The Four Forces Behind The Next Big Things

Excerpt from The Next Big Things report:

ARTICLE | Sep 24, 2015

Visit The Next Big Things page to find the report and more resources for you and your organization.

If we asked you, "What trends are impacting your community?” you could probably fill a large whiteboard. Twice. 

To help organize and prioritize the trends impacting communities in the next twenty years, we use the Four Forces model developed by futurist Cecily Sommers. These four forces are agents of mega-change; if any of the four forces are undergoing drastic change or disruption in your community, it will likely mark a significant shift in how citizens act, engage, and respond to each other, and to their government.

In priority order, the Four Forces are:


The availability of resources is most closely tied to survival, so it is the most important force. Resources include the food, water, air, habitat, and other material nature offers. Especially important are the resources that enable energy production. Trends and resource drivers related to this force include: climate, ocean, space, energy, minerals, water, land, food, animals and forest.


Technology includes the tools and knowledge we use to extract and transform resources into new products and capacities that make our lives more comfortable and convenient, or to develop capabilities beyond our physical bodies that allow us to go places and discover new realities. Trends and drivers related to this force include: genetics, robotics, information, nanotechnology, health care, education, collaboration, virtual reality, games, telephony, manufacturing, infrastructure, and capital formation.


Demographics is the “who” behind society’s changes. People are producers. We produce through our physical and intellectual labor, so “who” is producing matters, e.g. does your community have enough working people to support your very young and very old; do you have the right ratio of women to men; is there enough social cohesion among groups to ensure the good of the community? Trends and resource drivers related to this force include: population growth, the developing world, industrialization, immigration, multiculturalism, multilingualism, nationalism, and conflict.


Distribution and management of society’s assets—resources, technology and people—are administered through the rule of law and the rule of markets. Of all the forces, governance is the most reactive, i.e. changes in resources, technology and people often run ahead of government’s capability to deal with them. Trends and drivers related to this force include: tribalism, market drivers, values, interests, beliefs, online communities, personalization, polarization, and identity politics.

Communities can use the Four Forces model as a way to organize and prioritize the trends impacting them.

For innovative city and county leaders, it’s sobering to think that you can have the best-run local government (the fourth force), but if there is a serious resource shortage (the first force), an abrupt technology change (the second force), or a significant in-migration or out-migration of people (the third force) it won’t matter; change will be forced upon you. Understanding the four forces and their order of importance is fundamental to building a future-ready community.

In the rest of the report, we outline these forty-four trends.

Download the forty-four trends PDF and visit the Next Big Things page to find the rest of the report and more resources for you and your organization. 

You may also be interested in