State of the Future Index

Assessing the impact and the interplay of the different potential developments affecting the future is a difficult and controversial task, but it is nevertheless valuable and necessary for coherent policymaking. Quantitative assessment of the factors of change helps us understand the system and supports the setting of priorities.

The State of the Future Index is an indication of the 10-year outlook for the future based on 20 years of historical data for a selected group of variables that in combination can depict potential systemic change. It is constructed with key indicators that are individually forecast and then aggregated to indicate the potential direction and intensity of change. It shows a potential trend; it is not a projection. Its role is solely to help understand the system and the relationships among its items—how changes to individual or several variables ripple throughout the system.

Combining many variables into a single index can lead to loss of detail, hide certain aspects by compensating losses in some areas with progress in the others, and mask variations among sectors, regions, or nations. The apparent precision of an index should not be mistaken for accuracy.

Nevertheless, the SOFI can be useful for assessing the consequences of different policies and for showing the combined potential outcomes in an easy-to-understand fashion. It has been produced by The Millennium Project since 2000. For the methodology, see “Real-Time Delphi” chapter in the Futures Research Methodology.

The variables included in the SOFI, as well as their respective weights (importance to the system) and the “best” and “worst” values in the next decade have been decided through RTD studies and updated by The Millennium Project staff. The sources of data have been carefully considered, are deemed to be reliable, and have good historical data records.

SOFI is in continuous evolution and adapted to global changes. The variables included in the computation of the 2030 SOFI are listed below.

Variables included in the computation of 2030 SOFI

  1. GNI per capita, PPP (constant 2017 international $)
  2. Income Inequality (Income share held by highest 10%)
  3. Unemployment, total (% of total labor force) (modeled ILO estimate)
  4. Poverty headcount ratio at $1.90 a day (2011 PPP) (% of population)
  5. CPIA transparency, accountability, and corruption in the public sector rating (1=low to 6=high)
  6. Foreign direct investment, net inflows (current US$, millions)
  7. R&D Expenditures (% of GDP)
  8. Population growth (annual %)
  9. Life expectancy at birth (years)
  10. Mortality rate, infant (per 1,000 live births)
  11. Prevalence of undernourishment (% of population)
  12. Current health expenditure per capita (current US$)
  13. Physicians (per 1,000 people)
  14. People using safely managed drinking water services (% of population)
  15. Renewable internal freshwater resources per capita (cubic meters)
  16. Biocapacity (gha per person)
  17. Forest area (% of land area)
  18. CO2-equivalent mixing ratio (ppm)
  19. Energy efficiency (GDP per unit of energy use (constant 2017 PPP $ per kg of oil equivalent))
  20. Share of primary energy from renewable sources (% of total)
  21. Literacy rate, adult total (% of people ages 15 and above)
  22. School enrollment, secondary (% gross)
  23. Patent applications, residents
  24. Number of conflicts (state-based violence)
  25. Terrorism Incidents
  26. Refugee population by country or territory of asylum (million people)
  27. Freedom Rights (number of countries rated free)
  28. Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments (% of members)
  29. Individuals using the Internet (% of population)

The most important changes to the computation of the 2030 SOFI compared with earlier SOFIs include:

  • New indicators (variables) were added and some indicators were replaced with new ones (e.g., “Patent applications, residents” has been added; “Fossil fuel and cement production emissions” has been replaced with “CO2-equivalent mixing ratio (ppm)”, and “Skilled workers” has been deleted because of lack of update by ILO).
  • A new assessment of the “weight”, and the “best” and “worst” values for each indicator was provided by an international  panel of experts through a Real-Time Delphi.
  • All the historical data was updated, and new series were inserted when old series were discontinued.
  • New curve fit equations were derived for each indicator, and new interpolations were made for missing data.
  • Sensitivity analysis was conducted to identify how various policies/strategies could impact the State of the Future Index.

The baseline SOFI that resulted from the use of the new data sets is shown in Figure 1, while Figure 2 illustrates some sensitivity analysis on how SOFI might look like if some specific policy/strategies were to be adopted.

Figure 1. 2030 State of the Future Index baseline


Figure 2. 2030 State of the Future Index with sensitivity analysis

A one-to-one comparison with the SOFIs prepared in earlier years would be misleading, since some of the variables have changed. Overall, however, the shape of 2030 SOFI is similar to earlier ones, but with a slower growth rate for the coming decade, while the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is not even fully captured (since some indicators take longer to be updated at a global level.)

One of the advantages of computing the SOFI is the identification of the areas where we are winning, losing, or stagnating—thereby helping set priorities. Figures 3 and 4 show where humanity is making progress and where more political attention and efforts are needed.

Figure 3. Where we are winning

Figure 4. Where we are losing or there is no progress

The world seems to be making progress in more areas than it is regressing or stagnating in, but since the areas of stagnation or regress are crucially important for human and planetary survival, addressing them should be a top priority.

This can be further analyzed by assessing the individual variables and their potential trajectories. Some examples of individual variables assessment are shown in figures 5-7. These figures also show the estimates for the “best” and “worst” values for the respective indicators in 2030, and their potential trajectories based on the best fit curve.

Figure 5. Income inequality assessment

Figure 6. Foreign Direct Investment Assessment

Figure 7. Share of primary energy from renewable sources (% of total)

More details on the 2030 SOFI will be published in the upcoming State of the Future Report v.2.0, to be available soon at the Publications section.

Here is a very nice visualization of a previous SOFI.

A special World Building State of the Future Index (WB-SOFI) has been computed for the World Building contest organized by The Future of Life Institute. It is available at: WB-SOFI.