Visual tools & Design

Our Foresights and Insights

A Beautiful Timeline Visualisation: TimelineJS by VéritéCo

Last week, as I was looking for good websites and twitter users to follow the students’ movement in Quebec, its support by and links to the other worldwide opposition movements, and to try to assess how it could evolve, I found this really useful, informative and beautiful website displaying a timeline of the events done … Continue reading A Beautiful Timeline Visualisation: TimelineJS by VéritéCo

The Power of Maps

Maps are both necessary tools for analysis and crucial delivery visuals for foresight and warning products. They constitute a very powerful type of delivery form, as they change both the world and the mind.

The pivotal importance of maps and of the process of mapping has notably been shown, in the case of the birth of nations and of nationalism, by two remarkable books: Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson and Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation by Winichakul Thongchai. Building upon the findings of those master-works, as well as on my own (PhD) research, this post explains the power of maps and then outlines contemporary evolutions, examples and possibilities.

Why are maps special instruments of power?

As maps influence our way to perceive the world, they also allow for the creation of new political actions, and make possible what hitherto had been unthinkable of.

Try to imagine the world, the space around you, before one could calculate latitude and then longitude (the measurement of longitude, notably, remained unsolved and impossible until the eighteenth century), and thus before maps could be created.

What you would get is something like this, where only the most salient geographical features that allow for bearings are marked:

Helene Lavoix, thesis, Appendix 6, 1899 Province Kong Pissey

However, with latitude and longitude, with the work and skills of geographers, as exemplified by Alistair Leak, “Book review: The map that changed the world,” and most of the time with a host of interactions between various powers (Thongchai 1994, Lavoix 2005), maps very similar to those we know today were born. The process of mapping itself is never innocuous and changes, forever, awareness, perception, worldview and how we inhabit the world. It also makes for fascinating stories. What we could obtain was very different from pre-longitude maps and could look like this:

Helene Lavoix, Map 1, Thesis – Convention conclue entre la France et le Cambodge pour régler les rapports respectifs des deux pays – Gouverneur de la Cochinchine 1884

Such maps, are much more useful in terms of international relations, as, notably, they allow for the accurate drawing of boundaries. They are crucial for wars, as they improve strategy and tactics: they are precise, allow for measurement of time in terms of movement, including logistics, for specific positioning of troops, logistics or artillery, etc. They are indispensable to govern, as they allow for a better – and stronger – administrative rule, which, in turn, leads to more security for citizens, however with some loss of freedom. Meanwhile, as land is mapped, as borders are created, our representation thus our perception of the world changes. With maps, the Earth became a globe subdivided into countries, territorial, independent and sovereign nation-states.

Maps are thus instruments and vectors of power, which, above all, construct mental perceptions, indeed cognitive maps.

Creating a new world? Satellite, crowd-sourcing and ocean floor maps

Kong-Pissey, Srok, Cambodia – Administrative Region – Google maps
Kong-Pissey, Srok, Cambodia – Administrative Region – Google maps
Kong-Pissey, Srok, Cambodia – Administrative Region – Google maps

Nowadays, with satellite and more recently crowd-sourcing (see, for example OpenStreetMap), we obtain incredibly accurate and up-to-date maps. If we take the example of our first map, the region of Kong Pissey in Cambodia, today, we can get the three maps on the right hand side, with a click of the mouse, instantaneously.

The power that is given to anyone is incredible, compared with what was available only three centuries or even fifty years ago, even if, most of the time, we are not aware of it and take it for granted.

Indeed, for example, the announcement by Google that it would not only map the ocean floor within five years but also track any ship and make this knowledge available to anyone (Daily Mail, May 2012) is a major revision of the current various balances of power. The consequences are not only enormous in terms of maritime security, strategy and tactics, but also could touch the exploitation of maritime resources, notably deep-sea mining of polymetallic nodules (e.g. Ifremer campaign, may 2012), and generate new tensions for zones where maritime boundaries are ill-defined or disputed.

If the mapping of the ocean floor was achieved and included with corresponding resources, in maps displaying maritime boundaries, our cognitive map of geopolitics and power could well be substantially redefined. (Nota: An interesting map “Global distribution of marine mineral resources known at this early stage of ocean exploration” by P. Rona (2003) can be found on the web but is restricted to personal usage; it thus cannot be reproduced here nor hyperlinked for copyrights reason, which underlines again, for other reasons, the revolutionary quality of Google’s project).

