If ever you happen to be close to Decorah, Iowa, on September 13, 2012, join us for the panel event for a lively discussion (RT and share please).
The architecture of the Red (team) Analysis website is built following this process. Each section strives progressively to address the various challenges that are met at each step, to explain and apply various possible methodologies and tools, and finally to deliver real-life strategic foresight and warning products.
This graphic description of a step by step process to anticipate the future in an actionable way is grounded in six years of work with and about systems of anticipation, from early warning systems to prevent conflicts for aid agencies to strategic warning and strategic foresight with security and intelligence agencies and practitioners, in research for commissioned reports and teaching on the topic, as well as on twenty years experience in the field, in central administration and in research in war, international relations, political science, analysis and policy planning.
Last weeks’ summary: In 2012 EVT, Everstate (the ideal-type corresponding to our very real countries created to foresee the future of governance and of the modern nation-state) knows a rising dissatisfaction of its population. Alarmed by the rising difficulties and widespread discontent, the governing authorities decide to do something when new elections start, which starts the second scenario, Panglossy. Dependent upon programmes created to face efficiently past challenges, prisoners of entrenched political groupings, the major parties campaign to come back to the order ante. Meanwhile, the polarisation and rise of a new opposition that took place during the election is temporarily frozen by the last hope thus created. The new Everstatan government decides that a return to economic efficiency through growth is the key to the crisis. It chooses and starts implementing specific policies.
(The reader can click on each picture to see a larger version in a new tab - a navigating map of posts is available to ease reading – research note before the references).
The logic underlying what presides to the level of satisfaction of Everstate’s population, or to any population for that matter, does not change according to the decisions of a government. Everstatans will assess the security that their government provides through the lenses of their expectations, of their constructed beliefs, considering all the pressures, present and anticipated, to which they are subjected and that impact, directly or indirectly their lives (for more details, see the whole series of post on 2012 EVT, starting with Rising Discontent).
All those pressures lead people to seek a security that becomes increasingly more difficult to achieve, which implies that the task of governing for any government becomes more complex, more demanding. Besides, the new pressures also directly affect the way to govern, contributing to make the task of governing even more difficult.
Meanwhile, the newly elected Everstatan government chose to focus all its policies on restoring growth, which means, in its eyes, the efficiency of the economy. The increase of the minimal wage, to start with, definitely gives a short breathing time to those Everstatans who are paid through wages.
However, it changes nothing to the anxiety and low-income created by imposed temporary employment and economic short-term employment, or to the fear to be laid off and only find back mini jobs, as is increasingly common in Germany. It does not either impact this unknown share of the population who finds work only in unpaid jobs, such as the voluntary sector, internship, or the virtual “gift economy,” or in jobs where it is less paid than it should (wage dumping – Der Spiegel 2012).
Considering self-employed and temporary employment, rather than only full-time employment is indeed crucial. The OECD underlined this point in its December 2011 report (see figure below): when self-employed and part-time workers are included in statistics, the inequality rises. It is likely that if unpaid work were considered, inequalities would be even stronger.
As young people are most often in those unfortunate categories, underpaid and under-recognised, their parents, worried, are more inclined to spare than to consume.
Other factors play in favour of cautiousness for Everstatans. The price of oil remains volatile and relatively high and with it the price of electricity. In turn, this has an impact on the general cost of resources, of trade and thus of manufactured goods.Besides, the price of most natural resources is increasing, be it because supply is reduced, because extraction costs increase, because demand rises, or because of a combination of those three factors.
Even more worrying, nothing has changed compared with 2012 EVT as far as food is concerned and food is increasingly expensive.
Media, concerned scholars, advocacy groups and social networks all relate, document, and monitor the rising price of all resources, and the inevitability of this trend. Thus citizens anticipate more and worse increases.
As the rise of the minimum wage is not as high as the past increase of prices for the products bought most commonly and frequently (which is very different from the inflation indices that include other types of goods bought much less frequently and for which prices decrease, as well as wages), then the new wages only allow to loosen the straitjacket into which Everstatans feel trapped. They do not permit finding back the level of consumption that existed beforehand, even less catching up, and, considering expectations of continuing soaring prices, the feeling of safety that use to exist remains absent. As a result, the expected boost to growth does not take place.
