By Chris Middleton, Futurist and Thought Leader, CEO Futures Coaching

Published: 3 October 2018

What will medical research charities look like in ten years’ time and how will people work in them and with them? These are big questions and somewhat unfathomable. Nevertheless every Board has, imperatively, to develop its view on these topics since we are in for a decade of turbulent, transformational change.

Thinking back over the last decade, you might say that your charity’s structure has changed and the way you work has evolved, but the pace has been slow enough to be manageable. You may have reacted to the future rather than planned for it. Such a belief in evolutionary change over the next decade would be wildly displaced if not to say negligent, however, for three reasons.

  1. Populism (and its particular UK manifestation, Brexit)

Disruption to European researchers, research networks and funding streams are already being felt. Meanwhile a more restrictive immigration policy favouring skilled workers will hurt many sectors but care and support services and the healthcare system will face trying times as they adjust to just what this might mean. Labour shortages and skill shortages are likely whatever happens to Brexit as government responds to populist anti-immigrant sentiment.

Meanwhile, the ‘pro-nation-state’ political climate is likely to drive further demands for devolution, resulting in four separate nations. This suggests that charities will have to adopt a more decentralised structure and distributed leadership over the next decade.

In one way the greater distrust in experts and hierarchies might play into charities hands. However, going forwards, charities will want to tap into a grass-roots desire for peer-to-peer sharing and support. Building ‘a tribe’ around a medical condition, will see much of the heavy lifting being done by the community itself, rather than by a charity’s employees, going forwards.

  1. Gig Society

The costs of commuting (money, time, fuel, social lives – alongside externalities like pollution) will reduce the attraction of office-based work and smart networking tools will continue to tame geography. Already charities are reducing their head office costs by relocating to lower rents but the real reduction in property overheads will come when charities radically overhaul their home-working policies and adopt hot-desking minimum-sized workspaces.

In the meantime, the movement to the gig economy grows apace. Despite the loss of employment protection rights and a radical erosion of self-employment tax breaks, the trade-offs to going it alone are worth it to many. Less stress, more autonomy and a better work-life balance will see more and more of your current staff opting for freelancing.

Radically downsized, super agile charities will emerge, holding onto a small set of core competencies whilst outsourcing the rest to trusted collaborators and third-party partners. Your charity may need to learn whole new skillsets around how it manages external resources imaginatively and securely. Recently, I went to an induction event organised by an agency where twenty freelancers were trained in the company’s DNA and processes.

However, in the next war for talent, charities are arguably better placed than the private or public sectors. Charities have had to become adept at working with volunteers and, more recently, collaborating with other organisations so they are perhaps ahead of the curve. How can you enhance this lever and use it more effectively going forwards?

  1. The Fourth Industrial Revolution

According to the World Economic Forum we have already entered an intense period of unprecedented, exponential change. The rapid advances in, and fusion of, technology and biotechnology, the rise in algorithms and automation, and big increases in data collection (sensors, Internet of Things, social media), storage and AI manipulation – all will combine and lead to a scale of transformation never before experienced. How will this play out in the world of work?

The three previous industrial revolutions (linked to steam-power, electricity and computers), have all led to massive job churn, disruption and only after many decades to job growth. This next revolution will see massive threats to professional jobs with many lawyers, accountants and doctors likely to be replaced by machines that learn – in the style of IBM Watson. Help desks and hot lines have already become victims of this wave and chatbots will soon replace most customer service personnel.

McKinsey Global Institute estimate that 60% of all jobs have tasks that can be automated and The Bank of England equates this to 15 million jobs in Britain that are vulnerable to automation. If we don’t lose our jobs to automation, certainly most of us will have to get used to working alongside robots.

The silver lining of this particular cloud is that there are two sectors that are more immune to automation than others. The luxury sector (people want the human touch) and the healthcare sector (people have physical bodies and emotional support needs). Medical care and support charities will represent havens of employment, or self employment, into the future.


Together, trends to populism, freelancing and the transformative changes associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be hugely challenging for medical research charities over the next decade. This blog has highlighted just some of the implications for your organisation and the world of work but as charity leaders, it is imperative to go further, work through all the key trends and formulate your own, very strategic, response.