The ambition

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) is the leading body representing the chemical sciences in the UK. The landscape it works in is rapidly changing, from chemistry discoveries and technology developments through to its public engagement. The RSC set out to map the future of the organisation and the discipline. The purpose was three-fold: to understand how to respond to uncertainty, to challenge conventional thinking and to shape chemistry’s future for the benefit of everyday lives.  

Our approach

Alongside the RSC, Firetail ran a scenario-planning exercise that explored possible futures for the chemical sciences. We identified seven big themes that will drive change in science and society, and four possible future scenarios. Scenario planning with leading scientists and future thinkers was a central part of the project. We also conducted research on areas such as advances in education and learning, private sector engagement with chemistry, technology and information developments and funding for the discipline’s application. The review of a set of ‘weak signals’ provided thought-provoking insights into the potential of chemistry developments in the future, and included analysis on batteries of the future, learning computers and bio hacking.

The impact

The Royal Society of Chemistry gained the insights required to inform its long-term strategy, and a view of the major themes that will affect the chemical sciences in the decades ahead. Based on the scenario-planning work, our client at the RSC co-published an article in the MIT Sloan Management Review: 'Using scenario planning to shape strategy'. The article outlines our approach and the lessons learned.

The scenario-planning work has also been published and can be used as a guide for other science organisations to plan for the future.

Insights and further reading

Seven key themes were identified that will shape the future of the chemical sciences. 

  1. The role of the chemical science in 2030 – Essential and connected:
    An increasing interdisciplinarity between chemistry and other sciences, especially biological sciences.

  2. Future demand – Chemistry for impact
    Major world challenges demanding a response from the chemical sciences, working in wider partnerships across countries, disciplines and the public and private sectors. Health, climate change and energy, infrastructure, material sciences and agriculture are all areas where chemistry could make a critical difference.

  3. Funding structures, institutions and education – The need for change
    Adapting funding mechanisms and funding institutions to address changes needed, if good chemical sciences are to be fully and imaginatively supported.

  4. Globalisation – Collaboration and competition
    There is a need for the UK to invest in a continued position as a global science leader; capitalising on this excellence remains a challenge.

  5. Technology – Efficiency and innovation
    The advancement of technology has resulted in radical improvements in efficiency, processes and computational modelling. This will further impel interdisciplinary working, change the nature of research, and the character of academic and professional careers and industrial structures.

  6. Openness – Disruptive, inevitable and uncertain
    The general trend towards an ‘open’ approach will be disruptive. Open data, open access and open content will lead to structural change in academia, industry and government, with some of the outcomes of this disruption unclear.

  7. Social trends – Changing workforce and public attitudes
    Broader social trends are shaping the chemical sciences and its workforce, such as an aging population, an increasingly mobile workforce and increasing public engagement with science and climate change.


Links

Royal Society of Chemistry’s project report:
Future of the Chemical Sciences >

rsc.org >

MIT Sloan Management review article:
Using scenario planning to reshape strategy >

Firetail Strategy service overview >