Meanwhile, the strong and rising inequality that has been at work in Everstate as in the other OECD countries (with variations according to countries) since the mid to end of the 1970s, and that went worse with the crisis in Everstate as in many countries will not change, and will only fuel the feeling of relative deprivation and injustice, despite the new government’s efforts.*
As the new Everstatan government has also planned other policies, could those, giving them some time to bear fruits have more favourable impacts? Yet, if more delays are necessary, will Everstatans accept and be able to wait?
* Research note:
It is interesting to note that few questioned the rising inequalities not only until the financial and economic crisis but also – and maybe mainly – until food (and resource) prices soared or strongly rose according to cases and thus when the larger mass of citizens became impacted in its everyday life, as suggested by Timothy Harper’s finding in The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya, Cambridge University Press, 2001. Further research should be done on this phenomenon, building upon, for example, work already done such as Marco Lagi, Yavni Bar-Yam, Karla Z. Bertrand, Yaneer Bar-Yam, The Economics of Food Prices and Crises, New England Complex Systems Institute, 2012, but considering all countries, including OECD ones. Harper’s argument is larger than those focusing on food prices and protests.
Although those inequalities were pointed out in some reports on globalisation (including in internal reports of quasi-states organisations and IGOs) and by the initial anti-globalisation movement at the end of the 1990s (notably by ATTAC), it was far from being on the political agenda, outside the aid and cooperation world and, there, was limited to approaches to “the South” or “the developing world” (see the excellent post by Jay Ulfelder on those outmoded categories). The crisis, with the fear of social unrest, changed this, and, for example, the OECD produced in October 2008 a complete report titled Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries, followed by another one in December 2011.
Jay Ulfelder, There Are Two Kinds of Countries in the World: _____ and _____, Dart-Throwing Chimp Blog, 25 May 2012.
Eurostat, Unemployment statistics, Data up to March 2012.
OECD, Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries, October 2008.
Facundo, Alvaredo, Anthony B. Atkinson, Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, The World Top Incomes Database.
FAO, “The April FAO Food Price Index down slightly from March,” World Food Situation, FAO Food Price Index, 03/05/2012.
International Institute for Labour Studies (IILS), World of Work Report 2012 ‘Better Jobs for a Better Economy’, ILO, 2012.
OECD, Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising, December 2011.
The Local, Germany’s News in English, “Low-paid ‘mini-jobs’ on the rise,” 26 Apr 11.
Der Spiegel, “Millions Left Behind in Boom The High Cost of Germany’s Economic Success,” 05/04/2012.
Durden,Tyler Europe’s Scariest Chart Just Got Scarier-er, Zerohedge, 05/02/2012.
Last weeks’ summary: In 2012 EVT, Everstate (the ideal-type corresponding to our very real countries created to foresee the future of governance and of the modern nation-state) knows a rising dissatisfaction of its population. Alarmed by the rising difficulties and widespread discontent, the governing authorities decide to do something when new elections start. Dependent upon programmes created to face efficiently past challenges, prisoners of entrenched political groupings, comforted in their vision by the BRICS’ success and renewed optimism, the major parties campaign to come back to the order ante. As a result, habits and the existing system, once the new national representatives are elected and the new government starts ruling, are even more entrenched, almost ossified. Meanwhile, the polarisation and rise of a new opposition that took place during the election is temporarily frozen by the last hope created by the newly elected government.
(The reader can click on each picture to see a larger version in a new tab - a navigating map of posts is available to ease reading).
The new government, thus, decides that it must restore an efficient economy, which is the only solution to come back to a balanced and propitious situation. Its main criteria and aim for this is to re-establish growth and more particularly the growth of the GDP, as the available models of socio-political order dictate.
With growth, the dissatisfaction of citizens will disappear as they will find jobs again and the capability to enjoy the consumer society to which they are used. Meanwhile, all elite groups will be satisfied as they will continue enjoying their status and privileges. Hence the tension will decrease and peace will come back.
Growth will imply wealth and as wealth increases again, debts will not mean deleveraging but, on the contrary, leverage. With the rise of GDP, the ratio debt-GDP will automatically diminish, which will satisfy the financial markets, while the cost of the debt will be much less burdensome. Thus, with growth, the crisis will be solved. Of course, for a short while, public spending will have to be harnessed, but nothing that could deter growth. This will be the opportunity to introduce more efficiency and rationalisation in state’s management, which will only be favourable on the longer term.
