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).
Featured image: US President Lyndon B. Johnson in the White House Situation Room. Original caption: The president and his national security team in the White House Situation Room during the Arab-Israeli crisis. By LBJ Library and Museum [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons