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What does Superforecasting do? Not do?

March 28, 2018

Forecasting is a basic part of business planning in every organisation – forecasts of the external business environment, the market, the competition. Forecasts aim for accuracy. Professor Philip Tetlock is a social scientist now at the University of Pennsylvania who has designed and run major experiments on the characteristics of successful forecasters. A summary of his findings is captured in the acronym CHAMP below, and his latest book is “Superforecasting: the art and science of prediction”, written with Dan Gardner, Random House, ISBN 978-1-847-94714-7.

Tetlock’s CHAMP

Comparisons are important:   use relevant comparisons as a starting point

Historical trends can help: look at history unless you have a strong reason to expect change

Average out opinions: experts disagree so find out what they think and pick a mid-point

Mathematical models: when model based predictions are available you should take them into account

Predictable biases exist and can be allowed for. Don’t confuse hopes with forecasts; don’t cling to old forecasts in the face of news.

The book is excellent and should be read by all who have responsibility for making decisions – whether personal or in organisations. It offers practical advice on how to use the methods used by successful forecasters.

We in SAMI have been scenario planning practitioners for all of our 25 years. Does this mean that we are going over to superforecasting?

We recognise and endorse the ingredients of CHAMP:

Absolutely, comparisons between industries and between countries are a staple ingredient of building scenarios

Absolutely, historical trends can help because then as Eisenhower famously said, Plans are worthless, but planning is everything, and planning needs to build on what we carry forward from the past.

Average out opinions – here is the crux of the difference – scenarios aim to explore different possible futures, often based on different current competing philosophies.

Mathematical models – we will explore in later blogs the role of mathematical models in exploring the future – essentially the implications that models are based on assumptions and can mislead unless these assumptions are transparent and explicit to all users of the model. And most models are not constructed to be able to handle fundamental shifts in underlying behaviour.

Absolutely, predictable biases exist – yes! This is so important, and we run a training course on this, details on

It is important to note the scope of the superforecasters in terms of both subject matter and timescale.

Subject matter: the experimental data on successful forecasters is based on global political forecasting (in the original book, Tetlock, P.E. Expert political judgment: How good is it? How can we know?. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691128719.) and in creating his subsequent panel of volunteers. Do the heuristics apply to forecasting of take up of technology and ensuing social change? Here, for instance, it can be argued that averaging out of opinions may mean that prudent planning is not done, as in the telecoms companies who were late in explore the changes in traffic patterns from mobiles and the internet-driven data flows. Or Steve Ballmer, then CEO of Microsoft, “There is no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance”

Timescale: judging forecasts is difficult unless they are explicit about the timescale. And most forecasts don’t – like Steve Ballmer’s above. But we note that the experimental data about superforecasters quoted in the book is that superforcasters looking out 300 days were more accurate the forecasters looking out 100 days.

So, as our work is often about futures 5 years to 50 out, we learn what we can from Superforecasters and then need to add in the potential paradigm changers and explore these through scenarios – possible different futures.

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow Emeritus.

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

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State of the Future 19.1

March 21, 2018

In his second blog on the work of the Millennium Project, Tony Diggle looks at their latest “State of the Future” report.

Published at the end of last year, this report is the nineteenth in a series of reports (originally annual and subsequently biennial) produced by the Millennium Project, a voluntary think tank of futurists, scholars, scientists, business planners and policymakers worldwide. It is intended to provide an overview of the global strategic landscape, a context for understanding global issues, opportunities and foreseeable prospects, and offers a systematic framework for understanding global change. It is aimed at thought leaders, decision-makers and interested parties generally. The Project’s diversity of opinion and global views is ensured by its sixty-three nodes around the world in all continents.


The heart of the report is a description of fifteen interdependent global challenges and actions to address them: these are transnational in nature and trans-institutional in solution. The challenges listed are as follows:

  1. Sustainable Development and Climate Change
  2. Water and Sanitation
  3. Population and Resources
  4. Democratization
  5. Global Foresight and Decision-Making
  6. Global Convergence of ICT
  7. Rich-Poor Gap
  8. Health Issues
  9. Education and Learning
  10. Peace and Conflict
  11. Status of Women
  12. Transnational Organised Crime
  13. Energy
  14. Science and Technology
  15. Global Ethics

The report finds that the world overall is expected to continue to improve over the next ten years. For example, extreme poverty has fallen from 51% in 1981 to 13% in 2012 and less than 10% currently. On the other hand environmental conditions, armed conflicts, terrorism and organised crime are getting worse. Distinctions between the last three have begun to blur increasing threats to democracies, development and security. Technological developments are expected to lead to a “fourth industrial revolution” making use of artificial intelligence, but as the developing world grows, water consumption per capita will increase giving rise to the possibility of serious water crises and migrations.