Now the vision is laid down, Everstate’s government, with its international counterparts, only has to implement it through sets of policies. Repeating as mantra that growth must be obtained is notably insufficient, especially as the legitimacy of political authorities, and not only of the previous government, is questioned as a result of the ongoing crisis. Trust must be restored, investment and innovation boosted, consumption re-established.*
To achieve this, Everstate’s government decides first to give a boost to minimum wages, which will restore consumption and restart the engine. Furthermore, it will immediately implement “growth mainstreaming” throughout all policies.** Although Everstatans, in general, have a high education level and a large part of the population holds university degrees (see the power of Novstate), education and training are singled out as some of the structural long-term policies that need emphasis to be able to improve Everstate’s competitiveness and thus growth.***
Then, Everstate spearheads the creation of a new international meeting group for the resilience of the financial system, linked to the G-20, and involving the major financial private institutions. The new financial meeting group must bring back trust to markets and allow for a return to a proper flow of liquidity. It is expected that the need for and extent of regulation of financial markets will be intensely debated.
Finally, Everstate participates in an International Special fund for Sustainable Innovation and Green Energy (ISSIGE) that will help polities harnessing the ecological evolution and the increasing complexity of resources, and transform those into opportunities. A specific instrument will be organised around the Regional Union and should “fund pan-Regional infrastructure projects.”**** High level civil servants and famous Everstatans of universities, the classical media and the private sector join their colleagues in this high level new fund, built as a network as networks are more efficient than top down organisations, to determine its strategy and policies, identify projects that need funding, etc.
What are the impacts of those policies on the level of satisfaction of citizens? Will Everstate’s new government succeed, not only in bringing back growth, but also, thanks to the growth restored, in overcoming the main challenges and difficulties its predecessor faced? To know it, we need to re-run the model used for 2012 EVT, while including what happened in 2012 EVT and the Panglossy conditions and decisions, i.e. a level of tension that is high enough to have created polarisation, loss of legitimacy, protests, rise of a non-classical political movement, even if non violent and frozen for the moment.
* For a good summary of a specific, mainstream, approach to policies leading to growth, Tyler Durden, “The Keynesian Emperor, Undressed, ” Zerohedge, 05/21/2012. Contrast with a critical view, the excellent video of Prof Keen’s interview, as recommended by @Greentak: Megan Ashcroft, “In Conversation with: Steve Keen,” The Renegade Economist, 16 October 2011.
Interestingly as of 21 May, although now so many agree on the need for a “growth compact” or “growth pact,” we find few concrete policies and practical explanations regarding the how this will be done. Read, for example among many other, The Financial Times Editorial, “A pact for growth is vital for Europe,” FT, May 4, 2012; Martin Lowy, “The Soon-To-Be-Born European Growth Compact,” Seeking Alpha, May 1, 2012; Shai Ahmed, “‘Sexy’ Europe Growth Compact Inevitable; Greece to Stay: Pro,” CNBC, 17 May 2012; The Telegraph, “ECB chief Mario Draghi calls for euro ‘growth compact’,” The Telegraph, 25 April 2012; Debating Europe, “Will a “growth compact” go far enough?” 14 May 2012; Tyler Durden, “Overnight Sentiment: A Summit Here, A Summit There, A Promise Of Growth And QE Everywhere,” Zerohedge, 05/21/2012; Paola Subacchi and Stephen Pickford, “Broken Forever? Addressing Europe’s Multiple Crises,” Chatham House Briefing Paper, March 2012. Peter Spiegel, “Diplomats back EU ‘project bonds’ plan,” FT, May 21, 2012.
** See the example of “Gender mainstreaming,” as explained in Wikipedia.
*** Tyler Durden, “The Keynesian Emperor, Undressed, ” Zerohedge, 05/21/2012.
**** Adapted from Peter Spiegel, “Diplomats back EU ‘project bonds’ plan,” FT, May 21, 2012.
This gallery contains 8 photos.
Delivery to clients of strategic foresight and warning (SF&W) or futures related products is, as we saw, a crucial part of the overall SF&W process. Without delivery, there is neither warning nor foresight, however accurate and brilliant the underlying analyses. … Continue reading
Check the embedded Pearltree below for automatically updated map – The featured image for this post is a snapshot of a map done with Pearltrees.
This page is about presenting ways to follow and access the series of posts constituting The Chronicles of Everstate, beyond the usual linear menus or the detailed outline in the website footer.
