Key Drivers for Researchers of the Future

By Adrian Mulligan, MS

This article appears in the March-April 2020 issue of Information Outlook magazine.

We are living in an age of rapid change, with transformative technological advances, political uncertainty, shifting population demographics, funding pressures and global societal challenges. Together, these factors are revolutionizing how research information is conceived, created and communicated.

To help the research community prepare for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, Elsevier joined forces with Ipsos MORI on a report, Research futures: Drivers and scenarios for the next decade. We surveyed more than 2,000 researchers, talked with several experts, and reviewed the published literature to prepare this future-scoping study.

We found 19 key factors driving change around themes such as funding, open science, research workflow and artificial intelligence. These key factors suggest that researchers, along with their library partners and collaborators, will need to prepare for a future research environment in which—

  • The funding mix is changing, with public funders exerting less influence over research priorities;
  • Research grants increasingly have open science conditions attached;
  • Researchers are expected to spearhead adoption of open science, but not without experiencing conflicts of interest;
  • Metrics will continue to expand, enabled by new technology;
  • New technologies transform the research workflow over the coming 10 years;
  • Behaviors and skill sets will change as a new generation of researchers arrives on the scene;
  • Collaboration will drive research forward; and
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning tools are changing the shape of science.

Whatever happens, “business as usual” will no longer be possible for any of us working in the research ecosystem. We have reached a tipping point: In the decade ahead, new funding models will emerge, new methods of collaboration will develop, and new ways of conceptualizing research and measuring its impact will materialize, driven by advances in technology and the ideas of a new generation.

While technology advances have the potential to be disruptive, in general we are likely to see faster, fairer, more open models of research practice and publication. Researchers are likely to benefit from greater career flexibility, better feedback on their emerging ideas, and improved reproducibility.

Finally, we learned that if positive change is to be sustainable, action must take place in unison across all areas examined in the study, from education to research workflow. And wherever there are “virtuous cycles” in which innovations support each other and are mutually beneficial, change will occur rapidly.

From an Elsevier perspective, the study has proved to be a valuable tool in our ongoing mission to improve the information system supporting research—in other words, the many resources that researchers have available to execute and communicate core research tasks. We will continue to partner with researchers, librarians, research institutions and funders to turn information into actionable knowledge and provide tools that make research more efficient. And crucially, as research becomes more fragmented, we will ensure that trust remains at the system’s heart, as it has been for the 140 years of Elsevier’s history.


  1. Willems, L., A. Mulligan, R. Herbert, A. Plume, S. Castell, and E. Wayne. 2019. Research futures: Drivers and scenarios for the next decade. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Elsevier.

ADRIAN MULLIGAN is research director for customer insights at Elsevier. He has presented on a range of research-related topics at various conferences, including STM, ESOF, AAP, SSP, APE and ALPSP. Contact Adrian at

©2024 Special Libraries Association. All Rights Reserved
Special Libraries Association

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.