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Megatrends and how to survive them – conclusions

May 15, 2019

 Megatrends and How to Survive Them is the title of our book published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing and available on Amazon. This is the last of a series of blogs based on the work we have done for the book. 

Our focus in the book was on global megatrends that would play out during the time span of an organisation’s planning.  It wasn’t about the StarTrek, 100 year in the future type of predictions (or science fiction to be more exact).

Trends can emerge in many different ways; we have suggested a particular way that each megatrend might go.  But, a reminder that trends are not forecasts!

A forecast is a single point in time, a prediction.  Usually with a note of the percentage possibility to hit the prediction.  Also it is usual that these forecasts are no more than 9-12 months in the future.  Philip Tetlock ran a research project called “The Good Judgement Project” to see what sort of person could make good predictions.  You can find out more about it in his book, Superforecasting: the art and science of prediction.

We had to make generalisations of each of the trend to keep them accessible.  We supplied a list of questions (some of which we’ve repeated in the previous blogs) to help people to go deeper into each of the trends, to explore in more detail just how they might emerge and, indeed, what could disrupt them.

The underlying theme across all the trends is that an increasing number of people across the world are able to make choices – in life style, in where and how they live, in what they buy.  These choices are driving innovation, society, technology and the economy, as well as impacting our global limits and climate.

Exploring these trends and how they might play out, however, is only a first step.  There are several more before you can develop options, decide on a strategic direction and implement a new strategy.

We suggest three provisos: 

  • Beware of cognitive biases.  There is plenty going on in peoples’ lives; cognitive biases help us to deal with information overload, lack of meaning, the need to act (react) quickly and they can help us to remember things.  They are assumptions which we base thinking and decisions on.
  • Be cognisant of the fact that many people find change threatening, so change management is needed.  Change is facilitated by using images of the future which can be built to be relevant to your organisation and can be based upon these megatrends.
  • Trends are not independent, they are part of complex systems, so when thinking about how to respond and what you might do to influence a particular trend, you need to consider it in the context of the larger system.  Any action that you take may have delayed effects on one or another of the trends.

The most important thing that you can do with these trends is to explore them and stimulate a different sort of conversation, a different and deeper understanding of how they may affect your organisation and the work you do in the coming 10 – 15 years.  And of course, what the opportunities (and risks) might be going forward.

The future is a foreign country – enjoy the exploration.

Written by Patricia Lustig, SAMI Associate and MD, LASA Insight, and Gill Ringland, SAMI Emeritus Fellow and Director, Ethical Reading.

The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at newreader@samiconsulting.co.uk and/or browse our website at http://www.samiconsulting.co.uk

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Risk management and the impact of culture

May 8, 2019

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With so many examples of poor corporate behaviour and poor governance, it seemed a good time to address why getting the culture of an organisation right was so important. The CRSA (Control and Risk Self Assessment) Forum is an independent group ofenthusiastic practitioners and academics led by SAMI Fellow Professor Paul Moxey, and it used its recent meeting to explore culture and governance.

The day was kicked off by Simon Lowe of Grant Thornton describing the research they had done on culture and its role in effective governance, and their approach to auditing culture. He described how compliance with the UK Corporate Governance (UKCG) Code was improving, but it was now apparent that assessment needed to go beyond compliance to the application of the principles.

Good governance needs a proper understanding of risk – “the board should carry out a robust assessment of the company’s emerging and principal risks” (UKCG). Clearly technology is one major area of risk. However,from their analysis of company accounts, Grant Thornton found that, in several sectors – including,astonishingly the financial sectormany companies had not identified technology as a risk. And, of those that had, fewer than 30% had a board member with technology expertise.

Annual reports did contain references to corporate culture, but few CEOs (29%) referred to what they might do about it. Monitoring health and safety and running some employee engagement surveys seemed to be as far as it went. One or two examples of how culture might be captured in a “dashboard” were shown.

Then Simon’s colleague, Karen Brice, led an exercise on producing metrics for culture. She proposed a 6-factor “culture web” including such things as “rituals and routines”, “control systems” and “power structures”. The point of the exercise was not so much the absolute values assigned but the different perspectives different people’s assessments revealed.

