About half a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, uncertainties around its duration and longer-term impacts remain extremely high. While we can be certain that societies will change, we cannot be certain about the nature and dynamics of such change, the time-horizon for new normalities to emerge, the outcomes of far-ranging transformations, or the costs and trade-offs involved in transitioning societies.

This brief presents five post-pandemic scenarios that look as far ahead as 2050 and can be used by decision-makers to re-assess and test the robustness of plans, strategies and policies in a range of possible futures. The scenarios were developed by experts from different fields in a series of surveys and interactive online workshops.

Participants identified a set of future driving forces (socioeconomic issues, uncertainties and change factors) and assigned to them “plausible states” – that is, alternative ways in which each driver could unfold. They then narrowed this set down to the most important drivers and critical uncertainties, on the basis of which the brief’s research team generated five alternative scenarios: responsible globalization; chaotic globalization; world of walls; cold peace; and adaptive mosaic.

This set of scenarios depicts alternative versions of the world’s socioeconomic prospects after the current global crisis. The scenarios allow decision makers to test and measure the outcomes and effectiveness of their recovery plans against various features of a range of plausible futures. These assessments allow policymakers to adjust or make new and more robust policies that prepare societies for a world radically changed by the COVID-19 pandemic.