Trend Analysis as a Method


In scenario development, trend analysis can be a powerful tool for developing robust content, content that can erase prejudices and open minds by exploring and combining far-reaching developments that might affect the environment and conditions in which education takes place.

A Tool for rigorous thinking

Trend analysis means looking at how a potential driver of change has developed over time, and how it is likely to develop in the future. Rational analysis of development patterns provides a far more reliable basis for speculation and prediction than reliance on mere intuition. Several trends can be combined to picture a possible future for the sector of interest, such as schooling. Trend analysis does not predict what the future will look like; it becomes a powerful tool for strategic planning by creating plausible, detailed pictures of what the future might look like.

From broad to narrow scope

Trends vary in their breadth of application: trends in such areas as demographics - population and migration patterns for example - are broadly applicable, in sectors ranging from schools to national security. Narrower trends in schooling include education budgets, curriculum, school settings and modalities, teachers' salaries, and the average age and gender of school leavers.

Branching paths

Each trend suggests many lines of enquiry. For example, take the trend toward longer lives, also known as 'the aging society'; given that schooling is to prepare people for life, what is the proper role of schooling for the learning and cultural needs of the elderly? How might higher pension spending affect school budgets? These are just two of the many issues that arise from this one trend. Combining several trends, and considering the questions raised by each, can generate a rich picture of how a sector might develop.

Key in the scenario development

The large range of possibilities opened by trend analysis makes it key for developing robust scenarios that meet essential criteria:

Plausible: Logical, consistent and believable
Relevant: Highlighting key challenges and dynamics of the future
Divergent: Different from each other in strategically significant ways
Challenging: Questioning fundamental beliefs and assumptions

Schooling for Tomorrow therefore uses trends to raise important questions for the education sector. The main trends investigated so far are: aging societies, population growth, widening inequalities in wealth and income, increasing diversity in the ethnic make-up of OECD countries, urbanisation, globalisation, the shift to a knowledge-based economy, and the evolving nature of work. Current research is looking more specifically into educational trends.

Using the SfT Trends Shaping Education Publication as a starting point

The SfT Trends Shaping Education Publication [see below] offers briefs on the trends investigated so far and relates each of them to education, by suggesting questions on how they might affect schooling in particular. In each situation - nationally, regionally or locally, in schools or in ministries - it is essential to identify the key trends and think how they may affect the issue at hand. The trends in the SfT Trends Shaping Education Publication can only serve as starting points or inspiration for several reasons:

Trends vary from place to place - The SfT Trends Shaping Education Publication describes international trends, and local trends may differ. The international trend towards longer lives has exceptions; some countries in Central and Eastern Europe have not had the big gains, and in many African countries HIV/AIDS has reduced life-expectancy over the past 15 years.

Global trends affect different places differently - Rising sea levels will not affect Nepal directly, but will require major infrastructure spending in the Netherlands and threaten disaster for Bangladesh.

The SfT Starter Pack provides guidance on how to use and critically examine trends. It also outlines methods to identify trends and drivers that directly and indirectly influence the scenario's subject.

Go directly to Trends Tool to find a selection of briefs trend by trend

Go directly to Starter Pack to find methods for using and identifying trends; as well as lessons learned about how others have used trend analysis in scenario development.


Key Variables for Educational Scenario Analysis (pdf)

Futures studies, scenarios and the “possibility-space” approach 

Related topics:

International trends and driving forces


Other methods





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