The session generated an intense and lively discussion.  There was some scepticism as to whether board members really wanted to get to grip with risks, preferring instead “plausible deniability” – several of the well-known governance disasters were explored. The challenges of creating common cultures following mergers were raised (an example being AT&T and HBO). And the idea of making the challenge a positive by promoting “Boardroom Brilliance” was also proposed.

The next session led by Peter Hanley and Colin Perris talked about “risk exploitation” and the work they were doing to formalise a process – even an app – to help with that. Their basic tenet was that a risk management approach tended to try to limit the forces pulling the organisation away from its goals. Instead what was needed was a focus on achieving the positive outcome. They too led us in an exercise, where we role-played being board members of a social housing organisation facing the post-Grenfell world. The exercise highlighted how easily one fell into considering risk as negative, rather then driving towards a positive. A key idea of a “Golden hour” emerged – pre-prepared mitigation strategies that would enable boards to react quickly to major challenges.

Later in the day SAMI Associate Garry Honey discussed creating a positive risk culture. Different people, even within the same organisation, will have different risk appetites, often depending on their role or inclination. A CFO is likely to be risk averse, while a hedge fund manager sees risk as an opportunity for higher profit. Garry explored the known/knowns and unknown/unknowns matrix, showing how best to expand the former area. He then went on to discuss reputation management, arguing the need for prevention rather than cure. Ultimately, he too was arguing that coping with risk was all about culture rather than process.

The day ended with a session by SAMI Emeritus Fellow Gill Ringland talking about the “Ethical Reading” (the place not the activity!) project she is involved with. Again the point was that compliance is not enough. In multi-cultural and fragmented societies, traditional norms and structures, and the support of the community can break down. So there needs to be a strong lead focus on common ethical principles, such as respect, co-operation, collaboration, integrity, fairness and responsibility. Happily, she had found many willing volunteers and champions to participate in promoting these ideas – see #itstartswithme.  Her goal is to spread these ideas out into a much wider “Ethical cities” programme.

All in all it was a very inspiring day with loads of interaction and involvement of the audience. The value of scenarios in the consideration of risk came out strongly. One can but hope that the days of truly valuing and understanding the role of culture and ethics in organisational decision-making is coming that much closer.

Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at newreader@samiconsulting.co.uk and/or browse our website at http://www.samiconsulting.co.uk

 

Megatrends and how to survive them – biotechnology

May 1, 2019
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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Megatrends and How to Survive Them is the title of our book published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing and available on Amazon.

This is one of a series of blogs based on the work we have done for the book. We chose Biotechnology as a topic for discussion because over the next decade advances in biotechnology will “challenge what it means to be human” as reported in the Financial Times of 3rd December.

Biotechnology offers technological approaches for many of the health and resource-based problems facing the world. The application of biotechnology to primary industries, to healthcare, and to industrial processes, could result in a sizeable global “bioeconomy” by 2030.

There will be a lot of publicity about health applications – personalised medicine, gene editing, synthetic biology and direct neural interfaces, and the recent publicity on the gene edited Chinese twins is only the start. Biotechnology will have a massive effect beyond 2030 and the ethical implications will be much clearer.

However, it could be that the big opportunity will be around rethinking agriculture and the food chain, and industrial processes – saving energy.

Many of the potential advantages of biotechnology, such as salt-tolerant food crops, renewable energy sources like fuels based on algae, using organisms to neutralise or treat waste, and climate change mitigation, might happen faster than we think. A recent OECD report highlighted the role of bio-plastics for instance, in replacing those based on petroleum products.

Agri-business is big. Gene modification technology applied to animals and crops has created economies of scope and scale that have driven rapid corporate concentration. Genome editing – using CRISPR/Cas9 and tools to come – could become commonplace and lead to improved – and also to new – crops. Recent discussions on using DNA from fossils in the tundra to generate new life forms, raise the spectre of Jurassic Park.

Jurassic Park

On a remote jungle island, genetic engineers have created a dinosaur game park. An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Now one of mankind’s most thrilling fantasies has come true and the first dinosaurs that the Earth has seen in the time of man can emerge.

But there is a dark side to the fantasy and after a catastrophe destroys the park’s defence systems, the scientists and tourists are left fighting for survival………. Source: Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park”.

