Currid-Halkett co-curates World Economic Forum ‘Transformation Map’ visualizing global consumer landscape

January 8, 2018

By Matthew Kredell

USC Price School of Public Policy Professor Elizabeth Currid-Halkett applied her research on the American consumer economy into the World Economic Forum Transformation Map, which has just been released to the public for the first time.

Presenting insights written by experts along with machine-curated content, transformation maps allow users to visualize and understand more than 120 topics and the connections and inter-dependencies between them, helping in turn to support more informed decision-making by leaders.

Professor Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, James Irvine Chair in Urban and Regional Planning at USC Price

“It was a tremendous honor to work with the World Economic Forum. This organization includes some of the greatest leaders thinking about how issues impact the world and society today,” Currid-Halkett said.

Currid-Halkett was asked to co-curate the “Retail, Consumer Goods and Lifestyle” transformation map by Eric Abelev from the USC Office of the President. USC President C. L. Max Nikias attended the WEF Annual Meeting earlier this year.

The World Economic Forum provided Currid-Halkett the format for the map, and she used her research expertise in the consumer economy to fill in the content. Currid-Halkett recently published a book on the topic, The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class (Princeton University Press 2017).

Visualizing emerging trends

Currid-Halkett’s research on how the 21st century consumer landscape differs remarkably from the 20th century was presented in five topic areas: the global luxury market; immaterial consumption; artisanal production; new patterns of consumption; and the global middle class.

After identifying these important topics impacting retail and consumer goods in today’s global economy, she mapped out how they relate to other key issues. As an example, the trend of artisanal production, along with consumers caring that their purchases aren’t doing any harm to the planet, links to a map on the future of production. A median-wage stagnation in the U.S. middle class leads into expectations in emerging markets.

“I do a lot of research on consumer economics, presenting ideas on consumption and retail in paragraphs, pages and footnotes,” Currid-Halkett said. “I found producing the map to be a useful way to figure out what’s the most important part in that work and provide a lot of knowledge in a way that’s impactful and accessible to a greater audience.”

Spreading ideas to the broader public

The WEF has been creating transformation maps annually since 2015, but this is the first year that the organization is making the maps accessible to the public. Previously, they were kept exclusive to the WEF’s expert network. Today, the full list of maps can be viewed online at:

“I think this is another step to provide really good quality research and ideas to the public for free, which is extremely important in today’s political climate and economy,” Currid-Halkett said.

The experience made an impact on how Currid-Halkett will view her research going forward.

“A lot of my work is domestic. My work with the World Economic Forum encouraged me to branch out and think about how these issues affect the global economy,” she said. “It’s really important to see how one’s research can find a broader audience outside academia and to contribute to a more global and interconnected body of knowledge. It’s good to force yourself to talk about ideas in an accessible way.”