This idea, mapping the very posts of The Chronicles of Everstate, is a direct result of the interactive quality of this foresight experiment. One faithful reader, indeed, underlined that, as the number of posts increased, reading and understanding was becoming more complex, notably for newcomers. He suggested that a map would be very helpful to allow users and readers to navigate among posts. We then discussed various ways to implement this idea. Here are the results of this idea. From May onwards, only the navigating map using Pearltree will be updated, as it is the only one to allow doing so automatically. The previous maps are kept as example of what can be done.
Click on the image to access the interactive map of the posts on Pearltrees, or below see the embedded Pearltree. There, the various links between posts are displayed, although it is impossible to have multiple parents for a same post, unfortunately. The trick, which can be used, is to duplicate children nodes. However, it seems to me that all the other advantages, as shall be explained in detail in a dedicated post, including the possibility to embed the tree in a blog post, far outweigh the inconvenient.
The Chronicles of Everstate Mapped with Personal Brain (not updated anymore)
Click on the image to access the interactive map of the posts on Webbrain. There, the various links between posts are displayed, and each post can be accessed by clicking on the hyperlink displayed in the window at the bottom of the page. Hyperlink access in indicated by a favicon before the label of the idea, which is also the title of the post.
A (non-interactive) map using Gephi (not updated after 10 May 2012)
The violet nodes correspond to categories and menus (that may include other posts). The dark blue nodes correspond to posts of The Chronicles of Everstate and the grey nodes either to parts of posts or to a topic subdivided in two or more posts.
The red nodes indicate either the first scenario, Mamominarch that has been narrated already or the second one that shall be told starting May 13. The last scenario (in green) is forthcoming. Turquoise nodes are forthcoming posts.
Once variables (also called factors and drivers according to authors) have been identified – and in our case mapped, most foresight methodologies aim at reducing their number, i.e. keeping only a few of those variables.
Indeed, considering cognitive limitations, as well as finite resources, one tries obtaining a number of variables that can be easily and relatively quickly combined by the human brain.
Furthermore, considering also the potential adverse reactions of practitioners to complex models, being able to present a properly simplified or reduced model (however remaining faithful to the initial one) is most often necessary.
When the foresight methodology does not include links between variables, thus if we don’t have a graph or a map, then the way to select variables is by ranking them according to specific criteria. Among the criteria most used, one finds likelihood and impact, or impact and uncertainty (i.e. one does not know how the variables will evolve). However, in a complex world, which includes feedback loops and where ripple effects exit, not linking variables is a serious handicap.
When variables are linked (as here), the method most commonly used is to identify the most influential variables – influence analysis – and then to reduce the foresight analysis to those variables. Hence, scenarios will be constructed around those influential variables. There are different ways to proceed.
Some systems, such as Parmenides Eidos™ and all similar approaches, e.g. Singapore RAHS 1.6 (watch the technological demonstration video, especially from 3:32mn onwards), use what graph and network theory call indegree and outdegree centrality measures. The indegree of a node (our variable) is the number of head endpoints adjacent to the node, i.e. how many edges (arrows) arrive to this node. It represents the number of variables that influence this node. The larger the indegree, the more influenced the variable is.
The outdegree of a node is the number of tail endpoints adjacent to the node, i.e. how many edges (arrows) leave from this node. It represents the number of variables that are influenced by this node. The larger the outdegree, the more influential the variable is.
However, as underlined by Arcade, Godet et al. (Structural Analysis with the MICMAC Method, 2009), this method only considers direct influence. What happens if one variable exerts only a single influence on one group of variables, but if this group of variable exerts a strong influence on the whole system? The importance of the initial variable would be downplayed if we were considering only direct influence.
In graph and network theory, various measurements – centrality measures – exist that allow identifying various types of importance of a node in relation to the whole network or graph. However, those measurements were created initially with social analysis in mind, not for foresight analysis.
After having tested them against the direct influence idea and with foresight in mind, the measure that is chosen here to determine the initial set of criteria is the Eigenvector centrality. Again, using Gephi allows for easy and instantaneous calculation of all centrality measures.
We should however underline that we lose here the information differentiating between influenced and influential nodes. This is why graph and network analysis use an array of measurement and not a single one, and why we used here Eigenvector centrality measures against indegree and outdegree when selecting Eigenvector centrality measures.
Further tests should be designed to refine the choice of measurement for this revisited influence analysis.
The influence graph
Once influence (or degree centrality in graph and network theory) is measured, the variables are positioned on a graph, the “influence graph,” with as abscissa (x axis) dependency or influence received, and as ordinate (y axis) influence.
