The Key UK Social Impact Trends for 2017

We explore Nesta's insights into the top 10 developments to take the UK social sector by storm in 2017.

von Olwen Smith, January 19, 2018

Each year Nesta - a leading innovation think and do-tank - comes up with the social impact trends they think are going to be at the fore of the sector in the UK. This year, with digitalisation and automation having an ever increasing impact on the world, technology takes centre stage.

So what did they come up with for 2017? And how accurate have they been? Let’s find out:

1. Bloody Vegetarian Food

Yes, this is all about the mock-meat trend. Matthew Hull is convinced that vegetarian meat substitutes are going to be the big thing in 2017 - after all, the global market is expected to hit 5,2 BILL by 2020, so it had better get a move on. And what with processed meat having recently been named as one of the World’s no. 1 carcinogens, antimicrobial resistance set to claim ten million lives a year by 2050 and livestock production accounting for 18% of greenhouse gases, that is probably not the worst thing.


2. Lifelong Learning

Turns out none of us are very well qualified for the jobs of the future. Reenter the stage adult education. Whilst some countries like France and Singapore are already starting to invest heavily in reeducating their workforce in digital and other skills, the UK is sorely lagging. With the impending threat of automation sweeping away many jobs, the need for lifelong learning and retraining is now more acture than ever. Remember the Open University? It still exists. Just nobody talks about it. Time for change. 


3. Blockchain

2017 has been earmarked as the year that Blockchain starts to make a real impact. As people start to (sort of) understand what it is, there is a growing likelihood of it being used in every day life - blockchain based apps for buying and selling and ridesharing are already popping up. The main social impact story? It can help democratise the internet by removing the monopoly over data currently held by the internet giants like Google, Amazon and Facebook.


4. Home-based Volunteering

In the UK 1.5 million people currently work from home full time, while 4.2 million work from home sometimes. According to Vicki Sellick, it’s a no-brainer that soon we will all be volunteering from home too. With changing work patterns, many cannot commit to being physcially present or giving their time consistently for an hour at the same time each week, as so many charities request. This means we're likely to see more volunteers helpng out in a variety of ways from home - from manning phone lines, or answering enquiries on charity websites to creating maps of the Ebola crisis in remote locations.


5. The Splinternet - A divided internet

This one might sound a little far-fetched, but perhaps it’s not. Who, frankly, knows. Katja Bego reckons that there may come a time quite soon where we no longer have a World Wide Web but rather small, national or continental networks, that work quite differently from each other. As much of countries’ critical infrastructure move online, the gravity of the threat of cyber-attacks increases and fake news proliferates, certain governments may attempt to regain control by splitting from the world wide web. Watch this space.


6. A new kind of education

In 2017 PISA will release the first country rankings for collaborative problem solving. So it’s no longer just about how good at maths or English you are, but rather about the skills that can actually help people when they enter the workplace. Genius! This is just one indication of a seismic shift coming in light of a failing UK education system and heaps of attempts to innovate it by social entrepreneurs.


7. Artistic Virtual Reality

VR opens up all kinds of possibilities for art creation to become more collaborative and playful, therefore appealing not only to professional artists, but also to amateurs and the audience themselves. As Florence Engasser outlines, VR can provide a new sense of space and dimension, thereby completely transforming the way we create, view, access and own art. While this rapidly evolving technology will no doubt change the way people produce, as well as the skills needed to create, art - this doesn't mean that traditional visual arts will be eroded altogether. Rather, boundaries will be blurred between real and virtual, providing new avenues for artistic expression.


8. Algorithms will take a dive in popularity

Olivier Usher points out that- without us realising it - computers are making an awful lot of the decisions that affect us on a daily basis. Whether it's about your car insurance premium or the price of your next holiday, it’s happening. And people are starting to realise it and are not happy. As the potential for negative societal implications of machine learning and algorithms comes to the fore, will the public start demanding algorithm-free services?


9. Social movements for better healthcare

Just think about the HIV/AIDS campaign… creating a social movement to defend and boost healthcare for certain groups in the population can certainly have a big impact. Nesta Health Lab is predicting that with the increasing potential for collaboration through technology, citizen-led change around healthcare will gain momentum. International social movements for health will be enabled by digital technology, with movement leaders and members communicating and collaborating across borders, perhaps without ever meeting in person.


10. Being British will become a lot like being German

This one is a little tongue-in-cheek but it’s our favourite, for obvious reasons. Read on here.


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Originally published October 18, 2017