Post from Glyn Buckler
I wouldn’t call it an epiphany but I am warming to the concept that ‘Futurists’, people who study and analyse futures, have a point to make.
A recent Intelligence Community conference I attended discussed how world governance might be better informed and influenced by a more serious and assertive analysis of the future. A tangible example would be the international community being forewarned and prepared for the Arab Spring.
At the same conference last year, everyone said it wasn’t possible to know that such events might occur in Egypt. Having now deconstructed the long term influences, it is generally accepted that the ingredients were all there to be seen and taken account of. In this case, it was perfectly possible to see that the region was in unstable demographic equilibrium, according to Jonathan Stevens of the Bertelsmann Institute, (Stevens is currently working on a project – when it publishes we will link it) and that not much more would be required to stimulate a radical shift in its condition – which is exactly what happened.
We can surmise then that if the nature of the drivers that led to the events in Tahrir Square exist at another time and place then something similar is very likely to occur. But if we imagine that those influencing factors have not yet reached an adequate intensity to tip the balance yet, but are trending in that direction, then such an event may be predicted to be a probable future reality. If world leaders understand this is probability then not only will they not be caught on the hop, as with Egypt, but they can have prepared strategies and contingencies.
Note that I am not suggesting that all future developments can be prevented or mitigated but simply that forewarned is forearmed. Similarly, that such future analysis is not simply for nation states to be ahead of any internal insurrection. Rather that global governance may be prepared in a way that aids the interests of international stability.
This example is fair enough to illustrate the point but really futurism is about looking out 50 to 100 years. I realise that such a period is as nothing on a cosmological scale. Here humanity doesn’t come off well in the long run regardless of anything that is within our power to achieve as a species. But 50 -100 years is meaningful on a generational scale and that is what makes us tick.
Q: So what can futurist study achieve? A: Well what does the study of history achieve? It’s the same principle.
There is a significant amount of good research and analysis of ‘Mega-Trends’ such as: demographic transition and population change, energy and natural resource supply and demand, environmental change, global economic change, global security, global governance etc etc. These mega-trends are mostly interrelated and a change in direction of one influences many of the others. I emphasise that the understanding of these trends comprises not just hypothesis but significant bodies of defined facts and data relating to actual change – so this is not all about undefinable opinion or bad science. A useful document is here.
Dr. Peter Bishop posits that, just as you would want to know that our political masters and the heads of international organisations had studied and learned from history, ask what formal academic training have they had that fully informs them of the critical mega-trends. Moreover, ask who formally teaches them how to form strategies around the viable realities that may be faced by humanity 50, 100, 500 years hence? As of today, there is no significant academic infrastructure around the teaching of Futures. There are exceptions but Futures are not core to our academic institutions at present. Can that be sensible?
So, in the context of this blog space, why should an analyst care today? My experience is that analysts are very well informed and very capable of absorbing vast amounts of information. So I could not suggest that everyone needs to study more. But I would like to sow the seed that there may be an additional approach to take that considers more seriously the reality of the mega-trends. At the risk of being over-simplistic, if well understood demographic trends led to the Arab Spring then why didn’t it get picked up and will such a development ever get picked up in future?
In conclusion then, perhaps Futurist study does make some sense as a discipline to be formally studied in our academic institutions. If it helps us rationalise today and the probabilities of tomorrow then that fits with a structured comprehension of the human situation. Of course, there can be no one fixed theology from the process but always a range of viable futures.
It would be encouraging to think that the overall purpose of the futurist is some global ambition to always achieve the best compromise of peace and stability in an inevitably changing world. And, frankly speaking, to make the best of it while it lasts. You may not be a Futurist yourself – but please respect the views of those that are…