The main markets for biotechnology in primary industries (agriculture, forestry and fishing) could be in developing countries, due to the importance of primary production and industry to their economies.

There are a number of ventures developing food products using vegetable proteins to mimic more accurately the meaty, cheesy and creamy flavours of food derived from animal proteins. These products target the majority of meat-eating consumers, not just committed vegetarians. Using gene editing techniques to insert animal protein genes into food plants, offers the prospect of more convincing and delicious plant-based substitutes for animal proteins – “better than beef”.

If successful, these companies would create disruptive innovation across the human food chain, with profound consequences. As the ecological footprint of vegetable products is typically one tenth that of animal-based food, these innovations suggest the possibility of a sustainable path to feeding a global population exceeding 9 billion within our water limits.

Questions for leaders:

  • How will agricultural/primary industries biotechnology affect you?
  • How will health biotechnology affect you?
  • How will industrial biotechnology affect you?
  • How will you handle the ethical issues around employment and insurance cover which will be a side effect of genomic testing?
  • How will you answer Millennials and other generations who will ask about the ethical issues of biotechnology in relation to your people and products and services?

We live in exciting times!

Written by Patricia Lustig, SAMI Associate and MD, LASA Insight, and Gill Ringland, SAMI Emeritus Fellow and Director, Ethical Reading.

The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at newreader@samiconsulting.co.uk and/or browse our website at http://www.samiconsulting.co.uk

Activist Shareholders – Agents of Change?

April 25, 2019
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Photo by JESHOOTS.com from Pexels

Some people invest in a company because they trust the leadership to deliver shareholder value, due to track record and board composition. Some people invest in company because they like the product or service proposition, the basic business model. Activists invest for the latter and certainly not the former. Activists have faith in the underlying business but not the leadership, in fact an activist typically wants to replace the CEO, an impediment to releasing higher return for investors.

The activist takes a position from which to lobby other shareholders and their influencers, he is an agent of change and a disruptor, so to the board he is always an unwelcome intrusion. The activist takes on a significant challenge which, if successful, will bring substantial reward that is why he has a higher appetite for risk than the incumbent board and why he is invariably an aggressive hedge fund.

The first challenge he faces is to convince fellow shareholders that their trust in the incumbent board is misplaced and the business, having exhibited sluggish growth in a buoyant sector, is overdue for a new leader. In short it is time to call time on the CEO.  If he manages to convince some shareholders of his defenestration strategy, there will be others who baulk at such drastic action.

The second challenge he faces is to convince fellow shareholders that he has a viable alternative to the existing CEO, a replacement who will adopt a new strategy to release value trapped within the business. Nervous fellow shareholders will be wary that to endorse the candidacy of the activists’ man could be simply of jumping from the frying pan into the fire and may not result in anything more than unnecessary upheaval.  The status quo is a powerful advocate of inertia.

The third challenge he faces is to win a confidence vote at the AGM, by a significant majority ie over 50% and the size of some individual shareholdings might make this almost impossible.  The activist will also aim to win over proxy voting agencies to his proposal, but not all agencies will be open to change. For example, pension funds tend be quite conservative and see any external pressure to impose new leadership as a risk to their long-term investment strategy.

The fourth challenge for an activist is to be patient as even a lost motion at an AGM can sow the seeds of discontent which come to fruition months or years later. Look at Premier Foods from July 2018 to date. At the AGM on 18 July 2018 the Hong Kong based activist and minority shareholder (10%) Oasis called a vote of no confidence in the CEO with a proposal to replace him with the Finance Director and a new strategy of asset disposal to release value.

The incumbent board presented the activist as an asset stripper.‘If these activist investors succeed in removing him, they risk destroying significant value, rather than creating it’ said former head of Waitrose Mark Price. The motion duly failed by 59% – 41% votes but having achieved support from well over a third of all shareholders, the proposal had achieved consideration. This despite the Chair rallying support for his CEO from the largest shareholder, Japanese Nissin Foods (20%).

In November 2018 the CEO surprised the market by announcing he would step down in three months so a successor could be found to pursue a new strategy.  This appears to be by ‘mutual agreement’ but no doubt the confidence vote had some bearing. Two months later the UK activist Paulson increased its share from 7% to just under 12% suggesting that the CEO departure was a positive move, and there was indeed latent value in the business awaiting release. This seems to vindicate the Oasis AGM motion last July, despite it failing to succeed at the time.

