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Looking into the crystal ball: digital social trend research

9th August 2018

One of the key objectives of DSI4EU is to support practitioners and other stakeholders to make the most out of the opportunities in using emerging trends. With that in mind, we're exciting to launch our new programme of work on DSI Futures. This will be composed of two parts - trend analysis carried out by betterplace lab, and building of future scenarios by Nesta. In this blog, Stephan Peters and Franziska Kreische from betterplace lab introduce the trend analysis work. 


Trends arise from movement, from change. But not every change is already a trend. Conversion processes become a trend as soon as they reach a critical mass and we assume that the drivers behind the change processes have a certain stability. Based on a diagnosis (what has happened in the past?) we venture a hypothesis, a view of the future (how will it develop?).

Digitalization represents  a paradox: On the one hand, the future is more difficult to predict than ever before due to shorter development cycles and the participation of more and more people (who would have imagined Facebook or M-Pesa a decade and a half ago?). On the other hand, trends are easier to discover because they can be found bundled together in a “place” called the Internet, a resonant space in which millions of users are drawn to them.

The trends can be differentiated according to their various penetration depths: the spectrum ranges from rather short-term fads, which are just starting to emerge and then disappear again after five years at the latest, the so-called buzz trends, up to the mega-trends, with a half-life of at least 25 years in which they shape all areas of society and business. In between there are a number of stages that are less relevant than the degree of efficiency, or more precisely, the social potential of these trends.

In what ways is digitalization – probably the biggest driver of progress since electrification – changing the social sector? Which technologies allow a higher range and scaling, which allow for individualization and better compatibility of social services? How are organizational forms, working methods and expectations of the participants changing? In short, how can we prepare for future changes, shape them, and take advantage of them for sustainable social change?


To identify trends, we observe changes and tendencies within society. This happens either targeted (monitoring) or undirected (scanning). We analyze how and for what digitalization is used worldwide and summarize the first examples to come up with trend hypotheses.

Trends reflect changing values ​​and worldviews; however, they are observable on the basis of concrete statements, actions and products. In trend scouting, we specifically search for these manifestations, the cases (individual examples), and describe them in more detail. We talk to the creators and technology experts in order to incorporate different perspectives on the trend. A major role is played by our international network, which we use via crowdsourcing to understand views and opinions across Europe.

In addition to the exchange of content, we pursue a data-driven approach. The data analysis of a number of different sources (including news, expert blogs and patent applications) provides additional insight into the current development of the trend and its resonance in different circles.

At the end, we interpret the surveys. We describe application-oriented chances and risks in the implementation, point out scenarios of the development and give a prognosis.


Above all, our research should do one thing for you: save you a great deal of time that you would otherwise have to spend on researching and analyzing emerging trends. 

Amid the constant change of digitalization we want to help you with the trend research, to better estimate which innovations you would like to take up, where skepticism is appropriate or a hype is waiting. We want to inspire you for the possibilities of digitization, which now have to be shaped. And last but not least, we want to support you in making good, future-oriented and courageous decisions. 




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