australia’s flagship national science agency, the CSIRO, released in July 2022, is essential reading for anyone in government, industry, and the for-purpose sector who want to stay ahead of the curve.

The report chronicles the global mega-trends that will impact the way we will live over coming decades. Organisations need to be across these megatrends as it is not a question of if they will affect your work, but by how much and when. They are trends to which your strategy and policy must respond with bold ideas. 

Mega trends are trajectories of change that typically unfold over years or decades and have the potential for substantial and transformative impact.  The founder of the ‘megatrends’ concept was John Naisbitt in his 1982 book, Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives, a New York Times best seller. 


Megatrends command bold ideas

There is much to digest in the 2022 report. Seven trends are forecast and are classified as geopolitical, economic, environmental, social or technological:

  • Adapting to a changing climate – the protection of livelihoods, infrastructure and people’s quality of life as our climate changes
  • Leaner, cleaner and greener – the global push to reach net zero and beyond, protect biodiversity and use resources efficiently 
  • The escalating health imperative – the promotion of health in the face of rising demand, demographic ageing, emerging diseases and unhealthy lifestyles
  • Geopolitical shifts – the increase in efforts to ensure global stability, trade and economic growth
  • Diving into digital – the rapidly growing digital and data economy
  • Increasingly autonomous – the rise of artificial intelligence and advanced autonomous systems to enhance productivity and outputs across all industries
  • Unlocking the human dimension – the elevating importance of diversity, equity and transparency in business, policy and community decision making.

Better policy: the power of the human dimension

Most striking is the profound implications of three of the seven trends –  the escalating health imperative, unlocking the human dimension and diving into digital – for health and social policy. 

Unlocking the human dimension means more people centred policy and people centred services. It means putting the community – in all its diversity – at the centre of policy, determining and shaping change, and ensuring services are designed around people. We can expect to see this megatrend become increasingly prominent in the way policy is shaped, community standards set, and services delivered. 

Harnessing the human dimension plays out at macro and micro levels to the benefit of society. 

Former Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, reflected on the impact of community-wide social change campaigns in her  address at the recent Population Health Congress.  She said that recent movements and social change campaigns like #meToo, #BlackLivesMatter and #UluruStatementfromTheHeart reveal a new readiness from the community to tackle some long-standing, systemic social problems, as examples of how we can unlock human potential to its fullest. 

New power, old power

These are also great examples of how ‘new power’ can leverage the human dimension. As two thought leaders on ‘new power’ – Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms – tell us, most organisations recognise that the nature of power is changing. They differentiate between old power and new power. New power models are enabled by peer coordination and the agency of the crowd, old power by what people, or organisations own, know, or control that nobody else does.

The ‘co’ prefix is already part of today’s lexicon in theory, if not in practice.  Governments and industry are increasingly seeking to co-design, co-create and co-produce policies, programs and services.  The argument is these practices result in more relevant, responsive and appropriate outcomes. 

Changing community expectations: a thirst for codesign

This is being more than matched with a growing community expectation and thirst that governments should involve them authentically and first-hand in shaping policies and services that affect their lives. In response, we’ve seen community engagement guidelines championed for policy makers and the emergence of a professionalised engagement practitioner workforce. 

Place-based thinking is an increasingly important theme in Australian policy development and is growing in prominence around the world as we see a range of initiatives dedicated to ensuring local solutions to local problems. Placed-based approaches come to the fore when a universal policy is not warranted and where there is benefit in involving communities in policy design and implementation.


Place-based thinking

In Australia, our geography and diversity often means that people’s health, education and employment outcomes are determined by postcode. Place-based solutions are critical if we want to achieve change and better outcomes. 

Our political, education and health infrastructure needs to be modernised and geared towards working together with communities. Placed-based initiatives can be tailored and targeted to the specific circumstances of a location or region to respond to complex and multi-faceted challenges unable to be resolved by traditional, ‘top-down’ policy responses.  Methods include partnering with the community as ‘makers and shapers’ of policy, programs and services and empowering people on the ground. 

Australia’s regions are already supported by a third, local tier of government but rapidly creating new opportunities for truly, placed-based integrated services is Primary Health Networks (PHNs).  Their ascendancy has been a welcome structural reform and there are many future opportunities to be leveraged to better serve and involve the community in determining integrated services that meet local needs.

We can anticipate a resurgence in place-based thinking and regionalised approaches 

giving new meaning to the maxim of ‘thinking globally, acting locally’ as the road to better policy implementation.

Intersecting megatrends: the prominence and value of the care economy

We can expect the care economy to increase in prominence and value. This is the sector of the economy responsible for the provision of care and services that contribute to nurturing current and future populations such as childcare, aged care, education, healthcare as well as personal social services such as domestic services.  This is where the human dimension and health imperative megatrends intersect. 

The health megatrend places renewed urgency on the need to promote health and prevent illness in the face of rising demand, demographic ageing, emerging diseases and unhealthy lifestyles. It is the jolt we need if we are to shift the dial from an illness focused health system to a wellness focused one. We are already seeing new kinds of services that are taking healthcare in this direction.  They are transforming care, job creating and people focused. Think of care finders for older Australians, nurse coordinators operating in some jurisdictions, and digital navigators. 

A focus on wellbeing

A reorientation of the health system must come with investment in fit-for-purpose, community-based primary health care services. Australia’s 10 Year Primary Care Plan calls for patient and family centred health care homes to be established – a network of single healthcare destinations offering integrated health and social services.  Primary care transformation in this direction must be accelerated as part of any response to the escalating healthcare imperative. 

Treasurer Jim Chalmers has pledged to introduce a ‘Wellbeing Budget’ with further consultation to come on the metrics. This marks Australia’s first budget of this kind, modelled on successful initiatives in New Zealand and Canada – the beginning of a broader conversation about how the budget can meet social outcomes alongside economic ones. What gets measured, gets done. A Wellbeing Budget should be the trigger for a more serious investment in preventive health programs.

Going digital – inevitable but a cautionary tale

There is tension between the human dimension and ‘going digital’ megatrends.  One espouses personalised, relationship-based care and tailored solutions, the other propels us into the digital world where services are delivered online absent of human interaction. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption and reliance on digital technologies, transforming the delivery of government, business and social services. Telstra’s Australian Digital Inclusion Index shows that Australians with lower levels of income, employment, and education have significantly lower levels of digital inclusion and are not able to take full advantage of the digital economy. 

As we ‘dive into digital’, policy makers and service providers must heed this ‘digital divide’.  While digital tools and services are the way of the future, a greater reliance on these must not come at the expense of those who have lower digital literacy. Policy makers, business and services can ill-afford to ignore the growing divide between those with skills, connectivity and technology to access online services and information and those that do not.  

The CSIRO’s seven megatrends are profound forecasts and reinforce the maxim that ‘change is our only constant’. 


The long game

Governments are grappling with near-term economic and societal challenges, but it’s incumbent on them,  those who advise them and those who work to influence them to explore the ‘big ideas’ needed to embrace these megatrends. 

The Federal Budget 2023 and the next election will be windows of opportunity to advance ‘big ideas’ for how governments can anticipate, respond and harness the opportunity inherent in these megatrends.

Now is the time to leverage the CSIRO’s forecast of the major external forces we face to ensure health and social policy and programs that are fit-for-purpose and future-proofed.


Leanne Wells is Director of Policy and Advocacy at 89 Degrees East.


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