This can be easily done with Gephi by choosing the layout called “Geo Layout” and entering, in the case of the degree measurements, “indegree” for longitude and “outdegree” for latitude.
The location of variables on the graph expresses their type of influence and they are labelled accordingly:
- Top left quadrant – most influential variables: drivers (usual) or influent variables (MicMac method, Godet)
- Top right quadrant – most influenced and influential nodes: pivots (usual) or relay variables (MicMac method, Godet)
- Bottom right quadrant – most influenced variables: outcomes (usual) or depending variables (MicMac method, Godet)
- Bottom left quadrant – neglected variables, considered as less important in strict influence analysis terms.
- The MicMac method of Godet adds further distinctions, as shows in red on the graph.
Once variables have been sorted out according to influence, then the variables that are seen as most important are usually selected and used to proceed to the next step. For example, on may redraw a map using only the drivers, pivots and outcomes and then move to creating foresight scenarios or to Morphological Analysis with those selected variables.
However, as seen, foresight methods usually start from an explicitly limited number of variables, which allow them to select at the end of the influence analysis between 2 and 10 variables. Here, on the contrary we use as many variables as needed for the map to be a good enough model, and thus the influence analysis, whatever the measurement chosen, does not lead to the easy selection of this very limited number of variables.
Furthermore, the selection of only those variables, if it can seem helpful initially, becomes a disadvantage when we move to the creation of scenarios. Experience shows that it is practically impossible to construct a serious narrative with only those selected variables. When constructing narratives, one automatically and unconsciously reintroduces other variables that had been previously eliminated. As those variables are now reintroduced unsystematically and without guidelines, the door is opened for any kind of mistake and biases can easily creep in.
Finally, it is scientifically absurd and wrong to dispense with one variable, when we know it is there. It could lead to erroneous foresight and then warning. Furthermore, in the case of warning, ignoring variables could deprive us of crucial indicators and thus impede the overall warning on the issue at hand.
Revisiting influence analysis: from reduction to setting initial criteria
Hence, in the methodology used here, we shall do otherwise. We shall NOT reduce the number of variables but use a method that could be called propagation and is made possible by the existence of ego networks in social network analysis.
Does it mean that we can fully dispense with influence analysis? The answer is evidently no – or this post would not have been written – but we shall use it for a different purpose.
We shall use influence analysis to set the initial criteria that will give us the point of departure for constructing the narrative of our scenarios.
According to cases, between 5 and 10 variables can be chosen as initial criteria. The rule of thumb is to try to determine variables truly standing out. Visualization is here very helpful. If the software used is Gephi, then one will also be able to choose various features such as filters allowing selecting various ranges of variables according to measurement. As no variable has been suppressed, fixing the number of initial variables is not a crucial problem and cannot lead to major mistakes. It is more a matter of convenience to be able to start telling the stories of the future (narrating the scenarios).
Cite as Helene Lavoix, (2011), “Revisiting influence analysis,” The Chronicles of Everstate, Red (Team) Analysis, http://wp.me/p1S3g8-50.
Arcade, Jacques, Godet, Michel, Meunier, Francis, and Roubelat, Fabrice, “Structural Analysis with the MICMAC Method & Actors’ Strategy with MACTOR Method,” The Millennium Project: Futures Research Methodology, Version 3.0, Ed. Jerome C. Glenn and Theodore J. 2009, Ch 11.
Glenn, Jerome C. and The Futures Group International, “Scenarios,” The Millennium Project: Futures Research Methodology, Version 3.0, Ed. Jerome C. Glenn and Theodore J. 2009, Ch 19.
Hanneman, Robert A. and Mark Riddle. 2005. Introduction to social network methods. Riverside, CA: University of California, Riverside ( published in digital form at http://faculty.ucr.edu/~hanneman/ )
Ritchey, Tom; “Morphological analysis,” The Millennium Project: Futures Research Methodology, Version 3.0, Ed. Jerome C. Glenn and Theodore J. 2009, Ch 1.
To exist, foresight products as well as warnings must be delivered to those who must act upon them, the customers, clients or users. Furthermore, they must be provided in a timely fashion. This criterion of timeliness is extremely important. It means that customers or users will have enough time to decide and then implement any necessary course of action as warranted by foresight.
Timeliness: enabling the coordination of response
Most often, the challenge of timeliness is thus understood as stemming from the need to conciliate on the one hand the dynamics which are specific to the issue, object of anticipation, and on the other the related decision and coordination of the response.
