Naoki Tani
The Future of “Quality of Society”

The English-language version of the Dentsu Institute website is launching in November 2020. This website is the medium for communication that underpins Dentsu Institute’s activities. We intend to explore changes in people’s perceptions and in society, putting out timely content as a means to extend our network worldwide in collaboration with like-minded individuals, whom we at Dentsu Institute refer to as “Peers.”

In April 2019, Dentsu Institute chose “Quality of Society” as the guiding theme for its activities. Japan and the world as a whole faced countless social issues, but in almost all cases, efforts to find solutions had been put off for later.

About “Quality of Society”

It was clear that the international community was increasingly conflicted: countries were torn between pinning their hopes on a cooperative framework for tackling issues such as the UN sustainable development goals, or putting themselves first. Meanwhile, technology’s rapid advance had raised the question of what form human society should take in the age of AI.

Japan had witnessed further escalation of its own particular social issues including a declining population, stalled economic growth, delayed digitalization, the need to prepare for natural disasters, and the over-concentration of political, economic, and social life in Tokyo.

At Dentsu Institute, we have been focusing on issues in these three domains—global, technological, and Japan-specific—as we pursue activities that address the “Quality of Society” theme.

In 2020, the world came up against COVID-19, and societies were suddenly transformed. Japan was no exception, and at Dentsu Institute we switched all our activities to remote working.

Our Three Activities: Research, Communication, and Networking

Here I review Dentsu Institute’s activities since April 2019 in the three areas of research, communication, and building networks with talented individuals.

Our first activity is conducting original research.

Dentsu Institute has been conducting surveys of people in Japan to study their perceptions of society. In connection with COVID-19, we conducted a survey in May 2020 of residents in Tokyo and its three adjoining prefectures to find out about their perceptions and activities during the official “Stay Home Week”1 from April 25 to May 6. In June, we conducted another survey on perceptions of the policies and measures advocated by the national government, such as the proposed “New Lifestyle.”2

These two surveys revealed a well-established belief among the Japanese people that effective ways of preventing infection were to avoid contact with other people, and non-essential travel, as much as possible. This indicates that Japan had entered the challenging situation of having to work out how it should reactivate social and economic activities in the midst of generally cautious attitudes among the public.

At the global level, we participated in the World Values Survey Wave 7, conducting a survey in Japan in September 2019. The fieldwork was carried out before COVID-19 emerged, so the effects of the pandemic were not reflected in the results. However, a key finding was that in the Japanese survey the percentage of young people who considered work to be important in life had decreased significantly since the previous survey in 2010. As data was also obtained for 76 countries other than Japan, we plan to further analyze the results by comparing internationally.

In May 2020, Dentsu Institute participated in the Values in a Crisis Survey initiated by a team of scholars involved in the World Values Survey. This international survey, which focuses on the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, will be conducted again next year, so it should enable analysis of people’s attitudes compared internationally, as well as in terms of changes over time.

Our second activity is communication.

When the Dentsu Institute Japanese language website was launched in February 2020, we posted an extensive lineup of content addressing the latest developments in Japanese society. We included recommendations from a wide variety of Peers, taking up cutting-edge topics such as the “after-digital”3 era, AI and the society of the future, and Estonia’s digital government. In March we posted a longitudinal comparison report covering the results obtained from conducting the World Values Survey in Japan over the course of 30 years. We will continue to actively post analysis of the surveys conducted by Dentsu Institute. In order to maintain a global perspective in the website content we create and post, we will seek to ensure a good selection of content in the English-language version too.

Due to the effects of COVID-19, university lectures have been moved online, and online seminars offered by organizations such as research institutes have flourished. We at Dentsu Institute, likewise, want to move beyond reliance on the website format alone to try out new forms of communication such as webinars.

Our third activity is building networks with a diverse range of talented individuals.

Dentsu Institute collaborates with leading experts in a diverse range of fields. We refer to this as a “Peer-to-Peer” working style. We intend to seek more opportunities to encounter a wide range of talented individuals and further extend our Peer-to-Peer network.

Social System Transformation Affords Society Spare Capacity

I would now like to explain a key concept in which Dentsu Institute has a keen interest: social system transformation (SSX).

It is widely acknowledged that digitally networked societies are resilient in the face of infectious disease, and digital transformation (DX) has therefore become a vital objective within social systems and organizations of all types, the world over. Even in Japanese society, where digitalization has always lagged behind, it seems likely that the public and private sectors will now join forces to accelerate DX.

However, a key challenge faced by Japanese society is its limited spare capacity. For instance, it became clear once a crisis occurred in the form of COVID-19 that staffing in the medical and caregiving fields was barely adequate even under normal circumstances, and had no capacity to spare. Likewise, in fields where jobs involve provision of services to the public, or where there are physical worksites, a chronic shortage of workers occurred. Not only are these fields of essential importance to society, but also the jobs involved are difficult to replace with teleworking or AI.

What is more, the effects of climate change mean that we are beset by major typhoons and river flooding almost every year, and it has become impossible for communities to recover and reconstruct through their own efforts alone. In communities with an increasing ratio of senior citizens, the situation is even worse. It is only too obvious that Japan’s local communities also have limited spare capacity.

Japan’s birthrate is declining as its society ages, and the overall population has also been declining since 2008. Our existing social systems as a whole require bold reform that will increase not only their efficiency, but also their durability and reliability. DX can be used as one means to create spare capacity in society through SSX. Only once spare capacity has been established will it be possible to create new value for the future and deal with unforeseen risks.

As a country faced with a declining birthrate and aging society unparalleled elsewhere in the world, if Japan can use SSX to discover a new form of society, it is likely to become a model for the world.

Please refer to the following document for more details on SSX.
Building a Resourced Society with SSX

Focusing on Global Social Issues

In today’s world, economic disparities and fragmentation are proceeding apace. The process of solving global social issues is not progressing and “Quality of Society” is faltering.

All of us living through present times must dedicate ourselves to finding solutions to social issues; I believe that is our responsibility to the people of the next generation. I think we need to be considerate of others, accept diversity in each other, and extend our spheres of connection.

Dentsu Institute will continue to maintain such a global focus and collaborate with a broad range of individuals steadily cultivating the green shoots that will open the way to a bright future, as it pursues activities that address the “Quality of Society” theme.

Illustration by Yuna Takemura and Nanae Ishikawa

  1. Office of the Governor for Policy Planning. 2020. “Novel Coronavirus Latest Information: From Governor Koike to the People of Tokyo.” https://www.seisakukikaku.metro.tokyo.lg.jp/information/2020/05/images/4553915ae8bbf553e99657988128b624.pdf
  2. Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. 2020. “Examples of practicing ‘New Lifestyle’.” https://www.mhlw.go.jp/content/10900000/000632485.pdf
  3. Fuji, Yasufumi, and Kazuhiro Obara. 2019. After Digital: Online Merges with Offline. Tokyo: Nikkei BP.

Naoki Tani

Executive Producer & Editor in Chief, Dentsu Institute

Born in Inazawa, Aichi Prefecture in 1956. Entered Dentsu Inc. in 1980; seconded to Dentsu Institute from 1987 to 1993. Became Executive Producer of Dentsu Institute in April 2019.

Born in Inazawa, Aichi Prefecture in 1956. Entered Dentsu Inc. in 1980; seconded to Dentsu Institute from 1987 to 1993. Became Executive Producer of Dentsu Institute in April 2019.