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Commentary / Analysis, Government & politics, Public policy, Innovation, Future Skills, Munk School

A Critical Analysis of International Organizations’ and Global Management Consulting Firms’ Consensus Around Twenty-First Century Skills

A growing number of academic studies and policy reports have identified a set of core skills considered crucial in the twenty-first century economy. This article critically examines the evidence base underpinning that ideational consensus among international organizations (IOs) and global management consulting firms (GMCFs). We collected 234 skills reports produced over the past decade by major IOs (European Commission, ILO, OECD, UNESCO, and World Bank) and GMCFs (BCG, Deloitte, Ernest and Young, KPMG, McKinsey, and PWC). We then extracted bibliographic references from each report and used the analytic technique of citation analysis to examine how the consensus around these core skills was generated in order to uncover the authoritative sources of knowledge and the pattern of ideational policy diffusion observed. Our analysis reveals substantial gaps in the evidence base used. Evidence drew largely on a few academic economists, along with strong use of grey literature, and high rates of self-citation. Given these characteristics, the consensus around twenty-first century skills appears less epistemic in nature and more like an ideational echo chamber, which raises concerns about the extent to which policymakers should rely on this evidence.