Many future forecasts, even while attempting objectivity, tend to be sectoral – economic, ecological, technological, diplomatic – often excluding factors outside their domain or inconvenient to their viewpoint.

To give an example, technology advocates tend to avoid examining humanity’s capacity to absorb the effects of new technologies, or the moral, social or ecological issues involved, or the distribution of technological resources to avoid a separation of beneficiaries (often the privileged) from recipients or even victims (often the less privileged or the left-behind).

Scanning our Future seeks not to provide answers, strategies or forecasts as such, but to help readers understand the processes, critical factors and issues at work in shaping the future.

This, we hope, will arm thinking people with an understanding of the Big Picture, so that they can work out ways to apply such a widened and deepened perception in their own field of life and activity.

Whether a voter or consumer, a farmer, an engineer, a nurse, a decision-maker, a young person or a parent, or simply a thinking person in a quandary, we hope this project will provide insights and stimuli to help you play your part in unfolding the future – and dealing with some of its issues, problems and contradictions.

The report will cover a wide range of considerations from climate change and global health to economics, technology, social trends, and includes specific issues such as pollution, disasters and antibiotics.

It also examines ‘black swans’ – events and developments that no one anticipated or thought possible until they actually happen. Few people foresaw the fall of the Soviet Union around 1990 or the ‘credit crunch’ of 2008. But when they happened, their ripple effects went global. Similar things are likely to happen, probably increasingly, in the future.

A key aim of this report is thus to attempt to provide an all-round picture – perhaps an impossible task, but nevertheless worth attempting, and better than no picture at all.

NEXT: Themes