Let us take the example of Peak Oil, i.e. the date when “world oil production will reach a maximum – a peak – after which production will decline” (Hirsch, 2005, 11) which implies the end of a widespread availability of cheap (conventional crude) oil. The phenomenon is now well documented and relatively widely recognized, from scientists’ reports, associations, institutions and books (see, for example, the creation of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas in 2000 , Robert Hirsch report (2005), the Institut Français du Pétrole (IFP), Thomas Homer Dixon, Michael Klare or Jeff Rubin), to web resources such as The Oil Drum or Energy Bulletin to finally the International Energy Agency (IEA – it recognised the peaking of Peak Oil in 2010, e.g. Staniford, 2010), despite still some resistance by a shrinking number of actors.
Notwithstanding other impacts, Hirsch estimates that 20 years of a “mitigation crash program before peaking” would have allowed avoiding “a world liquid fuels shortfall” (Hirsch, 2005). Assuming that oil peaked in 2006, as evaluated by the IEA, if we had wanted to have an energy mix of replacement for the now gone cheap oil, then we should have decided implementing and then coordinating a response… back in 1986. Thus SF&W on this issue should have been delivered some time before 1986.
Obviously, this did not happen, even if one starts finding rare articles regarding Peak Oil earlier (e.g. the 1974 miscalculated warning for a global Peak Oil happening in 1995 by M. King Hubbert (Wikipedia ‘Predicting the timing of Peak Oil’) and much later Colin J. Campbell and Jean H. Laherrere, “The end of cheap oil,” Scientific American, March 1998). Why?
Timeliness, credibility and biases
Jack Davis, writing on strategic warning in the case of US national security, hints at the importance of another criterion linked to timeliness, credibility:
“Analysts must issue a strategic warning far enough in advance of the feared event for US officials to have an opportunity to take protective action, yet with the credibility to motivate them to do so. No mean feat. Waiting for evidence the enemy is at the gate usually fails the timeliness test; prediction of potential crises without hard evidence can fail the credibility test. When analysts are too cautious in estimative judgments on threats, they brook blame for failure to warn. When too aggressive in issuing warnings, they brook criticism for “crying wolf.”
For Davis, credibility is the provision of “hard evidence” to back up foresight. Of course, as we deal with the future, hard evidence will consist in understanding of processes and their dynamics (the model used, preferably an explicit model) added to facts indicating that events are more or less likely to unfold according to this understanding.
Credibility is, however, also something more than hard evidence. To obtain credibility, people must believe you. Hence, biases of the customers, clients or users must be overcome. Thus, whatever the validity of the hard evidence in the eyes of the analyst, it must also be seen as such by others. The various biases that can be an obstacle to this credibility have started being largely documented (e.g. Heuer). Actually, explaining the model used and providing indications, or describing plausible scenarios are ways to overcome some of the biases, notably out-dated cognitive models. Yet, relying only on this scientific logic is insufficient, as shown by Craig Anderson, Mark Lepper, and Lee Ross in their paper “Perseverance of Social Theories: The Role of Explanation in the Persistence of Discredited Information.” Thus, other ways to minimize biases must be imagined and included, that will most probably involve time. The possibility to deliver the SF&W product will be accordingly delayed.
Credibility and more broadly overcoming biases are so important that I would go further than Davis and incorporate them within the very idea of timeliness. This would be much closer to the definition of timely, according to which something is “done or occurring at a favourable or useful time; opportune” (Google dictionary result for timely). Indeed there cannot be timely SF&W if those who must act cannot hear it.
If the SF&W product is delivered at the wrong time, then it will be neither heard nor considered, decisions will not be taken nor actions implemented.
More difficult, biases also affect the very capability of analysts to think the world and thus to even start analysing issues. We are there faced with cases of partial or full collective blindness, when timeliness cannot be achieved because SF&W analysis cannot even start in the specific sectors of society where this analysis is meant to be done.
This is most probably what happened for our example of Peak Oil. If a model existed, created by M. King Hubbert, the initial miscalculation led to some loss of credibility as those denying peak oil underlined and still emphasize, even though King Hubbert model was not wrong. Analysts in SF&W in the early 1980s were more preoccupied with the Cold War than concerned by anything else. Afterwards, the system that had won against the Communist world could not even be thought not being perfect. Such highly disturbing threats that could question the prevalent worldview could not be envisioned. Had they been, they would most probably have been discarded first by policy makers then by political leaders. Furthermore, a host of actors had interest in a permanence of the ideological setting, which would have made the possibility to see a very early foresight work on peak oil develop very remote indeed (I am emphasizing here unconscious reactions and “deafness,” not hidden maneuvers).
