Brainstorming about the big research questions: 4 key themes refined

Posted on June 29, 2018

If there’s one concept that runs through everything we do at the Think Forward Initiative (TFI), it’s the concept of impact. How can we combine and maximise skills and other resources to help about 100 million people make better decisions? TFI is a multidisciplinary and open movement, aiming for a financially resilient society where people make conscious and informed choices, positively impacting their finances.


But before we can come up with solutions and design tools that work, we need to know why and how people make financial decisions. Together with the TFI community we are conducting research to understand what influences our decisions. Which key questions should be tackled?

TFI ’s Research Board – including experts in household finance, data science, behavioural science and economics – has given priority to nine themes within the research agenda for 2018 and 2019. In June 2018, we invited experts from various fields to join us for two days of research workshops, focusing on four of the nine themes. Attendees included professors and other experts from Dutch and foreign universities and institutions, and representatives from companies such as ING, IBM, Dell EMC and Teradata.

Together, we refined the key research questions per theme, and also attempted to identify who would be in the best position to turn the research questions into actual proposals. Here’s a recap of our four workshops:

  • KEY THEME 1: Housing & Homes - June 12

Let’s talk housing. This theme’s relevance to financial well-being is obvious: for most people, housing matters (from selecting a home to a diversity of decisions during the time they live there) are among the most impactful decisions in their lifetime. Certainly from a financial point of view, but also in social and emotional ways. How should people make these decisions future-proof? Is there a smart way to help both homeowners and renters solve various urgent social housing issues related to care and sustainability? And how does divorce – or another emotional life event – affect housing decisions?

  • KEY THEME 2: The Sharing Economy & Consumer Platforms - June 12

The same day, we organized a workshop on the sharing economy. Currently, sharing platforms are already an important and growing phenomenon in our society, offering people access to mobility, housing, food, utilities etc. By 2025, many more sectors will have followed suit, and half of the world’s economy is expected to be somehow affected by sharing. How does our society react to peer-to-peer consumption, which is redefining the concept of ownership? What do extra sources of income – however small – do to us? What are the issues around control on the platforms?

  • KEY THEME 3: The Gig Economy & Labour Market Flexibility - June 14

On June 14, we focused on the so-called gig and flex workers, who provide services on an on-demand basis, little or no strings attached. Freedom! But uncertainty, too. Who are these workers, and how does income volatility affect their decision-making and well-being in the long run? Is gig work a trap or a stepping stone? What are the main social protection risks or benefits associated with this new economy? Questions like these might well be worth researching. The independent workforce has become too big to ignore: right now in Europe and the US, 162 million individuals are estimated to gain their income from the ’atypical’ labour market. People are continuously challenged to balance freedom and flexibility against uncertainty and a lack of security. How could we best cope with these challenges?

  • KEY THEME 4: Artificial Intelligence, Data & Trust - June 14

(workshop June 14)

Data-driven technologies – based on AI and big data – influence us more than we might be aware of. On June 14, participants to this workshop agreed that one of the most important challenges we now face is about trust. How does trust function in modern society? What should we (not) trust, which data should we (not) share? What does trust mean in a human to computer interaction? Which types of artificial intelligence can people rely on, and for which tasks? How can we achieve an acceptable balance between artificial and natural intelligence? Basically, we want to know what the most important challenges are that individuals and households face regarding data-driven technologies, and how we could improve AI-based decision making to have a positive impact on people’s financial lives.

Do you have an impactful research idea relating to these four key themes – or to other themes that are relevant to people’s decision-making and financial well-being? Are you, or experts in your network, interested in writing up a research proposal and ultimately conducting the research project? Read more on our call for proposals here and submit your big idea.