2022 Watch List: Thought Leaders Weigh In

We opened the year by connecting with dozens of thought leaders across policy, politics, business, public health and the media to explore the issues and trends they see shaping the public affairs and communications landscape in 2022.

Top recurring issues are familiar ones. From the myriad implications of the ongoing pandemic to politics and polarization; economic recovery, inflation and the supply chain; voting rights; the threat of misinformation and disinformation; and impending transformative Supreme Court rulings and a nomination process.

Our team of experts also shared some additional perspectives as public affairs and communications imperatives:

We can’t rely on what we used to know

The events of the last few years have upended the world order and how we respond to the challenges of the day. When politics comes first, as it often does, past approaches may no longer be adequate. And we don’t yet know what we don’t know – about COVID-19, climate change, the future of our democracy, and so many issues. This ambiguity requires an extraordinary openness to change, as well as adaptability and creative solutions.

Racial equity and climate change will serve as critical lenses for corporations and policymakers

Stakeholders are holding companies accountable for their commitments and these prerequisite issues are also likely to generate criticism and reputational risk for companies amid political crossfire. The challenge is how to lead with conviction – bringing forward urgently needed solutions, while navigating complexity.

States, cities and corporations will increasingly fill the void created by federal gridlock

They will shape policy across COVID-19, climate, structural inequities, voting rights and reforms, criminal justice and policing, reproductive rights, data privacy, gun violence and more. To recruit and retain employees, especially younger workers, some companies will increasingly act as public-interest advocates – especially when it comes to COVID-19, but also broader issues of sustainability, health and wellness, including mental health. Indeed, some are challenging federal decisions and regulations in the courts.

As local social and political institutions – school boards, county boards, local elections officials, for example – become more consequential, local journalism has declined. Citizens have fewer options for reliable information to inform their civic and political engagement and decision-making, with more turning to social platforms for their news – creating opportunities for extremism to take root.

America’s leadership position in the world is fragile

As trust in U.S. public institutions and norms erodes and political polarization strengthens, the country faces global challenges for its economic, national security and multilateral leadership – all of which create heightened geopolitical risks for the U.S., including its private sector.

Around the world, there’s a massive, overlooked problem of human displacement. There are more than 82 million forcibly displaced people (the highest level in history). They are civically disconnected, vulnerable to exploitative forces and involve enormous humanitarian costs.

Some countries will seek to take advantage of such instability as well as polarizing, divided politics to advance their own national interests. Restoring compassion, confidence and trust is an essential challenge of our time.

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