Timeliness as the intersection of three dynamics
Thus, to summarize timeliness is best seen as the intersection of three dynamics:
- The dynamics and time of the issue or problem at hand, knowing that, especially when they are about nature, those dynamics will tend to prevail (Elias, 1992)
- The dynamics of the coordination of the response (including decision)
- The dynamics of cognition (or evolution of beliefs and awareness) – at collective and individual level – of the actors involved.
To understand each dynamic is, in itself, a challenge. Even more difficult, each dynamic acts upon the others, making it impossible to truly hope to achieve timeliness if the impact of one dynamic on the others is ignored.
For example, if we continue with our initial case of Peak Oil, having been unable to even think the possibility of Peak oil in the early 1980s has dramatically changed the current possible dynamics of the response, while both the cognitive delay and the absence of previous decisions and actions have orientated the dynamics of the issue towards some paths, while others are definitely closed. Any SF&W delivered on this issue now is quite different from what would have been delivered 20 years ago, assuming it could have been heard.
To acknowledge the difficulty of finding the timely moment, and the impossibility to ever practice an ideal SF&W in an imagined world where everyone – at individual and collective level – would have perfect cognition is not to negate SF&W. Answering this challenge with a “what is the point to do it now as we did not do it when things were easy/easier” is childish. On the contrary, fully acknowledging hurdles is to have a more mature attitude regarding who we are as human beings, accepting our shortcomings but also trusting in our creativity and capacity to work to overcome the most difficult challenges. It is to open the door to the possibility to develop strategies and related tools to improve the timeliness of SF&W, thus making it more actionable and efficient:
- Creating evolving products that will be adapted to the moment of delivery;
- Using the appearance of groups, communities, even single scholarly or other work on new dangers, threats and opportunities as potential weak signals that are still unthinkable by the majority;
- Developing and furthering our understanding of the dynamics of cognition and finding ways to act on them or, to the least, to accompany them;
- Participating fully in the current effort, which has just started within societies, at re-designing decision systems and response capabilities.
Anderson, Craig A., Mark R. Lepper, and Lee Ross, “Perseverance of Social Theories: The Role of Explanation in the Persistence of Discredited Information,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1980, Vol. 39, No.6, 1037-1049.
Campbell, Colin J. and Jean H. Laherrere, “The end of cheap oil,” Scientific American, March 1998.
Davis, Jack, “Improving CIA Analytic Performance: Strategic Warning,” The Sherman Kent Center for Intelligence Analysis Occasional Papers: Volume 1, Number 1, accessed September 12, 2011.
Dixon, Thomas Homer, The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of civilization, (Knopf, 2006).
Elias, Norbert, Time: An Essay, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992)
Hirsch, Robert L., SAIC, Project Leader, Roger Bezdek, MISI, Robert Wendling, MISI Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation & Risk Management, For the U.S. DOE, February 2005.
International Energy Agency (IEA), World Energy Outlook 2010.
Klare, Michael, Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America’s Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum, (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004; paperback, Owl Books, 2005).
Klare, Michael, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy (Henry Holt & Company, Incorporated, 2008).
Rubin, Jeff, Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization, Random House, 2009.
Staniford, Stuart, “IEA acknowledges peak oil,” Published Nov 10 2010, Energy Bulletin.
As Cynthia Grabo underlines, a warning does not exist if it is not delivered. Similarly, a foresight product – or risk assessment or horizon scan – has to be delivered. Furthermore, if foresight and warning are to be actionable, then clients or customers – those to whom the product has been delivered – must pay heed to the foresight, or warning. What they decide to do with those is another story, but from the point of view of SF&W, they must receive them, know they have received them and as much as possible consider them.
Strategic foresight and futures’ efforts, as well as related literature, with a few exceptions, have rarely focused explicitly on this specific part of the overall process. Yet, it is crucial. As a first step, it has much to learn from the warning part of the activity. Then, both strategic foresight and warning may also have much to learn from the mobile and social networking approach that is being constantly imagined and re-imagined.
Learning from warning
In a nutshell, the – ideal – approach that strategic actionable foresight must learn from warning underlines that:
- Clients or customers must be identified – mapping is a must.
