STEEP trend analysis

How to Use STEEP Trend Analysis in Business Strategy

One of the most popular tools in foresight is the STEEP trend analysis framework. “Future trends” can be a large, unwieldy subject because nearly everything that’s changing creates the future in some regard. One way to better understand what’s changing is to break down the various trends by category. One such group of categories is referred to as STEEP, or Social, Technological, Economic, Ecological, and Political trends.

Here are the type of trends that go into STEEP analysis.

Social trends

Since the future is really about how people will be living differently around the world, we start with the capture and analysis of trends in society. This involves any assessment of who people are, how they live, their health, and other trends about daily life. Some prominent indicators include:

  • Demographics
  • Marriage rates
  • Morbidity and mortality
  • Housing choices
  • Household size
  • Leisure time
  • Religious affiliations

Technological trends

Looking at trends in technology is one of the most popular ways to forecast the future. After all, industrial advances and the gadgets of modern life have been a key driver of change around the world. In the STEEP trend analysis framework, futurists try to look at a wide variety of technologies, not just the sexy ones that make the hip magazines. These include:

  • Materials science
  • Information technologies
  • Energy generation, storage, and transmission
  • Genetics and genomics
  • Medical devices
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Transportation
  • Construction techniques
  • Product design

Economic trends

Changes in the economy receive regular updates from major news media, including bright and flashy television channels. The money in people’s pockets are important personally and on the national level as well. As such, futurists track trends such as:

  • Interest rates
  • Employment rates
  • New business formation rates
  • Tax rates
  • Stock markets
  • Patent and trademark registrations
  • New housing starts
  • Consumer confidence indicators

Ecological trends

Our world of seven billion rapidly-industrializing human beings has a definite impact on the planet that we call home. When on a local or planetary level, ecological trends are critical to foresight. These include:

  • Water table levels
  • Air pollution
  • Topsoil levels
  • Atmospheric carbon dioxide
  • Climate change
  • Extractive resource availability (petroleum, natural gas, minerals)

Political trends

Often one of the most neglected areas of STEEP analysis is political trends. The changes in ideology and political participation can radically shift the future. For these reasons it is useful to track:

  • Voting participation rates
  • Spending on political campaigns
  • Type and number of political parties
  • Qualitative assessment of political rhetoric
  • Regulations under proposal
  • New laws passed
  • Treaties and alliances
  • Trade deals

What to do with STEEP trend analysis?

If you’re conducting a research project on the future of your industry and you include STEEP trend analysis, you will emerge from this process with consider amounts of data. The challenge then will be to apply tools to distill implications from the data and see what it means for your present and future strategies.