Research futures: Drivers and scenarios for the next decade

In ten years’ time, the research ecosystem will look very different. New scenarios on the future of research from Elsevier and Ipsos MORI uncover the biggest drivers of change shaping how knowledge will be produced and shared in the future.

Research futures: Drivers and scenarios for the next decade

The author(s)

  • Sarah Castell Head of Futures, Ipsos, UK
  • Graham Bukowski Public Dialogue Centre, Ipsos, UK
  • Rebecca Wilson Ipsos Public Affairs, UK
Get in touch

The research ecosystem is undergoing rapid and profound change. This transformation is being fueled by a wide range of factors, from advances in technology and funding pressures to political uncertainty and population shifts.

In an attempt to understand how these trends might shape the research landscape in the decade ahead, Elsevier and Ipsos MORI conducted a yearlong scenario planning study, the results of which are based on the opinions of more than 2,000 researchers globally, interviews with more than 50 expert stakeholders around the world including futurists, publishers, funders and technology experts, and a comprehensive review of the current published literature.

The report lays out three plausible future scenarios showing how R&D could transform over the next decade. It makes clear that “business as usual” will no longer be possible for any member of the research ecosystem.

The future scenarios outlined are:

  • Brave open world: considers the rise of open access in R&D;
  • Tech titans: examines the growing influence and dominance of technology and technology companies;
  • Eastern ascendance: considers a fragmented world in which China plays a key role.

A step-by-step guide to the study

We began by reviewing a wide range of published literature and considered the market drivers. We drew on the extensive knowledge of the research community by interviewing more than 50 experts from funders and futurists to publishers and technology experts. Importantly, we asked more than 2,000 researchers from all age groups, fields and disciplines what they think the future holds.

We used the information gathered to identify 19 factors most likely to drive change. These were turned into six, themed essays, covering topics as diverse as R&D funding, technology and education. They explain why, and how, each driver could shape the future.

We also used this information to fuel creative workshops with the Elsevier teams and invited external experts, during which we developed carefully-constructed scenarios, all set a decade from now. These scenarios were ultimately reduced to three, which zoom in on the factors with real potential to create change.

Sarah Castell, Ipsos MORI’s Head of Futures, co-creator of the report, said,

The scenarios we identified are each plausible, different and challenging to the status quo. All have their roots in innovations and cultural changes that we can see happening already. By carrying out this study, Elsevier and Ipsos MORI aim to put the research community in a better position to make decisions today and create a strong research ecosystem for tomorrow.

Technical note

The study involved:

  • Literature review and 56 expert one-hour telephone interviews, jointly conducted by Elsevier and Ipsos MORI, Jan-Aug 2018
  • Survey of 2,066 researchers worldwide, conducted by Elsevier using a random selection of respondents from Elsevier’s Scopus database. The sample was profiled by country and subject specialty. Data were weighted to reflect the OCED distribution of researchers by geography.
  • Internal workshops and analysis involving the Ipsos MORI and Elsevier team, Aug-Dec 2018.

The author(s)

  • Sarah Castell Head of Futures, Ipsos, UK
  • Graham Bukowski Public Dialogue Centre, Ipsos, UK
  • Rebecca Wilson Ipsos Public Affairs, UK