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Anticipation and preparation

People bought their food from different shops, changed their lifestyle to ward off illness and there was widescale adoption of homeworking. Businesses struggled to ensure social distancing, coped with changing supply chains and reviewed their strategy in the light of the pandemic. Education changed beyond recognition and social lives came to an abrupt halt. None of this could have been foreseen – or could it?  

As NPL scanned the horizons and tried to pick out key technologies, the world became more uncertain. Whilst a global pandemic had been identified as a threat, it was not expected to have such an immediate impact or disrupt lives, businesses and countries. COVID-19 has impacted all three drivers of change. 

Expect the unexpected

COVID-19 had a profound and immediate impact. It accelerated some of the changes which were identified in Technology and Measurement Foresighting, and slowed others down. It emphasised how critical quality measurements are for informing policy.

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Agile and innovative

The COVID-19 pandemic spurred NPL on to be innovative and creative so that we could support the national effort on, and play a leading role in, providing confidence in solutions to new measurement problems. We performed tests to help verify and validate performance of materials, instruments, and sensors and used our state-of-the-art machines, tools and 3D printing capability to make prototypes and new products. 

Our work on Technology and Measurement Foresighting has ensured we were prepared and able to cope with changing priorities and embrace new ways of working. Measurement science is essential for the development and assessment of evidence-based policy, which is vital in these uncertain times. 

Find out more about NPL's COVID-19 response.

Getting a glimpse of the future

Technology and Measurement Foresighting forecasted that... 

What happened during COVID-19 

Homes will become digitally integrated and connected to allow integration of relaxation and working environments   

1.7 million people in the UK were working from home during lockdown, massively speeding up this process (ONS)

There will be strain on mental and physical health due to blurred work-home boundaries and the potential for never leaving the home. 

Just under two-thirds of 16- to 69-year-olds were affected by boredom, stress and anxiety and the inability to make plans. (BBC)

There is a need for robust infrastructure to support living and working from home, particularly in rural areas.

While connections remain steady for most and an increasing number of people can access speedy connections, rural areas still lag behind towns and cities. (Which)

Sustainable distribution will increase as food supply chains get shorter.    

Small independent stores had 69% more sales, and small local food store chains increased by more than 30%. (Guardian)

Continuous data collection and health monitoring will become more common. 

More than 4 million UK citizens signed up for the ZOE app to monitor COVID symptoms. 

New methods for selling products and services will emerge. 

Contactless, cashless transactions became the norm, QR codes were commonly used and supply chains were redrawn. (Independent, Wired)

Public perception and attitude towards personal travel will change as a result of environmental and ethical drivers. 

Cleaner air, quieter streets, fewer aeroplanes and more bicycles were all unimaginanable before lockdown, but they all had an impact on our lives. (Guardian)

Remote doctor consultations will be common.

NHS figures reveal 48% of GP appointments in May were carried out over the phone. (Guardian

Online shopping will increase. 

More than three quarters of people in the UK now do at least some online grocery shopping, and half of consumers feel their shopping habits will change permanently due to the crisis. (BBC


Discover how technology and measurement science will shape the future.

More information

Find out more about Technology and Measurement Foresighting.

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