Research - IRI2038 Futures Study

May 2012 - November 2013

As part of IRI’s 75th Anniversary Celebration (2013) IRI commissioned the IRI2038 project, a futures initiative designed to answer the following two questions:

  • How will possible future developments and events impact the art and science of research and technology management over the next 25 years?

  • How can IRI best serve its membership in these possible futures?

The Results

The primary output of the project was twofold: four plausible, yet provocative scenarios about the future of R&D and innovation management and the results of a backcasting exercise designed to help R&D practitioners prepare for these scenarios.

The Scenarios

  1. Africa Leapfrogs Developed Countries - An inability to build new capacity in the developed world due to increasing environmental regulations creates a new flexible and localized manufacturing process. This process churns out the highly customized products consumers demand at an ever-faster pace. With less of an installed asset base and the ability to better leverage its natural resources, Africa jumps ahead of the developed world in growth and economic dynamism.
  2. Death Of Distance vs. Megacities - Cities become the major political force in countries due to their embrace of smart technologies to manage transportation, energy, and waste. They grab natural resources through giant public/private partnerships and grow into city-states. Technology and connectivity make distance irrelevant at last, restoring some balance to individuals and enabling scientists to do and teach at the level of entire corporations or universities of the past.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
  3. Three Roads To Innovation - In an era of virtual work and prize driven motivation, society creates three paths toward innovation. Many choose to directly connect their brains together in a community in which the network runs project management. Another path is to intentionally form insular communities that work in secrecy. With the entire workforce now freelance, many corporations adopt a model similar to Hollywood movie studios, where a small production team manages a large pool of freelance talent.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
  4. Everything’s In Beta - The collapse of the complex global manufacturing ecosystem leads to a bifurcated economy underpinned by local manufacturing. At the low end there is massive churn of new products that are introduced as beta products with little market research. On the other stand premium products that are socially reputable and deploy R&D resources towards tackling the big challenges of the 21st century.


At the IRI Future Summit in November 2013, innovation leaders from some of today’s largest industrial organizations worked through a series of backcasting workshops, in which the above scenarios were presented. They were asked to focus on several major implications each scenario implied about the world in 2038 and then work backwards in various yearly increments to answer the question, “What should my organization have accomplished by [year xxxx] in order to prepare for this future?”. 

Africa Leapfrogs Developed Countries Backcasting Summary


The Process


The Discovery Phase included the following activities:

    • The IRI Futures Audit established a consensus view of the future that served as the baseline for this project. To accomplish this, the IRI2038 team interviewed 38 R&D leaders around the world to understand what they believe will be the key drivers of change in R&D management over the next 25 years. The PDF icon IRI Futures Audit.pdf identifies what IRI members and others in the research and technology management arena believe will be the expected future.

    • Twenty-five Year Retrospective - an exercise identifying major events and developments that impacted how R&D management has evolved over the past 25 year. Examples could include: universities adopt the Bayh-Dole amendment for intellectual property, end of the cold war, the internet, etc. This helped set expectations for magnitude of changes in next 25 years. Activities included postings in the IRI Community Forum and a review of 25 years of the RTM journal and ROR projects to identify key themes over time.

    • Environmental Scan – exploration of early signals of future trends and events outside the consensus views expressed in the Futures Audit. The IRI2038 Weak Signals Report uncovered emerging patterns of change on the fringe of awareness, but having the potential to alter the expected future of R&D as described in the Futures Audit Report. The Report provided overviews of weak signals and questions for R&D leaders to explore the potential implications.


The Extrapolation Phase included:

  • Futures Wheels: The trends and weak signals identified in Discovery were projected into the future using futures wheels. Workshops were conducted at the IRI Member Summit to engage IRI members in developing futures wheels for four signals/trends: augmented humans, the demise of IP, crowdsourced science and the future of computing. The IRI2038 team leveraged several resources to complete these including: IRI members, online tools, students in the University of Houston’s futures program and other futurists. The results informed the development of scenarios in the next project phase.


This phase included the following activities:

  • Systems Workshops: IRI2038 facilitated workshops at the 2013 ROR Winter Meeting to initiate development of inductive scenarios used to explore the management of R&D and the role of IRI. Teams reviewed potential impacts of 2-3 major trends (from the Futures Audit) and weak signals (from the Weak Signals Environmental Scan) and clustered them based on possible interactions and affinity. The teams used these to build influence diagrams connecting the most important cluster elements. We would like to extend sincere thanks to Wendy Shultz, Infinite Futures in Oxford, England and Emily Empel, Disney, Orlando for serving as workshop facilitators.

  • Inductive Scenario Development: The IRI2038 team took the results of the February workshops and created four provocative, yet plausible, views of the future in which we may be managing research and technology. High level descriptions of each scenario are listed above.

    At the 75th Anniversary Jubilee meeting in May 2013, eight Incasting workshops were conducted to explore how participants would manage R&D to be successful in each scenario. Many thanks to our facilitators: Marsha Rhea from Signature I, LLC, John Mahaffie from Leading Futurists and Bill Croasmun from Foresight Alliance.


This was the final phase, which comprised two activities that completed the IRI2038 project:

  • On September 25 - 26, 2013, we held a global online game in partnership with the Institute for the Future. Players were asked to play 140 character cards answering two questions: 1) How can new research and innovation practices lead the way in 2038?; 2) What obstacles & roadblocks will hold research & innovation back?. Players built on one another's ideas and delved deeper into the future of innovation. It was a huge success with 10,000 ideas and 550 players from 50+ countries. Check out IRI's Flashpoint blog for a recap. The information informed the report out and backcasting workshops taking place at the Future Summit

  • Backcasting workshops were conducted as part of the IRI Futures Summit in San Jose, CA in November 2013. These explored the following question: If we know what to do in 2038 to succeed each of the four 25 year scenarios, what do we need to be doing 20, 15, 10 and 5 years from now to prepare? See above for further details.


The initiative was led by Ted Farrington (PepsiCo) and Christian Crews (AndSpace Consulting), co-authors of the March 2012 RTM article on Research Foresights and a 2011 Member Summit presentation. The project engaged IRI members and thought leaders in the exploration and development of provocative yet plausible views of events, developments and change forces impacting R&D Management.

IRI2038 project was made possible by member donations to the IRI Diamond Anniversary Campaign.