The body of the report dealing with the fifteen challenges individually is shorter and punchier than in previous years, but can still come across at times as a rather bland “statement of the case” with a wish list of solutions attached. But since the Millennium Project has been rated as among the top think tanks in the world for “new ideas and paradigms”, perhaps this should be seen as a virtue.

Naturally one challenge of particular interest to futurists is the fifth one, which addresses the problem of global governance systems not keeping up with global interdependence. A general long-term view of the future with long range goals is needed, and this requires a means of linking research and development agendas to such goals. National foresight and decision-making can be improved. Recommended actions include: establishing permanent Parliamentary Committees for the Future (as Finland has done), establishing or improving future strategy units for heads of state and in government and linking these government units with strategy units in other appropriate institutions to improve international strategic coherence and co-ordination.

A supplementary section deals with some other recent work done by the Millennium Project. It has run a number of country workshops to explore the future of work and technology to 2050. The underlying theme that has emerged is that work will increasingly be rendered unnecessary or taken over by technological developments, and some sort of universal basic income will need to be generated. In the most optimistic scenario, men and women will be freed from the necessity of having a job and instead achieve self-respect in the “self-actualising” economy.

The report concludes that there is a greater consensus about the global situation as expressed in these challenges and the actions to address them than is evident in the news media. It boldly asserts that slowly but surely, a globally oriented planetary stewardship consciousness is emerging. Yet it also warns that the world is in a race between implementing ever-increasing ways to improve the human condition and the seemingly ever-increasing complexity and scale of global problems.

Given its contribution to the work on the threat from terrorism discussed at length in the preceding SAMI blog, and also reported in summary in this report, this is not a caution to be treated lightly.

More information on the Millennium Project is available from their website

“State of the Future 19.1” is available as a paperback and as a download from

Written by Tony Diggle, SAMI Associate and member of the UK Node of the Millennium Project. He writes in a personal capacity.

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

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

Countering the Threat from Terrorism

March 14, 2018

In this blog, and in the one following, Tony Diggle looks at two recent publications relating to the work of the Millennium Project, a voluntary think tank of futurists, scholars, scientists, business planners and policymakers worldwide. 

This first blog looks at the proceedings of an Advanced Research Workshop on the “Identification of Potential Terrorists and Adversary Planning” held in Washington DC.

In July, 2016, under the auspices of the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme, an Advanced Research Workshop on “Identification of Potential Terrorists and Adversary Planning – Emerging Technologies and New Counter-Terror Strategies” was held in Washington DC. It was organised by the Millennium Project USA and the FIRST2T group, Israel, and the updated proceedings were published last year. They make sombre reading.

Introducing the volume, Jamie Shea, a NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General, pointed out that twenty years ago terrorism was problem for a limited number of countries and followed a predictable pattern. Nationalist groups such as the IRA had well-known political agendas. Now terrorism had become a universal challenge, with many more groups, increasingly networked, and some of which like ISIS had acquired a global outreach and appeal. Whereas the old terrorists focussed on state institutions or representatives, the new brand was more focussed on the liberal way of life and all its manifestations, in other words the ordinary man in the street – everywhere.

In a presentation from the two organising groups on potential counter-measures made by Ted Gordon and others, attention was drawn to a worrying vulnerability: the proposed approaches for monitoring, detection, trend analysis and archival resourcing currently under consideration by the counter-terrorism community all depended on the continuous availability of electricity. This made them vulnerable in toto to hostile cyber attacks. Gary Kessler reminded the workshop that shortly before it was held, NATO had officially recognised cyberspace as an operational domain, adding this dimension of warfare to air, sea and land.