- Warning officers – and thus strategic foresight practitioners too – must learn to know their customers and develop overtime a trusting relationship with them
- Products can thence be adapted to customers
- Products must be delivered to customers and related necessary channels of communication created if need be
- Feedback on delivery and products must be asked customers, hoping the latter will have time to provide them.
If those steps are followed then we have improved the likelihood to see our customers paying heed to foresight and warning products. Many challenges, however, are lurking behind those apparently simple steps, potentially hindering the best completion of each of them. First and foremost, the various biases, as summarized by Heuer, that alter the understanding of any human being, will be at work. They will affect not only customer but also analyst and officer in their relationship to customers, as astutely pointed out by Woocher.
Learning from the social and mobile web: from Taylorism and consumerism to the 21st century
Without entering into the specifics of each bias and each challenge, which is more than a blog post can do, I would like here to suggest that the social and mobile web could help us with this specific phase of the SF&W process. It could not only by give us new capabilities but also, and primarily, a new philosophy.
Moving from customers to users
Usually, chains of command and hierarchical structures define who gets SF&W products. They have been established over time, exist and are necessary as such. Yet, as far as those traditional existing “customers” or “clients” are concerned, most usually policy-makers and decision-makers, could it be worthwhile to change our mind-set, not seeing them anymore as “customers,” but, instead, as is done by the mobile and social web, considering them as users? Customers are those to whom one sells products or services, if we pursue the analogy (with all the potential biases this imply, as for example studied by Nolan, MacEachin, and Tockman).
Users refer to a different universe. It imply that we provide them with tools (concrete or immaterial), instruments that are first and foremost useful and of value to them; devices that are needed to construct, to act, that will be helpful in the accomplishment of their mission. The emphasis moves from something that can be useless, that can been thrown away or disregarded and that is separated from the person who must buy it, to a long-term relationship, to the consideration of the other and its needs first – or rather the needs of its mission. This would be somehow adopting the first core principle of Google’s philosophy.
If we adopt the user’s approach, then we can start our process of identification again, with a fresh mind:
- Are we sure that all the necessary, actual and potential users have been identified?
- Would other people benefit from using SF&W?
- Would it be a useful tool for them? Would it be necessary that they used it?
Those questions are more difficult than it appears for polities as they also touch upon democracy on the one hand, and power on the other.
First, in a representative democracy, policy-makers are those who are elected, and decision to act (or not act) should remain in their hands. Thus, care will be taken when or if new users are outside the nexus of elected representatives to see the democratic process respected.
Second, SF&W is (or should be) an essential tool of power, of might (the German Macht – verb machen = do) in its meaning of doing something. Thus, identifying new users may potentially lead to power struggles and care should be taken in advance to mitigate such drawback.
Moving from product and delivery to tools and reception
Currently, once all the policy-makers and decision-makers are known, then the most advanced practitioners design specific format and delivery – seen as a unified process – for the product, according to clients. The form and the delivery must be adapted to customers and will achieve the aim to get their attention and raise their awareness.
If we move to users, then product becomes tool, the emphasis on delivery can switch to reception, and then one should also think about the use of the tool. An overall strategy, centered on the actionable use of SF&W can thus be imagined, designed and implemented. One will have to ask questions such as
- In which circumstances and how would the users use the tool?
- Which form should this tool have to best be used by them?
- What are the best channels that will give the best possible reception by the user? Considering the difficulty of changing mind-sets, which is one hurdle SF&W must always overcome, this question is particularly important as it will also lead us to try identifying how the users think, the dynamics behind cognition, including most opportune moments, what and who has influence on their thinking.
Once we switch to the users’ approach, then the capabilities of the social and mobile web can be fully integrated and adapted to SF&W. We shall examine specific ideas in future posts.
Grabo, Cynthia M., and Jan Goldman. Anticipating Surprise: Analysis for Strategic Warning. [Washington, D.C.?]: Center for Strategic Intelligence Research, Joint Military Intelligence College, 2002.
Heuer, Richards J. Jr., Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, 1999.
Nolan, Janne E., and MacEachin, Douglas, with Kristine Tockman, Discourse, Dissent and Strategic Surprise Formulating U.S. Security Policy in an Age of Uncertainty. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University, Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, 2007.
Woocher, Lawrence, “The Effects of Cognitive Biases on Early Warning,” Presented at the International Studies Association Annual Convention (2008).