Forces of change
Our Future of Sense-making report identified 27 areas of change in sense-making. Continued research suggested that seven of these forces have the greatest potential to disrupt the processes we use to gather and interpret information, construct meaning, make decisions, and take action. These seven forces are: intensifying social surveillance, quantification and sorting; pervasive mis/disinformation; more and more powerful AI; less hospitable natural environments; convergence of the digital and physical; revision of shared narratives; and displacement of traditional knowledge authorities.
Sense-making is changing and will continue to do so in the decades to come. Disruptions to the ways we gather and interpret information, construct meaning, make decisions, and take action will affect the policy landscape. Each box in this grid represents an area of policy that could face disruption in the future. Exploring the different sense-making futures described in the previous section helped us identify these areas. Some of the implications listed in each box have direct relevance to policy and programs. For others, the connections are less obvious or immediate. Rather than shaping specific policies and programs, they shape the context—the ideas, mental models, biases, issues etc.—in which policy thinking happens or in which programs play out.
Sense-making will continue to change. New kinds of information and experiences, and new ways of processing both, will change how we think and act. So will shifts in the stories we tell, who we trust, and the values we hold in common. Collectively, these developments could challenge our shared reality, which is a key support for social cohesion.
Shared reality and social cohesion are persistent challenges in pluralistic and multicultural democracies. Such societies promote the idea of openness to distinct group identities based on language, culture, region, etc. even if they do not always follow through on their promises of equality and inclusion. But they also depend on a degree of common ground of shared values, identity, and ways of knowing.
If this common ground gets too small—if distinct groups come to inhabit entirely separate realities—it may become difficult for different parts of society to understand each other. Governments could become unintelligible to some parts of the public and some parts of the public could become equally unintelligible to governments. In such a future, our ability to find broad social consensus on problems, much less design and implement solutions, could deteriorate.
On the other hand, as with any major challenge, disruptions of shared reality may present unexpected opportunities. So if the version of reality traditionally shared by the Canadian establishment has contributed to economic inequality, environmental degradation, and various forms of discrimination, disruptions to that reality might not be signals of social disintegration. They could be the first step in constructing a more equitable and inclusive shared reality—one that provides a stronger foundation for collective action addressing tomorrow’s greatest challenges.