Intelligence, Strategic Foresight and Warning, Risk Management, Forecasting or Futurism?

This article defines and briefly explains the various names and labels given to activities and practices anticipating or foreseeing the future. Indeed, from risk management to Strategic Foresight and Warning (SF&W) the field of anticipation includes many perspectives and practices centred on different themes. Meanwhile, various actors use different names for SF&W, or very similar approaches. It is thus important to clarify what various labels and names mean, even if borders between categories are often fuzzy.

Scenarios: Improving the Impact of Foresight thanks to Biases

Foreseeing the future, whatever the name given to the endeavour, includes two major tasks.

The first one is, of course, the analysis, the process according to which the foresight, forecast, warning, or, more broadly, anticipation is obtained.

The second one is less obvious, or rather so evident that it may be overlooked. It is, however, no less vital than analysis. We need to deliver the output of the analytical process to those who need the foresight, the decision-makers or policy-makers. Ideally, the recipients must understand that output, because they will act on it. They need to integrate the new knowledge received in the decisions they will take.*

A huge challenge runs across these tasks: biases.

We must overcome the various natural and constructed biases – systematic mental errors – that limit human understanding. This article will present first the classical way we deal with biases: we consider them – quite rightly – as “enemies” and we devote much effort to mitigate them. Then, considering the specificity of the delivery stage, this article suggests that another strategy is necessary. We need to turn our usual strategy on its head and befriend biases. In that case, scenarios become a tool of choice for an enhanced delivery of our foresight to decision-makers […]

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Useful Rules for Strategic Foresight and Risk Management from Taleb’s The Black Swan

This second article on The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb emphasises some of the author’s points that are crucial for foresight and warning. Likewise, they are necessary for any work dealing with the future and its anticipation, from risk management to horizon scanning through early warning.

The methodology of SF&W and risk management allows addressing these points. They should become rules and principles all analysts follow. Indeed, without paying attention to them, good analysis is impossible. The first article on The Black Swan can be accessed here.

Humility

humility, doubt

(Notably pp.190-200) Considering uncertainty, but also our imperfect condition of human beings, the complexity of the social world, feedbacks, our more than insufficient knowledge and understanding, we must ….

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Taleb’s Black Swans: The End of Foresight?

Since Nassim Nicholas Taleb published his bestseller The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable back in 2007, “Black Swans” and “Black Swans events” have become part of everyday language.

They are used as a catchphrase to mean two different things. First, as was the case in the Brookings interesting interactive “briefing book” Big Bets and Black Swans: Foreign Policy Challenges for President Obama’s Second Term, “black swans” represent high impact, low probability events, what is also known as wild cards.[i]

Second, “black swans” refer to events that could absolutely not be predicted, as, for example for the Economist in ”The prediction games: Our winners and losers from last year’s edition”. Unfortunately, in this case, the label “black swans” excuses foresight errors. It tends to stop explanations and evaluation. Similarly, some will make statements along the line of “oh, but there is no point to do any foresight (or futures work or forecast), did you not read Taleb’s Black Swan? One cannot predict or foresee anything.”

This is a rather bold statement, especially when one seeks to anticipate uncertainty and to foresee and warn. We thus need to explore the unpredictability claim further.

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Revisiting influence analysis

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.

The problem we here face methodologically is how to reduce this number of variables at best, making sure we do not reintroduce biases or/and simplify our model so much it becomes useless or suboptimal.

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.

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2013 – 2018 EVT – Learning from Water Privatization? (Panglossy)

This post, as many others in the Chronicles of Everstate, can be read both as part of the scenarios on the future of the nation-state, as explained below, or as part of the section on Global Water Security. This shows how all issues are intertwined, and that the multiple existing feedbacks should not be ignored. Previously: 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 begins the second scenario, Panglossy. The new Everstatan government, dependent upon past thinking, decides that a return to economic efficiency […]

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2012-2013 EVT – Restoring Growth (Panglossy)

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 […]

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2013 – 2018 EVT – Increasing wages: not enough, too late? (Panglossy)

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. […]

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2013 – 2018 EVT – Investing for Green Growth without Liquidity (I) (Panglossy)

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, dependent upon past thinking, decides that a return to economic efficiency through growth is the […]

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2013 – 2018 EVT – Investing for Green Growth without Liquidity (2) (Panglossy)

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. The new Everstatan government, dependent upon past thinking, decides that a return to economic efficiency through growth is the key to the crisis. Its first measure, to raise the minimum wage, fails to boost growth through consumption. The second, longer term, policy, which promotes green growth through infrastructure investment, starts with the preparation of the first high level conference of ISSIGE. Notably, funding through the emission of bonds, […]

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