Report: What will the world of research look like 10 years from now?

3 plausible scenarios are envisioned by the latest Elsevier/Ipsos MORI study, which draws on published literature and the views of experts and researchers

An image from the report cover. You can find links to the report and supporting materials at the end of this story.

The research ecosystem is undergoing rapid and profound change. This transformation is being fueled by a wide range of factors, from advances in technology and funding pressures to political uncertainty and population shifts.

In an attempt to understand how these trends might shape the research landscape in the decade ahead, Elsevier joined forces with Ipsos MORI, one of the world’s largest research agencies. Together, we conducted a large-scale, future-scoping and scenario-planning study. Rather than focusing on which topics will be researched 10 years from now, we looked at how that research will be created and exchanged.

Research Futures panel at AAAS

The report will be introduced on Friday at 3 pm during the Research Futures panel at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, DC. More details here.

Sarah Castell, Ipsos MORI’s Head of Futures and co-creator of the report, said:

We can’t predict one single future, but the three scenarios we identified are each plausible, different and challenging to the status quo. All have their roots in innovations and cultural changes that we can see happening already. The way we produce knowledge through academic research is important to all of society. By carrying out this study, Elsevier and Ipsos MORI aim to put the research community in a better position to make decisions today and create a strong research ecosystem for tomorrow.

A step-by-step guide to the study

In this graphical overview, we explain the steps we took to source the information and opinions used in the creation of the report.

We began by reviewing a wide range of published literature and considered the market drivers. We drew on the extensive knowledge of the research community by interviewing more than 50 experts from funders and futurists to publishers and technology experts. Importantly, we asked more than 2,000 researchers from all age groups, fields and disciplines what they think the future holds.

We used the information gathered to identify 19 factors most likely to drive change. These were turned into six, themed essays, covering topics as diverse as R&D funding, technology and education. They explain why, and how, each driver could shape the future.

We also used this information to fuel creative workshops with the Elsevier teams and invited external experts, during which we developed carefully-constructed scenarios, all set a decade from now. These scenarios were ultimately reduced to three, which zoom in on the factors with real potential to create change:

  • Brave open world considers the rise of open science.
  • Tech titans looks at the growing influence of technology.
  • Eastern ascendance considers the role the East – and China in particular – might play.

What did we discover?

While no one can predict the future, it’s clear there are certain themes, or drivers, that will bring about change, and much will depend on how they combine and the speed at which they develop. We explore these further in the six report essays.

In each of the three future scenarios we developed, it’s clear that we are facing radical change, and “business as usual” will no longer be feasible. Our hope is that this report, particularly the scenarios, will help us all understand the implications of the decisions we make today and ensure we are well placed to meet the future.

The report also looks at steps Elsevier is already taking to prepare for all potential futures. One clear conclusion of this study is that there is power in numbers, and we can best prepare for the coming challenges – and opportunities – by working together as a community.

What you can do

If you would like to partner with us to shape the future or want to find out more about the Research Futures study, please contact us at

Written by

Adrian Mulligan

Written by

Adrian Mulligan

Adrian Mulligan is Research Director for Customer Insights at Elsevier. He has more than 20 years' experience in STM publishing, much of that time spent in research. He oversees research programs used to drive action in the business and to help shape Elsevier strategy. The Customer Insights team works in partnership with external groups to deepen understanding of the scholarly landscape across the industry. He has presented on a range of research-related topics at various conferences, including STM, ESOF, AAP, SSP, APE and ALPSP. Mulligan's background is in archaeology; he has a BA Honours degree and a master's of science from the University of Leicester. He also has a diploma in Market Research from the Market Research Society.
Written by

Rachel Herbert

Written by

Rachel Herbert

Rachel Herbert is Senior Market Intelligence Manager at Elsevier and specializes in scientometrics (the scientific qualification and analysis of science). She studies scientific research through the lenses of publication and citation trends, with a focus on the information flows that construct and change research disciplines and a view to enabling a deeper understanding of how journals and disciplines relate to one another.


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