Maps and cartograms

Maps can also, evidently, be combined with many data when dealing with specific issues, as, for example, in the case of water security.

Global Water Insecurity Map – Global Water Insecurity remapped: A population-centric view, September 30, 2010 – This work has been created by Benjamin Hennig and is property of the SASI Research Group (University of Sheffield). CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Even more interesting in terms changing cognitive maps, latest mapping techniques allow us to transform a map in a cartogram, i.e. according to those specific data, as done by World Mapper. For example, on the website Show(R)World you can create your own maps according to data provided by various international organisations. The maps can then be downloaded or embedded. As another example, Benjamin D. Hennig based at the University of Sheffield, creates extraordinary maps, as displayed above, and publishes them on his blog, Views of the World (under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

With such power, maps are privileged visual tools we must use when we deliver foresight and warning products as they will actively contribute to redraw the cognitive map of our clients, and thus help them hear and pay heed to warnings.

Featured image: General map of the distances and the historic capitals (chinese: Hunyi jiangli lidai guodu zhi tu; japanese: Kon’itsu kyoori rekidai kokuto no zu), Korea, roughly 1402. Ink and paint on paper. By Kim Sahyung, Lee Moo, Lee Hui [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin And Spread of Nationalism, (New York: Verso, 1983, 1991,2006).

Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, Office of Legal Affairs, United Nations, Maritime Space: Maritime Zones and Maritime Delimitation.

Hennig, Benjamin, “Global Water Insecurity remapped: A population-centric view,” Views of the World, September 30, 2010.

Hoffert, Michel, “The polymetallic nodules, An extraordinary mining and scientific submarine adventure,” Ifremer, 2008.

Lavoix, Helene, ‘Nationalism’ and ‘genocide’ : the construction of nation-ness, authority, and opposition – the case of Cambodia (1861-1979) – PhD Thesis – School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), 2005.

Leak, Alistair, “Book review: The map that changed the world,” Cartopedia, March 19, 2012.

Marine et Oceans,”L’Ifremer étudie les champs de nodules polymétalliques,” 23 Mai 2012.

Rona, Peter A. “The changing vision of marine minerals,” Ore Geology Reviews 33 (2008) 618–666.

Rona, Peter A., “Resources of the Sea Floor,” Science 299, 673 (2003); DOI: 10.1126/science.1080679.

Thongchai, Winichakul, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation, (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 1994).

Water Security Maps

You will find below a selection of maps related to global water security, which are useful for both analysis and delivery of products. Maps are both necessary tools for analysis and crucial delivery visuals for our foresight and warning products. They constitute a category of delivery form, which can, furthermore, be combined with other categories to … Continue reading Water Security Maps

Pearltrees: a multifunction visual bibliographic tool

While preparing the bibliography on energy security foresight, I was wondering if it would be useful to also apply a visually appealing approach to bibliographies, which would then be conceptualized as a product.

As usual, there is no simple answer to this question, and if the classical bibliography will most probably have to be kept for a while, Pearltrees also appears as a perfect bibliographic tool.

Inevitable classical bibliography

By Lynnbwilsoniii, GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Because delivery of product must consider both the product’s material support and the recipient or customer, then the traditional way to write a bibliography will probably have to be kept for some time.

  • Indeed, for anything that uses paper and print as support, the usual, alphabetical bibliography is best.
  • It is furthermore the most practical way to find a reference as quickly as possible, especially for long bibliographies. Indeed, for long and complex topics and thus references, we enter the categorization problem, as usual. If we take the example of an energy flow chart, does it belong to energy demand or energy supply? How can we categorize the energy security problem that would stem from a conflict with Iran: oil price, oil transportation, oil shortage, but also all other impacts on other sources of energy, etc.
  • Finally, a classical bibliography is also adapted to people who may be change-adverse and who attribute, even unconsciously, specific qualities to a classical bibliography (e.g. serious, scientific).

A multifunction visual bibliographic tool: Pearltrees

Yet, using a map, graph or tree, could also be very convenient to show linkages and organize thoughts, as long as the cognitive map thus created remains flexible. It would thus be a first step towards modelling, while also participating in changing the cognitive map of the recipient, notably if the customer becomes a user who can interact with the bibliographic tree. Considering the huge availability of information and analyses, such a map would be truly helpful, notably during the first step of research. @Afrikasources, aka Philip Payet, when we discussed this, suggested to try Pearltrees.

