As we come to the end of another unpredictable year, we take a look back at how our predictions for 2017 have performed.
Did you go to an exhibition of VR art this year? Flock to east London for vegan fried chicken? Perhaps you secured your online identity through a decentralised system built on blockchain technology? Perhaps.
We predicted that volunteering from home would become as commonplace as working from home. Though this prediction has not been realised, one thing has become clear, that “flexible volunteering is essential for the survival” of the sector. The 2017 Office for National Statistics (ONS) report showed that though figures are still high, the average time people give has decreased. The sector will have to make it as easy as possible for people to fit volunteering in with their lifestyles.
Nesta continues to support the evolution of volunteering because we want to see more 'people power' transforming public services. In 2017 we funded The Access Project, Tutorfair Foundation and Language Futures through Click Connect Learn, our programme with DCMS, to test out online (rather than face to face) tutoring of school students by volunteers.
We said that the way we create and consume art would be transformed following the introduction of new tools like Google’s Tilt Brush, and the year kicked off with a promising start: the Royal Academy’s sold out interactive exhibition Virtually Real. This three-day pop-up project highlighted a turning point for VR as an art medium rather than simply a tool to visit a gallery or museum remotely.
VR art has attracted a lot of media attention in 2017, including coverage on Channel 4 News and content on the BBC, as dialogue continues about the future of this exciting development that is still yet to mature. Watch this (virtual) space.
Was 2017 the year people began to use blockchain to take back control of their online lives? There are now a number of companies developing blockchain-based tools for identity management, including Civic, which seems to be leading the field in using blockchain for verification without storing personal data. Experiments in this area are even starting to take place in the public sector: the state of Illinois is piloting a blockchain-based birth registry ID system.
Meanwhile, our Decode project is developing tools that enable people to use a distributed ledger to communicate their sharing preferences, rather than handing over the data itself.
We went so far as to predict the end of the World Wide Web as we know it. This year we’ve seen further signs of internet fragmentation, backlash against big tech and growing concern over information warfare, for example, bots used as weapons against democracy. Though we haven't seen an actual ‘splinternet’ emerge yet, this may only be the beginning for this prediction.
We thought that the next big technological controversy would be about algorithms and machine learning. This year we’ve read about machine learning promoting racial biases within the criminal justice system, restricting access to online content produced by black and LGBTQ+ creators and popularising fake conspiracy theory videos.
This trend has been bubbling away since 2016 but it took these real life applications for people to sit up and take notice. The biggest backlash has been prompted by the role of bots and algorithms in manipulating elections; the discussion and resolution of which will continue well into 2018.
We said that in 2017 educators would sit up and take a hard look at the skills needed for a better economy and stronger society, and that collaborative problem-solving would top the list. This prediction was largely based on how the education sector would respond to the first ever global rankings of collaborative problem-solving in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
So, what happened? Well the UK performed better than expected in this area, so there was no outcry from policymakers and teachers. It is interesting that disadvantaged students see the value of teamwork often more clearly than their advantaged peers. If we want to address disadvantage in education and prepare young people for future jobs, then lots more needs to be done to foster these skills far more systematically across the school curriculum.
We predicted that adult education would move from the bottom to the top of the policy agenda in 2017 and we are disappointed not to see more progress in this area. There's growing awareness of the importance of future skills for young people but of millions of adults will also have to learn new skills, from handling digital technologies to more human skills like collaboration, communication or creation. Soon governments will have to take notice - we think this prediction is yet to mature.
Did 2017 see more people using digital technology to unite and fight for better health and care? This past year, we have seen continued interest in social movements as mechanisms of change in healthcare. Sir Michael Marmot is advocating for a social movement around the social determinants of health. Putting Care at the Centre, an annual conference on complex health and social needs, held a session on what health leaders can learn from 'parallel' social justice movements. And the RSPH held an event about how to create a social movement for public health.
New digital tools like MECC Link, promise to enable stronger engagement between the system and its users. And campaigns such as #metoo and the debates around the future of the NHS have the potential to demand wider-scale engagement and social change. According to market research company Turquoise, people in social movements are likely to bring about large-scale social change in 2018.
And now to our Brexit fairy tale, which predicted that the UK would turn more German through our industrial strategy, devolution and public investment. Well, there were fledgling signs of a new approach - late in the year the Government did launch a new industrial strategy, which included a commitment to increase the amount the UK spends on R&D to an ambitious 2.4 per cent of GDP. But as the Government got increasingly mired in Brexit negotiations, tangible progress became painfully slow and in 2018 there will still be plenty left to do to rebuild the UK’s place in the global economy - based on our strengths in innovation and the industries of the future.
Let's finish with food. This time last year we predicted that hyper-realistic mock meat would grace our dinner tables in 2017. If you needed a sign that this is no longer limited to a hipster trend, look no further than the introduction of the McVegan, McDonald’s first plant-based meat substitute burger. We predicted that the centrepiece of this year’s Christmas dinner could well be a tofu turkey and with supermarkets jumping on the ‘flexitarian’ bandwagon that just might be true.