Emerging issues of change; and
The first activity in applied futures research is the hunt for new sources of change. So we begin by taking a mental snapshot of the present: what are current conditions? If we observe some part of our environment -- like, say, hemlines -- changing, can we determine whether that’s an ongoing trend, an entirely new change, or perhaps a cycle that recurs historically? In the case of hemlines, of course, the latter.
Variable: a quantifiable subject of study, the value of which can change over time.
Trend: a pattern of change over time in some variable of interest. Having trend data for some variable implies multiple instances of that variable. For example, one revolution in Africa is an event; two or three revolutions would call for comparative case studies; fifteen revolutions in countries in Africa within five years would constitute a trend. One of the most obvious, and largest trends, is the increase in world population. A potentially even larger trend, but much less obvious -- or even agreed upon -- would be the gradual warming of the Earth’s atmosphere. Another is the continuing decline in the cost of microchips and consequently computers.
Megatrend: commonly used to indicate a widespread (i.e., more than one country) trend of major impact, composed of subtrends which in themselves are capable of major impacts. For example, global climate change will have a major impact, on all the countries of the world, and can be disaggregated into global atmospheric warming, sea-level rise, decrease in stratospheric ozone, etc.
”Weak signal” or ”emerging issue” or ”seed of change:” these terms are used by different futurists, but all mean essentially the same thing: the sources of change – the first case; the original idea or invention; the watershed event; the social outliers expressing a new value – that is, a sign of change that exists so far in only a few scattered instances, which might multiply into enough data points to constitute a trend. You might say that an emerging issue is a trend with only one or two cases -- a trend only you have noticed!
“Wild cards:” low probability but high impact changes – like a global plague, or the invention of table-top fusion.