 Energy Security
I have been exploring this platform those last days, notably testing it by converting the bibliography on energy security foresight (click on the Pearl to access the result), and it corresponds almost perfectly and more to what I had in mind.

It is extremely user-friendly, beautiful and allows for entering a short editorial and a specific avatar (picture) for each tree. Posts or “pearls” (nodes) can be moved very easily from one place to another. The design is elegant in its simplicity and the visualisation easy and modular, as shown in the various screenshots.

When putting the mouse over a pearl, a small window opens and displays the webpage picked as pearl; a click opens the webpage.

Interestingly, the way to capture or pick up a pearl (post or piece of information), has to be installed on your browser (this seems to be a trend currently in the sharing and curation’s world, which will change even more the idea of “delivery of product”). Once Pearltrees added to your browser, you do not even have to open the link of a page to add it, but can right-click on its hyperlink, which allows for very speedy action if you convert a bibliography of plan to read the post later (which is essential for all impatient people). You can also choose to which of your tree to add your new pearl or just put it in your tray and sort it out later.

The possible interactions are a very interesting feature of Pearltrees: you can find similar trees and pearls through the “related interests” feature, which is a plus in terms of horizon scanning and research, as you benefit from others’ knowledge, as in most social networking and curation’s platforms. Then you can pick a pearl or a tree of another user (while the initial curator gets the benefit as his work is referenced as being “picked” and receives a corresponding message). Finally, you can set up teams to work collaboratively on similar issues.

You can also link your Facebook and Twitter accounts to your Pearltrees’ and have all your posts there added to your trees, while of course sharing trees and pearls on Facebook and Twitter, by mail or with other Pearltrees users with whom you team up. Those features are crucial in terms of product delivery.

You can embed your Pearltrees into a website, as a pearl or as the full tree. It is likely that we shall increasingly see pearls appearing on posts to indicate that a related Pearltree is available, as done above.

Last, but not least, Pearltrees has a beautiful dedicated app for Ipad, which works perfectly well.

The potential improvements could be

  • to allow linking nodes of different trees or branches, maybe with different types of links, as well as to have two or more parents for a same child.
  • to be able to export the tree to a format other than .rdf (which I could not manage to do, despite research on the web), to allow for exchanges with other social network analysis software, as well as for conversion into a classical bibliography. As far as the latter is concerned, I am afraid that, right now, there is no other way than using the painstaking cut and paste option.

As a whole, Pearltrees is a great tool, certainly the best I have tried and found so far for this usage. Don’t hesitate to share your experience in the comments below and to use and interact with the Pearltrees created.

The tragic events that strike Everstate are instances of the various conditions presiding to Everstate’s destiny, considering what has been done, or not, globally, regionally and within Everstate. The same set of events will be used to stress test each scenario (respecting, of course, the logic of the scenario, in case it impacts the plausibility … Continue reading 2013 – 2018 EVT – Tragic events

Images to illustrate Complexity Science & Strategic Foresight and Warning

Images related to complexity science I found useful in putting together a presentation dealing with Strategic Foresight and Warning and Complexity

Featured Images, Symbols & Foresight Product: the Example of The Chronicles of Everstate

(updated 17 April 2012)

When an image is featured and is meant to represent the totality of a foresight or anticipatory product, or a large section of it, it must capture the gist of the product. Symbols and symbolism are then crucial to transmit messages. This importance of symbols should anyway be considered for any use of image (as well as when developing a scenario narrative, for example when choosing names). This will be exemplified here with the Chronicles of Everstate.

The drawing displayed for “The Chronicles of Everstate: foreseeing the future of the modern nation-state” is a detail of the frontispiece of the book Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes, Wikimedia Commons.

The image aims at capturing symbolically the features of the contemporary (early 21st century) modern nation-state: It, of course, is an heir to Hobbes Leviathan. However, compared with the original image, the head of the sovereign is not displayed as even in the remaining monarchies, the regimes are constitutional and democratic. The cross (left hand) and the sword (right hand) that symbolise the powers of church and sword are decapitated. Indeed, if both orders remain crucial for any polity, our era upholds peace rather than war as value, and has a difficult relation to religions; other elite groups may also be crucial. The body is composed of a multitude of small human beings, which may be seen as represent the people, citizens, the nation and thus portray both democracy and the ruled.