Paul Werbos, former Program Director, National Science Foundation, USA, underscored this further in addressing the consequences of “cyberblitzkrieg” on electricity and other critical infrastructure. Recent releases of information widely reported in the media had revealed among other things detailed information about how the Stuxnet type of cyberattack could be used to destroy large electric power generators. The potential damage of such an attack on a number of big generators in the U.S. simultaneously could be comparable to that of a major Electromagnetic Pulse Event (EMP). Mr Werbos quoted Trent Franks, a Congressman with access to classified information, as saying in discussing EMP:

“Your folks are only worried because you do not have all the facts. If you had all the facts, you would be terrified out of your minds.”

Fortunately technological solutions were available, but required tougher compliance and regulation to be implemented.

In short, technology by itself might cause as many problems as it solved when it came to trying to prevent terrorism in the future. A wider sweep at the problem was required.

But what was the problem? Philippe Destatte, Foresight Associate Professor at Paris-Diderot University, pointed out that terror was inherent to violence and war. In Julius Caesar’s “Commentaries on the Gallic Wars”, he told of how his brilliant and brutal attacks both retained his friends in their loyalty, and by fear, obliged the wavering to accept offers of peace. Although terrorism might seem an immoral form of war, the profound collapse that the moral code of behaviour underwent in almost all wars on the part of all parties in the 20th century, including the targeting of civilians, showed that the difference between terrorism and other forms of war was one of interpretation. Professor Destatte referred to Guy Standing, a professor at the University of London, who had described a large part of the adult population (at least a quarter) as alienated, anomic, anxious and prone to anger, in political disengagement: the precariat. Professor Standing had written:

“A group that sees no future of security or identity will feel fear and frustration that could lead to its lashing out at identifiable or imagined causes of its lots.”1

The context was explored further by Adrian Pop, Director of the Centre for Regional and Global Studies, Bucharest, Romania in a presentation focussing on the security challenges on the south-eastern flank of the Euro-Atlantic border. In a period of economic recession and high unemployment, increasing numbers of European citizens were disillusioned by what they viewed as mainstream government’s inability to protect them from foreigners who threatened their values and undermined their economic development (irrespective of whether there was any justification for such a position). Yet in 2014, the countries with some of the highest levels of internally displaced peoples had the highest numbers of deaths from terrorism: Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Syria. These four countries were all accessible to Europe by land via its south Eastern flank, and this had become a transit corridor for millions of refugees. More than anecdotal evidence suggested that refugee camps could serve as breeding grounds for terrorism.

Recommendations made by the report to deal with the threat included engaging sources of potential terrorism in the political process and inter-religious dialogue. Countering social media terrorist propaganda remained of key importance, and the efforts of a UN Working Group focussed on this area needed to be developed further. Initiatives aimed at educating people (including people with a “Western” mindset) to “see the world as others see it” needed to be increased not scaled back as was too often the case. An “all-of-society” approach was needed, and the need to develop a system of values such as individual liberty, equality, social coherence and solidarity crucial for the future development of counter-terrorist measures.

All this is complex, and far easier said than done. In this brief review, I have only been able to scratch the surface of an extremely dense and probing publication that contained fifteen papers in all. The report underlined the seriousness of the problem. The proceedings are available in hard copy and in electronic format. Full bibliographic details are given below.

“Identification of Potential Terrorists and Adversary Planning – Emerging Technologies and New Counter-Terror Strategies” ed. by Theodore J GORDON and others. Proceedings of the NATO Advanced Research Workshop, Washington DC, 24th-27th July, 2016. IOS Press, Amsterdam, 2017. ISBN 978-1-61499-747-4 (print), 978-1-61499-748-1 (online).

Website:     E-mail:


  1. STANDING, Guy, “The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class”, Bloomsbury Academic, London, 2011, pp. 24-25.

Written by Tony Diggle, SAMI Associate and member of the UK Node of the Millennium Project. He writes in a personal capacity.

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

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

Why boards fail to address risk

March 7, 2018


Does your board spend as long debating risk as it does strategy? Both are estimates of opportunity and threat in an unknown future environment. Both require sound judgement and a keen appreciation of where the organisation is headed, yet there is ample evidence that many boards see risk only through the lens of business continuity, control rather than uncertainty. Those who do appreciate the concept of uncertainty, often regrettably seek certainty in the wrong places. Misplaced certainty and ignorance of risk have been evident in three recent high profile cases of poor decision making by boards. I shall look at Carillion, Oxfam and KFC.