Activists are truly agents of change, welcome or not, they make an impact even if it is just not always immediate.

Written by Garry Honey, founder of Better Boards, CEO, Chiron Reputation Risk and SAMI Associate. 

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at newreader@samiconsulting.co.uk and/or browse our website at http://www.samiconsulting.co.uk

COVER Magazine: Technology and Innovation Forum 3rd April 2019, Technology and the “Protection” industry

April 17, 2019

Life protection, health insurance and income protection insurance are often overlooked areas of the financial sector. The industry constantly worries about the “protection gap”: that fewer than 35% of the population have any protection insurance cover, either provided by their employer or bought by themselves.  This event, organised by the leading industry magazine COVER, set out to explore whether new technology could change this.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is making inroads into so many areas of life, and so many professions, that naturally the Forum began with a Keynote talk about it – “AI methods for evidence-based risk assessment”, delivered by Professor Sophia Ananiadou, Director of the National Centre for Text Mining (NaCTeM).

In what was quite a dense and challenging talk (I’m sure I wasn’t alone in losing track of the details), the Professor explained some of the key principles of text mining and their applicability to underwriting, using health records.  She discussed how “explainable” AI could be applied, at least in specific domains such as biology and chemistry, with semantic metadata adding structure to the analysis.  In particular, she talked about THALIA, a semantic search engine that can recognise concepts occurring in biomedical abstracts indexed on Pubmed. She covered a number of examples of how text mining can help quantify mortality risk.

In the second session, David Vanek CEO of Anorak talked about robo-advisors and digital advisors. Referring to a previous COVER article “The Rise of the Robots” he argued that while big data and AI could add extra analysis to the economics of advice, it was clearly necessary to have a combination of online and offline services to support customers. He acknowledged that automated systems could link with bank accounts and other information sources to identify changes in customers’ circumstance, but argued that selling protection required an emotional connection and a very personalised, responsive approach.

The last of the pre-coffee sessions was Paul Huggett, Commercial Director of Rocketer talking about how social media could be used to close the “protection gap”: remarkably few people have income protection. He described how some paid social media advertising could address the 40m UK Facebook and 29m Whatsapp users. These approaches were fairly standard online marketing techniques.  The concept of “life triggers” was interesting  – analysis of social media content could tell you for example when someone bought a new house or had a child, giving you a key moment to attract them to your protection product.  He also introduced the concept of “look-alike audiences” – people whose characteristics were similar to your existing customer base, and so who might be seen as more likely to buy your product.

After coffee (and it has to be said some excellent pastries) there were two panel discussions. The first, with Paul Yates of iPipeline, Adam Higgs of FTRS and Paul Huggett, addressed the question of “knowing your customers”. They discussed how algorithms could produce better pricing and risk models and how Google Analytics etc could help you see the profiles of your customers and contacts. They view AI as a kind of sophisticated calculator, helping you find efficiencies, but essentially a back-office activity. Chatbots might have a role, but the panel thought human advice was vital. In the Q&A a question about diversity came up – this to a panel of balding white men. Everyone agreed (!) that more transparency and diverse approaches, avoiding a “one size fits all” model was required.

The second panel session looked into “direct-to customer” (D2C) sales, and how it fitted with the advisor market.  There was general agreement that a “blended” approach combining online and offline contact, depending on the needs of the client, was best. There would be different levels of complexity and hence of confidence, so the first contact needed to be a “triage” to determine the best channel to use. Only those with “clean lives” could be dealt with online.

The discussion covered several issues. There was a feeling that the way the industry tackled issues of mental health was not sufficiently nuanced.  The view that AI could never replace the emotional contact of an agent surfaced again.  My feeling was that this session hadn’t really got to grips with the radical changes new technology was going to bring – the D2C discussion was well behind what other industries already do, and the attitude to AI bordered on the complacent.

In his round-up comments, Adam Saville, COVER’s editor, identified the project that SAMI are doing with the Chartered Insurance Institute on the digitalisation of medical health records as a key way of improving access to protection. The ready availability of information on health conditions should provide benefits to consumers, GPs and underwriters with faster, more accurate assessments. This could underpin even more radical change.

Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at newreader@samiconsulting.co.uk and/or browse our website at http://www.samiconsulting.co.uk

Megatrends and How to Survive Them: The Next Technology Revolution

April 10, 2019

Megatrends and How to Survive Them is the title of our book published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing and available on Amazon.

This is one of a series of blogs based on the work we have done for the book. This blog is about The Next Technology Revolution.  This revolution covers advances in robotics, Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning, advanced materials, biotechnology and genomics. Biotechnology and genomics are covered in the next blog in this series.  We chose to focus on A.I. below because of the wide impact it will have across all organisations within our timeframe.

A.I. is embedded in many systems to solve business problems, from robotics and autonomous vehicles to 3D/4D printing and machine learning. It links into Big Data (the analysis of Big Data uses A.I.).

This trend has strong links with Connected World, of course, and it impacts Social Structure and Economic Activity as one of the drivers of change in society and the economy.  Shifts in population – ages and densities – will have impacts on what kinds of A.I. need to be developed. Migration and Urbanisation will lead to smart cities with needs for different kinds of A.I. as well.  Both of these will impact what is developed and likely, in what order.

Through the development of A.I. what was once science fiction is fast becoming reality.  The Qualcomm sponsored Tricorder XPRIZE was won last year.  A.I. will transform all aspects of our lives, from wars, crime and justice to our jobs, society and social structures.  It will transform what it means to be human.  A.I. is seen as “the new oil” because of its potential contribution to the world economy.

The evidence today is that the centre of gravity for A.I. research is shifting away from North America to China.  At a recent annual meeting of the Association for the Advancement of A.I., which has been setting the standard since 1980, China submitted more papers than the USA and only three less were accepted.  The figure below tracks the patents in A.I. across major patent agencies.

AI patents

The use of A.I. in decision making – whether in embedded systems or in explicit decision-making tools for managers or front-line workers – can raise concerns in the global North about potential biases and assumptions which are built in, intentionally or not.  Machine learning is very exposed to algorithmic bias, where the data used can reflect the implicit values (and unconscious biases) of the humans involved in the data collection, selection or use.  It has been seen to have an impact on search engine results, social media platforms, privacy and racial profiling. Despite this, one-third of Americans have already said that they would prefer a robot to a human boss.

As A.I. becomes smarter than we are and becomes autonomous, it may not make the same decisions that we would, and we may not be able to figure out why it made the decision it did.    AlphaGo made a move no-one could explain while beating the world champion. What might the implications be for this?

There are many areas of A.I. that will touch us by 2032.  Some examples are:

  • Many jobs will use A.I. assistance in some form. Already it is being used in surgery and in law.
  • Pharmacies (and warehouses) can use robots to pick and pack medicines or stock.
  • Cleaning and personal care is likely to be widely undertaken by robots and there is already a British Standard covering their use. As populations in some countries fall, there is likely to be an unfulfilled need for care which robots can take over.  This is already beginning in Japan.

Just as in any product or services, those that incorporate A.I. will go wrong on occasion, requiring specialist diagnostic tools and staff trained to do the diagnosis.

The impact on consumers and providers is likely to be high.  As purchasing decisions are delegated to A.I. (e.g. food ordering from smart refrigerators, algorithms predicting which brands you will want to buy etc.), the way that companies reach their customers and engage with them will be transformed.  Brands will be compelled to compete against each other electronically, but even within this space, these systems could reflect developers’ biases or completely block out brands that actually meet the consumer’s criteria. It will make it very difficult for companies to engage directly with their customers.  Smart assistants and connected devices could even be influenced by sponsors who fund the applications, either openly (for the consumer) or not.

These are just some of the issues that may arise, and, in this blog we haven’t looked at the ethics and decisions that will need to be made before we get this far; you will find more about that in the book.

Some questions that might be useful for you to explore:

  • How might A.I. disrupt your business model?
  • How will A.I. affect the skills of the people you will need?
  • How will your customers relate to you if all services are automated?
  • How will you deal with product or service failure due to A.I.?
  • How might products and services supplied on a subscription model present new quality and safety challenges, as costs of failure will fall more on the supplier?

