‘We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world'

New British Psychological Society President Dr Hazel McLaughlin follows up last month’s interview with a focus on change and the future.

When you were voted in as President Elect, you said: ‘Now is a time of change, not only within the BPS and psychology, but in our country and globally.’
We are entering a new normal and a period of economic uncertainty. Crisis is not new, but the scope and scale of Covid-19 will have profound impact. Over 50 per cent of the world GDP is in lockdown and the recovery plans are uncertain. Different countries have reacted in different ways. Some organisations are making the most of the crisis and seeking out competitive advantage, whilst others find it challenging to see a way forward and may collapse.

This process will accelerate changes that are already underway. These include technological advances, multi-generational workforce, the rise of the gig economy and the need for new and innovative ways of working.

The NHS is vital and are the heroes of the current crisis. With many of our members in the NHS it is important that the BPS informs government policy and is at the forefront in lobbying and enabling our members in terms of provision of services and the expectations on staff. Equally the BPS has a significant role to play in the changes in education and encouraging research, open access and quality information for decision-makers. Neuroscience helps us to explain what is under the bonnet, to explore the workings of the mind. This is another growth area where psychology should be at the forefront. The BPS should be ahead of the curve, drive the agenda rather than respond to it.

What will success look like at the end of your Presidential term, and 10 years down the line?
Psychology can add significant value in many areas of our daily lives and in how we understand the human condition. For me, a long-term goal is to develop and encouraged talent and to enable innovation in psychology. Over my career, I have mentored many psychologists and it is gratifying to see them succeed and excel in their chosen field. Developing talent and enabling others to succeed is a hallmark of my career. This will continue to be a key focus in my Presidential year.

We should also look to collaborate and work with other liked-minded organisations. My focus is around how best to develop talent and how to enhance quality research and innovation. In addition, I want to ensure that we pay more than lip service to diversity and inclusion. The Presidential Taskforce has been established but the next stage is to expand this and to have a wider impact internally within the BPS and externally in terms of psychological professions. We need to communicate well, to influence policy and to focus on an evidence-based approach.

How do you think Psychology might have changed by the year 2040?
This is a hard question because we simply do not know. Who would have predicted the current Covid-19 situation back in 2000? We certainly live in a VUVA world; Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Having said this, I think there are trends that will help to shape our world for 2040.

A critical factor is the implications of technological change, both in terms of rapid change and in terms of impact on our lives. Undoubtedly our world is becoming increasingly digital and there is a blurring between the digital and non-digital world. The question becomes how we use the technology; how AI can enhance our lives and avoidance of pitfalls and risks. For me, this digital and data analytical world emphasises the important of social connections and networks. There will be a need for collaboration and for different ways of working.

Part of this will be reflected in the changing power dynamics. Organisations may operate in different ways. Expertise and ideas will be valued but so too will be the ability to build relationships and to use inform power. Flexible working and different contracts will be the norm. We know from research, that people increasingly want a sense of purpose and what to take account of metrics beyond the financial. This includes social change, climate, and the balance that we want in our lives between work and non-work. We now have more dialogue about mental health and wellbeing. Increasingly there is a need to provide support and to enable people to achieve balance. The excesses of social media and the impact that this has on people’s psychological wellbeing needs to be addressed.

I think that psychology; understanding of people, their behaviour and how the mind functions, will be increasingly important. Psychology and the BPS need to have a strong voice and to help to shape the agenda. To sum up, as Albert Einstein said ‘learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning. A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new.’

- See also our interview with Dr McLaughlin from the June issue.

Artwork (above): ‘Reformation of touch’, by Imogen Matthews
‘I interpreted the Covid response in stages, starting with the initial reaction, to transition, to the new norm, with symbolisms and collage of articles from The Psychologist. I’ve included flashes of memories within the brain, formation of new connections (neurons/synapse), and our new norms of tech interface and lack of physical connection. Daffodils represent new beginnings… the anterior cingulate cortex expresses our social pain, and hints at how we find new ways of reforming touch into the uncertain future.’

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