United Way Strategic Institute Publishes What Lies Ahead: A Decade of Decision
by James L. Morrison

[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in On the Horizon, 1992, Summer, 1-2, 5-6. It is posted here with permission from Jossey Bass Publishers.]

The United Way Strategic Institute's Environmental Scanning Committee has just released the 1992-93 edition of What Lies Ahead. In this publication, the Committee updated the nine forces of change in American society identified in their 1989 publication, What Lies Ahead: Countdown to the 21st Century. These forces of change, called "Change Drivers" by the Committee, are summarized as follows:

ChangeDriver 1: The Maturation of America.

The population continues to age, with the consequence that U.S. culture is shifting from a youth orientation to one focused on aging. The age groups that will demand the most attention are the 35- to 54-year-olds and those over 80 (the fastest-growing segment of the population). Political activism, reflecting an older population, will be pragmatic and measured.

The growth of the U.S. workforce will continue to slow, implying a more mature and experienced workforce. New technologies and changing job conditions will challenge workers. Employers will increasingly offer older workers phased retirement, flexible work schedules, and short time projects. More middle aged workers will start their own firms as opportunities for advancement are increasingly limited.

Not only is the population maturing, but the physical infrastructure of the country (roads, bridges) is aging, and will demand more and more attention in this decade. Government will increasingly join with business to cope with infrastructure repair costs.

ChangeDriver 2: The Mosaic Society.

The diversity of America's population will become more pronounced, and, perhaps, increasingly polarized between the educational and economic haves and have nots. It is imperative that Americans and their institutions recognize and support the value of diverse cultures within the society. Racial and ethnic tensions will remain high. Schools will implement alternative options like magnet schools, year-round schools, and alternative teacher certification to address issues of quality, cost-effectiveness and teacher shortages. Minorities and women will comprise a larger proportion of the workforce. The ability to manage a diverse workforce will remain important due to its increasingly multilingual and multicultural nature. There will be greater availability of child-care benefits, including parental leave and flexible work hours. Workers will have more benefits, but will share in bearing their costs. Finally, minorities will continue to seek greater political influence commensurate with their numbers.

ChangeDriver 3: Redefinition of Individual and Societal Roles.

There will be a continuing shift of responsibilities between societal sectors and between individuals and institutions. Reforms in public education will continue to emphasize the decentralization of authority to teachers and parents (school-based management) and choice programs. The pressure from individuals for empowerment to act for themselves will increase. (The focus on wellness illustrates a movement from a problem-based care system to one requiring more personal responsibility for eating and living "right.") Government support of human services will continue the pattern established in the 1980s, when authority and financial responsibility passed from the federal government to states and localities. Funding increases are not likely, given growing fiscal problems at all levels of government. There will be continued privatization of government services, including prisons and social services. By the end of the 1990s, there will be greater focus on individual self-sufficiency and less reliance on institutions. Corporate downsizing will accelerate while offering greater work responsibility, equity stakes, and reduction of bureaucracy. The need for a flexible work force, one that can quickly adapt to market changes, will be increasingly important as organizations become flatter (have fewer layers of management). Union membership will continue to decline. Alternative forms of employee representation, such as regulation and litigation, will continue to emerge.

ChangeDriver 4: The Information-Based Economy.

Technological advances will continue. Mass customization will typify the '90s--from customized bicycles to software with object programming. Instructional technology will continue to enhance education as a teaching and learning aid. Concern about the scientific literacy of the population will continue to increase. The telephone will increasingly be used as the gateway to sophisticated communications services. Video, audio, and data transmission will increasingly be integrated into a single fiber optic telephone system. The mobile communications environment will continue to develop as portable phones, facsimile machines, beepers, satellites and computers make two-way, 24-hour accessibility anywhere in the world. The schism between info-rich and info-poor will continue to grow. Changing employment conditions and new technologies will continue to challenge workers. The erosion of individual privacy will continue to grow.

ChangeDriver 5: Globalization.

Movement of products, capital, technology, information, and ideas around the world will continue at a record pace. The democratization of Eastern Europe and Russia and free trade agreements along with international investments in business and real estate around the world increasingly pull all nations into the global economy. However, economic and civil strife is likely to continue in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, causing the inflow of foreign investment to remain small. Regional economic blocs will increase in number and in economic importance. International migration, both legal and illegal, will accelerate in the 1990s. Prosperity is increasingly dependent on trade with, and the economic well-being of other nations. Greater international competition for markets will continue. Global leadership in science and technology will determine economic leadership.

ChangeDriver 6: Economic Restructuring.

Large-scale economic transformation of American business brought about by global economic competition, deregulation, rapidly changing technologies, and diverse and changing consumer tastes will continue. Large firms will accelerate the downsizing of their management staffs. The formation of low-skill jobs rather than high-skill jobs will increase. The number of home-based workers will increase, as will workplace options such as satellite offices. Increasing numbers of immigrants will be highly skilled tec hnological and scientific workers.

ChangeDriver 7: Personal and Environmental Health.

Quality of life versus economic well-being will be a dilemma of the 1990s. We are increasingly concerned about air, water, and food quality. In the U.S., there is continued questioning of the quality of, and access to, the nation's health-care system. Health-care costs will accelerate the issue of cost sharing between employers and employees and will increase the probability of strikes over benefits offerings. The AIDS epidemic will become increasingly critical. Concern about substance abuse and in resolving the issue of long-term care provisions will continue. Alternative forms of health care delivery, such as holistic medicine and self-help groups, will continue to grow in popularity. With respect to the environment, the concern about the connection between energy types and use and environmental crises will increase, with corresponding demands on elected officials to focus on environmental issues. Finally, the economic consequences of global environmental climate change will receive increased attention.

ChangeDriver 8: Family and Home Redefined.

There will be growing acceptance of nontraditional family groups. Men and women living having children out of marriage, single women having children by choice, gay and lesbian men and women having open relationships, and "friends" just living together are being accepted by courts, employers and society in general as "families." Many observers see the 1990s as a decade when Americans will return to the simple life, embracing home and family. The divorce rate is expected to decline. Multigenerational households and families will increase. Leisure time will continue to grow in importance. Home is being transformed into an office by more and more people (28% of the U.S. workforce works at home).

ChangeDriver 9: Rebirth of Social Activism.

Americans are becoming more concerned about social issues. The ACE-UCLA annual survey of entering college freshmen found the highest level of involvement in social-action activities in history. The 1990s will be a decade of people wanting "community action" that produces results. Racial and ethnic tension will remain high; violent crimes are expected to increase. The poverty rate is likely to increase as will the number of homeless Americans. There will be an increased recognition of the importance of children's physical and mental wellness-- especially in relation to the provision of family support services--a recognition that will become integral to public education reform.


Funding for research in the following areas is likely to increase: gerontology; the roots of crime (poverty, substance abuse, etc.); AIDS education, treatment and prevention; and the efficacy of alternative forms of health-care delivery. Increasing attention will be given to curricular programs on multicultural education and programs to reduce racial and ethnic tensions, as well as continuing education programs for those wanting to start their own businesses. Curriculum committees will spend more time on reviewing graduate and undergraduate programs vis-a-vis their relevance to preparing graduates to function in an increasingly multicultural, multilingual, and diverse workplace facing increasing global economic competition. Provosts will increase their efforts to train faculty in instructional technologies to enhance learning, including distance education. They will also take advantage of the growing interest among business, organized labor, and government to form partnerships. Advances in computer and telecommunications technologies will continue to offer the potential for improvements in administrative functions vis-a-vis data collection, analysis, communication, and program assessment. We must do all of this with little increase in government funding.

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