Hieronymus Bosch - The Garden of Earthly Delights - Left Panel
The image used to depict the creation of Everstate: The Garden of Earthly Delights – Left Panel – Hieronymus Bosch (image downloaded from Wikimedia Commons)

The triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch is used for the featured images for the whole narrative of the Chronicles of Everstate, each detail chosen according to the content of the narrative. The creation of Everstate uses the top of the left panel, as symbolising a world still virgin of human interactions.

garden of delights by Bosch
The featured image depicting the start of The Chronicles of Everstate (from Setting the stage, the actors to 2012 EVT) is a detail of the central panel (its top) of the triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, provided by Wikimedia Commons.

The top of the central panel is chosen to show a world now inhabited by various actors, happy, light, full of promises, of complexity and appearing as relatively benign.

The featured image depicting the scenario Mamominarch of The Chronicles of Everstate is a detail of the central panel (middle) of the triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, provided by Wikimedia Commons.

The lower middle part of the central panel is chosen for the Mamominarch scenario, to represent a world where interactions among actors and their decisions have had a strong impact (hence the size of the characters) and to symbolise a libertarian atmosphere that may be imagined as following from actions minimizing the power of the state.

The featured image depicting Tragic Events and their first impacts in the Chronicles of Everstate is a detail of the right panel (top) of the triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, provided by Wikimedia Commons.

The top of the right panel of the triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights is chosen to depict the tragic events that befell Everstate, as well as the impacts of those events on the polity. The top of the panel is chosen as it hardly portrays any actor, and if it does they are isolated, individuals. Indeed, the feeling most people would have when hit by such catastrophes as chosen here, is one of powerlessness and being the victim of a fate beyond their control and responsibility. Yet, this is only a perception, hence the use of the logic of choosing the whole triptych, as all these events are actually anthropogenic. One of the terrible fatality human beings have to face is to become aware of their individual responsibility, to act accordingly and yet, most of the time, still suffer because of others’ refusal to do as much or because of belated awakenings.

The other featured images will be added as the various scenarios unfold.

The featured image for “Everstate’s criteria” is part of a map of The Nuremberg Chronicles or Die Schedelsche Weltchronik provided by Wikimedia Commons.

The use of an ancient map is meant to depict location and specification, criteria materialising a country being nothing else than a cognitive map. The choice of the Weltchronik (world chronicles) was appropriate for a foresight analysis named similarly and that aims at being adaptable to any country in the world (as ideal-type).

Each original image in its entirety is free of rights. They are reworked under C.C. 3.0.

Visual Tools and Design for Foresight Products

Delivery of foresight products - visual, images
Private First Class Edeleanu prints news bulletin on bulletin board outside Intelligence tent of Kyaukpyu Camp the day before Office of Strategic Services (OSS), AFU, departure via convoy for Rangoon. Detachment 101, Ramree Island, Burma, May 6, 1945 - holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration - Wikimedia Commons

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.

As crucial, although very difficult to achieve, is the fact that clients or customers must pay heed to the foresight product or to the warning. Initially, according to the intelligence literature, notably on surprise, or to exchanges with practitioners, this part of the process is seen as so difficult indeed that it is not considered as being the responsibility of the foresight and warning – or risk – analyst, officer or of the scientist if we include science in SF&W, given the predictive quality science must have to qualify as science.

However, lately, we are moving towards a new emphasis on the importance to do everything possible to obtain the right attention from the customers or clients.

U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran – 2007

The cover of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. By National Intelligence Council (Global Security), via Wikimedia Commons

This demands identifying one’s customers, knowing them as best as possible, from their biases to the network of decision-making within which they are embedded, and then incorporating this understanding in a real strategy to deliver foresight and warning products.

A small part of this great scheme implies using visual tools, design, and images, which will be formally part of the final product. As previously argued, some of those tools are as well instruments of analysis.

This section of the website will be dedicated to images, design and visual tools that could be useful to deliver predictive or anticipatory products to clients and to illustrate posts and documents on strategic foresight and warning and related predictive activities, starting immediately with images related to the delivery of foresight products.

A first cursory look at the images below let us identify a first possibility of categorisation of classical types of delivery’s forms, with possible mix between categories: boards, briefings, memos and reports, maps, charts.

An Experiment with Infomous Clouds

An Experiment with Infomous Clouds

In the framework of our experiments with new tools for both horizon scanning and delivery to clients, started with that led to the creation of the Weekly, here is a cool way to use clouds with Infomous (used, for example, by The Economist).

The Red (team) Analysis cloud:


Twitter (@HLavoix) cloud: