Forum 2017 Issues: Bridging Divides

The central focus of the forum was on Bridging Divides at a time when:

  • increasing populism and nationalism
  • historically low levels of trust
  • the rapid pace of technological development
  • and the continued effects of the crisis

are having a disruptive impact on our societies and economies.

Divides have become apparent on a number of fronts.

OECD Forum 2017 highlighted the importance of continuing our focus on developing more integrated, and inclusive economies and societies.  


Inclusive Growth

The Forum will place a central emphasis on the need for policies that place people’s well-being at the centre, moving from diagnosis and analysis of increasing levels of inequality to actionable solutions.

This will be key to winning back the confidence of those who feel treated unfairly, fearful of the impact of globalisation, increasing migration flows, and the unprecedented speed of technological development.

The Forum will focus on some of the trends that are deepening societal divides, and increasing polarisation in our societies, due to declining incomes and access to opportunity among social groups, countries and regions, and will highlight how international co-operation and digitalisation can contribute to bridging these divides.  

Economic and social divide

High levels of unemployment following the financial crisis have contributed to deepening the economic and societal divide.

While unemployment in the OECD will ease to 6.1% by the end of 2017, 39 million people will remain out of work - 6.3 million more than before the crisis, with about 30% of the unemployed confronted with being out of work for 12 months or more.

Those who find work, often only have access to precarious, temporary jobs, at lower salaries than before the crisis.

The Forum will delve deeper into options providing more security for people, including social safety nets, active labour market policies, tax, and innovative policies, in particular Universal Basic Income (UBI).

Discussions will explore whether UBI might encourage more entrepreneurship, give workers more bargaining power with potential employers, while also assessing the downsides, such as risking leaving some people on the margins of regular employment, or hardening attitudes towards immigration.

Urban-rural divide

Urban areas – places of dense social diversity – tend to be more open to immigration, progressive on cultural and social change, positive on the potential benefits of technological development, and offer more opportunity in terms of access to jobs and education.

Outer suburbs and rural regions, meanwhile, tend to be poorer, less diverse, more traditional, while offering less access to jobs and educational opportunity, amidst growing concern that the current generation of children will grow up poorer than their parents.

The trends driving these divisions have deepened in recent decades, particularly during the uneven economic recovery over the past years in which many smaller rural towns suffered for longer while more educated populations in cities bounced back more quickly.  

Generational divide

The Forum will also focus on bridging the generational divide.

With longer working lives, and an age gap of nearly 50 years between the oldest (baby boomers, born between 1946-1964) and youngest employees (GenY, born between 1982-2000) in some organisations, there is a broad range of perspectives, and attitudes that exist in and about today’s workplace, with each generation having its own set of expectations, needs, values, views and working styles.

What are some of the difficulties that different generations are facing in finding and keeping jobs due to perceived or real lack of experience or age discrimination? 

Are employers developing career and training paths keeping in mind the varying needs of their workforce? 

What are the expectations of different generations in terms of skill use at work and management styles?

These discussions will explore what these generational challenges mean in terms of political choices inspired by OECD work on Ageing Unequally.

Gender divide

Forum sessions will explore some of the policy solutions that empower both women and men in pursuing more rewarding careers by removing barriers to accessing the right education and skills, and by promoting efforts to overcome unconscious gender biases.

These discussions will be inspired by the progress report on the 2013 OECD Recommendation on Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship presented at the ministerial meeting.

While the proportion of jobs held by women has increased, female workers are more often employed in lower quality and lower paying jobs than men. 


Big Data, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and the Internet-of-Things are reshaping our economies and societies, completely revolutionising the way we work, learn, and live.

Digitalisation holds many promises to spur innovation, boost more inclusive and sustainable growth and enhance overall well-being.

At the same time, digitalisation is disruptive, changing familiar structures and expectations of the economy, society and even politics, raising questions about new business models, about how and when regulators should intervene, and new policy challenges with regard to privacy, security, trust, consumer policy, competition, innovation, jobs and skills.  

The (digital) world we want

The speed of digitalisation has caught government, but also business and other societal actors off-guard.

Strategies are developed in isolated policy silos, while we need to work together to develop new international, overarching ethical and societal frameworks and pro-active policies that allow the harnessing of digital technology to develop the world we want.

Strengthening digital security and privacy protection is essential to allow individuals, firms and governments to feel secure and unleash the benefits of 'going digital'.

Increasingly, decisions that affect our lives—where we go to school, whether we get a car loan, how much we pay for health insurance—are influenced not by humans, but by mathematical models, or algorithms.

They score teachers and students, sort résumés, grant (or deny) loans, evaluate workers, target voters, set parole, and monitor our health. 

Regulation needs to catch-up in order to address concerns that the mathematical models being used today are opaque, and in cases are reinforcing both inequality and discrimination. 

The future of work

Digitalisation is radically changing the type of jobs people need to train for and how, where and by whom these jobs will be done.

There are many varying predictions on the number and kind of jobs affected, all stakeholders seek more certainty, and advice to be better prepared for this transition.

The Forum will allow key stakeholders to share and explain their concerns, but will also aim to demonstrate how digital innovations will enable the creation of new - often yet unknown – jobs.

In this context the Forum will focus on the importance of developing social security, unemployment, health and pension systems tailored to this new world of work, ensuring that people have the confidence and the resilience to make job switches and continue to invest in their skills throughout their lives.

21st century skills

It is now essential to ensure that students are well prepared for a world in which they will constantly be adjusting to new technologies, new business models, and new ways of working. 

Skill development policies need to be overhauled for older age groups too to reduce the risk of increased unemployment, growing inequality and divisions between generations. 

More must also be done to encourage women and girls to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) studies and careers, to allow them to benefit fully in the digital economy.


Too many people feel removed from progress and do not believe the overall system is working for them.

This distrust can partly be explained by a significant decline in economic and social status due to the financial crisis, but there is also a general sense that government policies and business strategies favour a concentration of wealth among rich and powerful people, as well as rich and powerful regions.

A survey conducted by McKinsey Global Institute in July 2016 (Poorer than Their Parents? A New Perspective in Income Inequality) found that a significant number of those whose incomes have not been advancing are losing faith in the global economic system, and expressed negative opinions about free trade and immigration. 

'Post-truth' era

We are witnessing the emergence of a new so-called 'post truth' era, which has risen from the combination of low levels of trust and the increasing fragmentation of news and media sources brought about through digitalisation.

In the social media world, everyone is a publisher, and traditional news organisations are no longer the predominant source or gatekeepers of news.

This new environment has made it easier for the lines between fact and fiction to be blurred.

False information, diffused through social media, can quickly be taken to be true without question of the legitimacy of the source.

Furthermore, social media patterns and the increasing prominence of algorithms are also contributing to the creation of silos of opinion, in which we surround ourselves with people who think like us and are fed information which is intended to fit our preferences rather than challenge our thinking.

The mainstream media, whose credibility has also been questioned and perceived as part of the 'elite', is also increasingly being impacted.

As media organisations compete for advertising revenue, now a central component of new business models, temptation is rising to opt for news and headlines which generate the highest number of clicks, or 'click bait', creating ethical tensions in terms of public information provision, and in cases calling into question the very idea of news as a civic good.

Civic engagement

Due to the low levels of trust, 'a person like you' is now as credible as an academic or technical expert, and far more credible than a CEO or government oļ¬ƒcial, implying that the primary axis of trust is now peer-to-peer.

Combined with the fact that algorithms sort us into groups of like-minded, creating social media 'echo chambers' that amplify our views, reducing dialogue among people holding different opinions and perspectives, depriving us of opposing  arguments and leaving us less-well informed for better, more effective, policymaking.

This polarisation of our societies could also undermine the democratic process.

In Forum discussions we will focus on finding ways to get back to shared conversations, experiences, and understanding that transcends polarisation, helping to bridge current divides.

The Forum will explore concepts such as voter protection as well as the degree to which democratic political systems and practices need to be overhauled in the 21st Century of digitalisation, to be more deliberative, embracing civic engagement as a means to co-design and co-construct policies.

Sharing the benefits of trade

International trade is facing strong headwinds of weaker global demand, while large parts of society now also feel trade is undermining, rather than underpinning, their livelihood, with calls for protectionism increasing.

Yet trade can work for everyone’s benefit if governments apply the full range of national, subnational and international policies to ensure that all people and regions are involved, and that everyone shares the fruits of freer and fairer movement of information, ideas, technological innovations.

Trade and investment are important for boosting productivity and essential for the global value chains that spur our interconnected economies and societies. 

Competition and Responsible Business Conduct

Despite the financial crisis corporate profits are at an all-time high.

The global frontier firms have been performing exceptionally well due to their capacity to innovate, combining technological, financial, organisational innovation, and human capital.

They are in a position to hire the best talent, offering the best financial rewards in the market, further increasing the levels of inequality in our societies.

Given the backlash against globalisation, leaders in the business sector must set the example at home and abroad with regard to responsible business conduct in terms of social policy, working conditions in supply chains, and tax practices. 

There is growing concern that certain frontier firms are consolidating dominant positions, preventing the spread of innovation and increases in productivity throughout the economy particularly within SMEs, the sector of the economy that is the biggest employer in OECD economies, and a motor for regional and local development.

Are these phenomena just 'growing pains', as some would argue, or a systemic trend that will increase inequality and stifle competition?