Like most of us, I have been reflecting over the past couple of weeks on how different the world is two years on from the onset of the Covid pandemic 

As a sense of normality returns, I really don’t think that we have all got to grips with what we have lived through, not just the thousands of lost lives and destroyed livelihoods, but how the experience will have shaped the choices we make in the future, and how policy, politics and public affairs have changed too. 

I have had a bit of a think about how the experience of the pandemic specifically (but impacted by Brexit and the war in Ukraine too) will shape some of the big picture drivers for those of us who spend time thinking about the future direction of the country and how policy is shaped and developed. 

Predictions are notoriously dangerous, so instead let’s just say that these are some thoughts that may or may not be disproved over the coming years.

  • There is no new normal!

We talk about a new normal as if the world is going to slow down, give us space, stop changing, and stop throwing things at us, but this is not the age we live in. The new normal means constant change. The pandemic proved that policymaking can be faster and that it needs to be. We need to be able to respond better to both events and developing markets. In business, it proves that those that can adapt, learn to fail, and still find the opportunities will thrive, and as an aside, these are skills we should be teaching our kids too.  

  • National security has meaning again

Over the last two years, ordinary people in the UK have worried about the security of energy, food, and medicine. Along with the need to respond to a new cold war with Russia, this will frame a new conversation about national security that will shape policy and political debate for a generation.  

  • The world is more interconnected not less

Despite our inability to travel and to meet in person, the pandemic and global response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has shown in practice just how interconnected, and interdependent our world is. We are an island nation that was unable (or perhaps unwilling) to close our borders. Business is global, this won’t change, but how we communicate, trade, deliver services and manage risk will. 

  • Behaviour is less predictable

We have all evaluated, adapted, experimented, and learned how we like to live and work. This has shifted parameters and realigned cultural norms. The consequences will continue to play out over many years to come. Policy and particularly economic modelling relies on people behaving in predictable ways. These norms are shattered, and policymaking will need to watch and adapt accordingly. 

  • People have newfound connections to their community 

The pandemic has changed how people feel about where they live and where they want to live. The future is more local. Businesses and organisations that recognise this and respond will thrive. Policymakers and policy-making need to reflect this, both in how it is made and how we reshape our communities, towns, villages and cities of the future. The state’s role in this reshaping will be a hot political topic.

  • Attention spans are shorter

Being forced to live our lives online has changed how we consume information.  Three-word slogans work. Attention spans are even shorter. TikTok rules. 

  • Communication skills are even more critical and simplicity is key

Whilst policy-making is detailed, complex and often nuanced. Political communications must be simple, easy to understand and intuitively make sense. The connection between good policymaking and good communications is stronger than ever. 

  • Digital access is a prerequisite for participation

Those who can’t access digital services are at a much more significant disadvantage than two years ago. Supporting those without the means, skills or ability to access the digital world needs to be a more urgent policy priority.

Hemmed in by electoral cycles and the demands of 24-hour media, sometimes I think that UK politics lack the ability or perhaps capacity to take stock, think and adapt. That the pace and complexity of change mean that too much time (perhaps inevitably for those in Government) is focused on the here and now and far too little on the world, country and society that we want to create. 

If there was ever a time to find the space for thinking, it is now.