Creating a Foresight or Warning Model: Mapping a Dynamic Network (II)

[From Part I: Including dynamics

As the graph shows, s0 (“step 0”) and s1 (“step 1”) have been added to variables, so as to include a dynamic dimension. Indeed as the model was being constructed, tested and revised, it appeared that using uniquely broad static conceptual variables was inadequate. The system constituted by the polity evolves; each action has consequences; the aggregation of all actions, reactions and consequences, as well as creativity, lead to evolution and change.]

Actually, any SF&W model as it primarily deals with time should be a dynamic network. How can we expect obtaining any potential outline for the future if our model for understanding is static?

Our map thus aims at representing the potential dynamics of polities. We shall notably use Ertman’s work on past state-building, but making it adaptable to present and future conditions.

Steps s0 and s1 will be used for the initial, simpler model. Then, what happens during s0 and s1 leads to the “evolution of society,” which thus starts the second step, s2. The hypothesis here is that we have a successful political organisation that provides the necessary security to the people. As a result, various developments take place, notably involving creativity, innovations, etc. The variable “evolution of society” (in red in the graph) is thus a cluster variable for all those developments that are not included in the graph. With s2, we shall build a more advanced model, representing the modern state. However, s2 will not display potential domestic escalation and stabilization. The underlying hypothesis for s2 is that at the end of s2 the overall socio-political model has not changed but starts showing signs of increasing inadequacies.

For s3 (step 3), we shall have the same model as for s2, but here we shall include variables related to potential domestic escalation or stabilization. Indeed, if the existing socio-political organization finally proves itself to be adequate or if it is changed in a timely fashion, then it will be possible to stop escalation, solutions can be found and finally there are possibilities to stabilize the situation.

Finally, s4 will focus on a potential failure of the s2s3 type of socio-political organisation. Actually, with s4 we shall also change scale as not all variables existing in s2 and s3 are replicated, for the sake of simplicity and clarity.

Ideally, if we had a simulation in mind, or if we wished to insert agent based modelling inside our larger conceptual framework, then n steps should be included and all variables used for each step.

Furthermore, network software give us the possibility to add a time component to a graph, as time can be attributed to each link between two variables.

The possibility to work in this direction is a very promising way forward to improve SF&W analysis and sufficient interest and funding should be made available to allow including this component. However, social science in general, international relations and political science in particular have not focused upon time. Effort should thus be made here, explicating the time factor when it is there, complementing existing findings when it has not been considered to allow for the proper, scientific inclusion of the time factor.

Adding nodes and sub-graphs

Having now our core fundamental model on the one hand and our broad dynamic structure on the other, we must progressively add the variables or groups of variables that are missing. For example, the core interactions take place within a milieu and against a normative backdrop that must both be considered. We now obtain the following graph, which is still considerably simple, with the nodes representing the milieu in green and the normative variables in violet.

One may also realise that some variables are actually generic and represent cluster of variables. For example, the variable “ruler,” which was indeed very convenient when starting our model, needed to be developed to be representative of our current polities. Thus for s2 and s3, to be as accurate as possible, the ruler was replaced with its corresponding nodes, using notably Susan E. Scarrow’s work, which gave the following subgraph.

There is no best or easiest way to add nodes, sub-graphs or develop a cluster: variables existing in both core graph and subgraph will serve as pivot and care will be taken not to have twice the same variable, then all links and dynamics must be rechecked.

Decision to detail or not a node will remain with the foresight analyst and depend upon the question as well as upon the resources available. A map that is too simplistic will lead to erroneous foresight and thus should not be favoured. A map that would take too long to construct would also deny foresight. Thus a middle ground must be found.

Considering potential structural changes in the future

It is now time to envision what might happen to the ideal-type model of polity with time, and why, as this is the purpose of foresight.

Scientific historical knowledge tells us that war and the timing of its onset were some of the major causes for changes that led to state-building and, if we take the case of the fall of the Roman Empire, to collapse. However, political history, international relations and security studies have generally tended to focus on external military threats, while as a pendent, in the state security apparatus, security has by and large be seen as equal to external military threats.

Now, if we want to be able to envision the future as well as possible, we need to consider not only conventional variables but also unconventional ones. To be able to determine those supplementary variables, we need first to understand what they cover. Here, starting from the importance of war and its onset for prompting change, we may deduce that any type of pressure threatening the security of the polity will be cause for change, as, indeed, the society and its political authorities must adapt to face those pressures. Capability to adapt or not, which will vary according conditions, will lead to one or another type of outcome or plausible future. Using imagination, research, horizon scanning and, in a collaborative setting, brainstorming, will allow identifying various types of pressures that will then be included in the graph as new nodes. For example, the variable “evolution of society,” which starts s2, as seen previously, is a first intrinsic cause of pressure on the polity, as new phenomena must be integrated. The pressure is increased because evolution goes in the direction of an increasing complexity that political authorities must learn to harness. Each pressure identified is a cluster variable or group node that could – and ideally should – become a graph. Here, as our focus is the nation-state, we shall leave them as such.

Now, we also need to introduce the possibility for the appearance of new variables. For example, if we consider complexity theory, we know that complex systems generate emerging properties. Something that did not exist in the past emerges. For example, if we follow the modernist school of thoughts on nation and nationalism, as is done here, nationalism and nations in their current acceptance are a modern phenomenon that did not exist previously.

Such novelties correspond to a change of structure for a map. If the possibility for such new variables were not included, then the map created would most probably fail to envision some plausible futures. Only changes happening while the structure is fixed could be foreseen. For example, any foresight done during the Cold War – a stable period structurally – which would have focused only on Cold War related variables would have been unable to foresee the end of the Cold war and potential post Cold War futures. Indeed, if it had not included those “new variables” and processes, then it would have been unable to foresee changes once the structure changed. This is why it is much easier to practice foresight – and warning – when the structure is stable than when it is in transition as now.

How can we introduce the possibility for structural changes? One way is to add a node labelled along the line of “other types of,” then to explain the type of variable one refers to, and to fully include it within the map, with all necessary linkages. This generic variable may then be refined and divided into various more specific variables, still always allowing for something we did not think of at the time of the design of the graph and that may appear later, in one day, one month or one year, or that may be found somewhere else in the world.

In our case, we thus have a model that evolves under different kinds of pressures: previous pressures, cumulated and acting from a global level, new external military threats, new unconventional threats (those direct threats that have already been identified, such as cyber threats or bio weapons of mass destruction), cumulated/global unconventional threats (those unconventional threats that act at a global level), other kinds of pressure for survival (direct potential pressures that are generally not yet accepted or even identified). Known pressures such as peak oil (the end of cheap oil), global warming, biodiversity loss, etc. are covered by the cluster nodes. If need be, they can be detailed as subgraphs and the linkages previously identified for the initial cluster node will help integrating the subgraph into the overall map.

The potential for various changes of structure must be permanently kept in mind when constructing the map.


The overall dynamic map that is progressively constructed is the foundation for the entire strategic foresight and warning analysis and conditions the success of the next steps, and the quality of the various products that will be delivered.

In our case, the dynamic map looks as follows, and we shall see with the next posts how to work with it.


Epstein, Joshua M. “Why Model?” Santa Fe Institute Working Papers, 2008

Ertman, Thomas. Birth of the Leviathan : Building States and Regimes in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Zellman, Ariel Review: Birth of the Leviathan by Thomas Ertman, 2008.

Scarrow, Susan E. “The nineteenth-century origins of Modern Political Parties: The Unwanted Emergence of Party Based Politics,” in Richard S. Katz, William Crotty (eds), Handbook of Party Politics, London, Sage, 2006.