Technological, economic, and demographic changes have had profound effects on the social and political landscape. People readily broadcast their own values and look for similar transparency—and alignment—from others. The drivers of change below are defining the future contours of society and politics in the United States.
The power of algorithms to influence politics—shaping the way information flows, manipulating individuals, and even participating as bots—is increasing. There is growing public concern that the same internet algorithms that customize content and personalize online interactions can enable tech companies to imperceptibly filter information, alter and focus attention, and provide conduits for messaging micro-demographic niches.
Inequality in America is growing worse, though there are scattered signs of progress. Since the 1970s, income inequality and the share of wealth in the hands of the most advantaged 1 percent of Americans have been rising, though poverty has declined. Americans face a widening opportunity gap as a function of socioeconomic status, as well as significant racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic gaps in primary, secondary, and postsecondary education—though some of these gaps are shrinking.
In the United States, trust in institutions—including government, media, science, and medicine—is falling, with important social, political, and economic implications. This decline in trust could fuel deeper political polarization and further erode social cohesion.
Younger U.S. consumers are engaging in more “ethical” and values-driven spending on products and services and investing in companies seen as doing good. The values and demographic weight of the millennial generation suggest that this trend will grow.
Ethical Edge of Innovation
Fast-moving technological innovation is outpacing the legal and regulatory structures designed to protect public safety, promote business and trade, and foster ethical practices. While new technologies often roll out ahead of laws, in the coming decade the public pressure to curb unintended consequences will intensify.
New players will inject a dose of capitalism into American healthcare, shifting it to a more retail-like experience. American healthcare delivery will be further unbundled and disintermediated due to nontraditional actors and businesses moving into the healthcare delivery space, as well as to growing use of technology that liberates care from hospital and clinic settings.
The concept of population health is reshaping approaches to health in the United States. Population health looks beyond delivering health services to individual patients and instead pushes healthcare providers to adopt a more systemic approach to identifying and influencing the determinants of community health. Managing population health will require new techniques to identify community health risks and the most effective, efficient community-health interventions.
Shifting Terrain for Advocacy
In the United States, a bitterly divided House and Senate, shifting power between Congress and regulators, and conflicts among federal, state, and local governments will change the nature of policymaking. National-level gridlock will drive more efforts at policy innovation toward state and city governments. All of this will change the arena in which advocacy occurs.
Americans are self-segregating along multiple divides, both online and offline: politics, economic status, educational attainment, social life, consumer spending, media choices, and geography. This is being fueled as much by political polarization as by economic and social inequality.
Standards Under Pressure
Standard setting will be marked by more conflict. Internationally, countries are using standards to advance competitiveness or dominance. Within countries, social issues are playing out in standards, making them more political in a polarized era. Associations will be participants in these conflicts—and also potential mediators.
Transparent Organizational Ethics
Organizations will face new kinds of scrutiny as drivers of transparency proliferate. Ubiquitous connectivity and information-capture, new sensing capabilities, and pervasive social media all enable hyper-transparency of organizations’ actions, necessitating actively managing reputation in a world increasingly concerned about ethical behavior.