Report of The Oxford Martin Commission For Future Generations, Oct. 2013

This posting is part of my continuing interest in what conditions will face my grandchildren’s generation, and how can they, and their parents, think about and prepare for it. The recent Oxford Martin Report for Future Generations provides fodder for this discussion. Authored by a pretty impressive group of experts in various fields, this Report provides information for those planning educational pathways for students presently in schools, universities and colleges, and those of future generations who shortly will be in this position.


The Report’s Summary at p.65 is as follows:

“In Part A of this report – Possible Futures – the Commission identified some of the key megatrends and challenges that are likely to shape our future and introduced possible responses to them. In Part B – Responsible Futures – we sought to draw lessons from examples of where global action was successful, and where it had failed, identifying the shaping factors that undermine our collective ability to act today. In Part C– Practical Futures – we have outlined a number of broad principles and more practical recommendations, aimed at providing impetus to overcome obstacles and inspire action.”

The three sections of the Report address Possible Futures, Responsible Futures, and Practical Futures, with the following topics covered in each section. The full Report can be read at

Executive Summary


Governing for the future

One world; many cultures, perspectives and identities

About this report


Part A: Possible Futures
















Part B: Responsible Futures

Looking Back to Look Forward

Lessons from Previous Successes

Lessons from Failure

Shaping Factors: What Makes Change so Hard?

1: Institutions

2: Time

3: Political Engagement and Public Trust

4: Growing Complexity

5: Cultural Biases


Part C: Practical Futures:

Principles and Recommendations

1: Creative Coalitions



Fit Cities

2: Innovative, Open and Reinvigorated Institutions

Decades, not Days

Fit for Purpose

Open up Politics

Make the Numbers Count

Transparent Taxation

3: Revalue the Future

Focus Business on the Long Term


Invest in People

Measure Long-term Impact

4: Invest in Younger Generations

Attack Poverty at its Source

A Future for Youth

5: Establish a Common Platform of Understanding

Build Shared Global Values

What Next?

While the Report requires several readings to digest fully from the menu of offerings discussed (I have only read it once), I have extracted issues which I think would be useful for those thinking about the educational and training path for those under 20 and those as yet unborn. The Report summarises some of the main issues facing individuals, societies and nations today and tomorrow – see Table of Contents above. You can agree or disagree with them, but it would be a mistake to ignore the issues raised. My comments, spurred by the Report’s findings, are in italics.

What then are issues which younger generations and their parents might note?


Part A, Possible Futures

This part outlines the issue areas which require expertise now and in the future. By becoming familiar with them, a student can prepare for a career whose skills will require this expertise.

The megatrends and challenges listed are ones studied, written about and discussed in public discourse. Depending on the topic, each requires a certain type of expertise for which different educational disciplines provide the tools for understanding and analysis, perhaps history, chemistry, physics, economics, politics and statistics, or some combination of disciplines related to a particular challenge.

Students at an early age can become interested in a public policy issue, along with an interest in perhaps a sport and musical instrument, and thereby prepare themselves for a future career, which may require a disciplinary or career focus at university or college, or may lead to an apprenticeship which is a form of on-the-job training. All occupations require some degree of apprenticeship whether it is articling for law, assistant to a plumber, electrician or carpenter, or learning how to be a barrista. The sooner a student can decide on a likely future, the sooner they can become involved in ways which will enhance their future career opportunities. Alternatively, if you are like me and could not decide what route to follow, expect to take a longer time to get established in a career and perhaps experience some financial disadvantage in later life.

Part B Responsible Futures

This section looks back at lessons from past experiences as a way of learning about what has failed and succeeded in the past and what may be needed in the future. It examines the context for public policy decision making and how this has and will affect future decision-making and careers in particular areas. It is more about the how of policy development than its content, although the two cannot be separated.

This discussion may have less direct input for selecting a particular career path and disciplinary focus, but it alerts the reader to what may be expected in future careers and employment. Those interested in becoming part of a public or private sector bureaucracy (and most jobs are there) will find the discussion especially useful.


Part C Practical Futures

This section addresses various means to overcome obstacles found to successful policy-making. It outlines what policy-makers need to understand about the future based on the issues which will likely arise and the experience of dealing with past issues. However it contains sections dealing with the need to consider the effects of current and future policies on younger generations. Here one finds implications for both educational and career choices for youth today and in the near future.

The content of Part A has most relevance to educational choices and approaches today. Critics will say that the Report covers social policy issues and pays no heed to the arts. They are right. The arts would require a separate discussion which might then be integrated with the findings of the Oxford Martin Report. For most people a career in the arts would attract smaller financial rewards than in some areas of the sciences and social sciences, but within each of these, some will receive a much higher remuneration than others. A few will become stars in the arts, but the majority will have to be satisfied with non-pecuniary rewards in addition to a lower income. It is a case of caveat emptor re career choice, as this situation is unlikely to change in my or my grandchildren’s lifetime.

The tone of the Report is optimistic. It starts with “Now is the best time in history to be alive.” To find out why read the Report. It then examines how to think about the present and future, and this I found to be useful in providing guidelines for future generations.


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