With thanks to David Smith of Global Futures and Foresight for his thoughts on a number of these aspects of A.I. – we live in interesting times!

Written by Patricia Lustig, SAMI Associate and MD, LASA Insight, and Gill Ringland, SAMI Emeritus Fellow and Director, Ethical Reading.

The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at newreader@samiconsulting.co.uk and/or browse our website at http://www.samiconsulting.co.uk

World Economic Forum Global Risks Report – review

April 3, 2019

In January, the WEF published its annual Global Risk Report.  This report describes the results of a survey of the perception of risks amongst nearly 1,000 decision makers across all sectors, as well as analysis of their own.  Perceptions of risk are naturally set in the context of prevailing events, though respondents were also asked to consider risk on a 10-year horizon.

The underlying worldview of WEF may also have had an impact on results. The current trend of “taking back control” was positioned as a threat to global governance (assumed to be an inherently good thing), rather than the democratic, creative force some might view it to be.

Macroeconomic risks and geo-political risks are also seen as current concerns. However, over a ten-year horizon, extreme weather and climate-change policy failures are seen as the gravest threats.

Respondents were asked to rate risks by impact and likelihood. Unsurprisingly, “weapons of mass destruction” had the highest impact, but this was followed by three environmental risks – “failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation”, “extreme weather events”, and “natural disasters” plus “water crises”, which had been classified as “Societal”.

Fortunately, “weapons of mass destruction” was not scored highly on the likelihood scale! The three environmental risks were top, followed by two technological risks – “data fraud or theft” and “cyber-attacks”.

The top right corner of the chart combining the two factors looks like this: 

WEF blog

There are also some intriguing charts showing risk-trend inter-connections.

The report also shows how these perceptions have changed in the years since the first report in 2009. Coming as it did after the global economic crash, it’s perhaps not surprising that 4 of the top 5 by impact and 3 of the top 5 by likelihood then were Economic risks. Chronic disease also scored highly on both factors. Environmental risks started to be considered as important in 2011, but only in the last two years have they taken so many of the top places.

The analytical part of the report addresses four distinct themes:

Power and values: evolving risks in a multi-conceptual worldshows how a multi-polar world also has diverging norms and values. It identifies three disruptive trends: how to maintain a global consensus on ethically charged issues such as human rights; challenges to multilateralism and dispute-settlement mechanisms; and states’ increasingly frequent use of protectionist policies. These combine to make common global action more difficult – with climate change actions being a prime example.

Heads and hearts: the human side of global risks explores the widespread human costs in terms of psychological and emotional strain. People are becoming increasingly anxious, unhappy and lonely; anger is increasing and empathy appears to be in decline. A common theme is that psychological stress is related to a feeling of lack of control in the face of uncertainty. Mental illness is on the rise.

Going viral: the transformation of biological risks looks at the risks of devastating outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola, MERS, SARS, Zika, and yellow fever. Recent outbreaks (which are increasing) may not have had as much impact as had been feared, but the global approach to dealing with such diseases is not well-developed. Other trends such as urbanisation and migration combine to increase the risk. With the development of bio-engineering the risk of accidental – or even deliberate – release of dangerous pathogens increases.

Fight or flight: preparing for sea level rise. An estimated 800 million people in more than 570 coastal cities are vulnerable to a sea-level rise of 0.5 metres by 2050. This section looks at adaptation strategies being pursued, highlighting the growing prevalence of holistic approaches to flood resilience, including managed retreat.

The report also has a section on ten Future Shocks such as disruption to food supply and advanced biometric surveillance.  These are not predictions but “what-if” thought experiments. Some may be a bit “out there” but this sort of exercise is an extremely valuable and generally under-rated element of futures thinking.

The Report is a very well-researched document as you would expect, with hundreds of references and examples, and many impactful charts. It is a valuable resource for any foresight exercise.  Future Shocks (these and others) are well worth considering. Although the risk “perceptions” section has some potential biases as discussed, it is at least encouraging to see that climate change and other environmental risks are being recognised. But perhaps that is also just a current concern, to be eclipsed in time by something else – what might that be?

Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at newreader@samiconsulting.co.uk and/or browse our website at http://www.samiconsulting.co.uk

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