Carillion collapsed spectacularly because the board failed to fully understand the financial predicament it was in. Finance heads and external auditors claimed the business was technically solvent, when in reality it wasn’t. Institutional investors and hedge funds knew there were problems long before the collapse on 15 January 2018 yet none of the board directors queried this. The board collectively trusted assurances that the business was fine right up to the sudden profit warning of July 2017, at which point the CEO was fired, and the ship began sinking fast. Groupthink was a factor, as was confirmation bias and over-optimism, all of which academics knew 40 years ago can cause systematic bias leading to errors of judgement.

Oxfam has suffered significantly through revelations of unethical behaviour among its field agents over seven years ago in a disaster relief operation. An internal enquiry decided against transparency in order to protect the reputation of the charity, yet this decision, now revealed, has had the opposite effect with an immediate impact on donor trust. The board should have known that secrecy would be a reputational time bomb. Was this down to cognitive dissonance, they just didn’t appreciate the severity? Or was it down to anchoring and adjustment based on familiarity with resolution of previous staff misdemeanours? Was it perhaps an escalation of commitment and a determination to justify a course of action because too much time had passed?

KFC has lost a lot of customers and been forced to close branches due to food shortages. This followed a switch in chicken distributor, a cost saving in logistical overheads. Unfortunately the new distributor (DHL) could not replicate the branch supply schedule of the previous distributor (Bidvest) and hence stores ran out of stock and had to close. Did the board of KFC question the rationale of changing distributor or did the head of logistics reassure them of the upside cost saving rather than the downside supply risk? It turns out that Burger King had previously switched to DHL but quickly reverted to Bidvest when they saw that it wasn’t working. Did the KFC board use this information or were they hypnotised by obedience to authority or attitude polarisation?

What should boards do to make better decisions and protect value? It would be nice to think that codes of governance emphasised the need to guard against cognitive bias, especially as the dangers have been known for over 40 years. A recent report by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education found that governing bodies of universities do not take sufficient notice of heuristics and biases. This is true in the corporate world where ‘groupthink and polarisation run counter to the predictions of rational choice decision making’. Boards need to appreciate the stewardship risk of misplaced certainty: to consider the personalities and agendas that collide in collective consensus.

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.

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How can the government address social care funding?

February 28, 2018

A new year and another social care green paper consultation.

Everyone agrees something needs to be done but no-one can agree what it is – we have been here so many times before.

We can go back to the Royal Commission in 1997; to the Wanless Report for the Kings Fund; to the Labour ‘death tax’; to the Dilnot Report and the care cost cap and to the last Conservative manifesto and the ‘dementia tax’.

In a sense, despite how peculiar and perverse our system of funding social care is, nothing has happened that has impacted on the public consciousness to the extent that a government has actually been forced to make significant changes to the system.

Maybe the current NHS crisis, caused in part by bed-blocking and elderly patients stuck in wards, is the tipping point, or maybe once we move out of “winter pressures” it will all settle down again.

Tipping point

Let us suspend disbelief and assume that we really do have a tipping point. How is the government addressing it beyond perverse tinkering with funding mechanisms?

Allowing local authorities (LAs) to increase council tax to add a little bit towards social care funding is a good case in point.

The areas with the lowest numbers of privately funded care home places are the same as the areas with populations which receive the biggest council tax rebates.

LA-funded places are cross-subsidised by private payers, and the council tax increases are a drop in the ocean compared to the post austerity cuts that have been imposed on LAs.

Department of health

The prime minister has recently reacted by addressing the chronic under-naming of Jeremy Hunt (thanks to NHS Network News for this satire) by making him secretary of state for health and social care.

But in fact the department of health (DH) has always been responsible for social care policy.

The problem is that the new Health in Construction Leadership Group (HCLG) (CLG also suffered from under-naming) holds LA budgets and, overall, HMT controls the money – it was HMT who effectively vetoed the care cost cap.

Expert panel

To make things even more complicated it was the cabinet office along with DH that announced the commitment to a green paper being published this summer.

Mid-November they announced members of a new expert panel to support its deliberations.

As you would expect Sir Andrew Dilnot is to be on the panel as are the insurance industry.

Nothing wrong with that, though I do wonder how they haven’t lost the will to live given the number of times they have been asked to do the same thing.

Social tax

Meanwhile in policy wonk world we have suggestions for a hypothecated social (and possibly NHS) tax.

HMT always resist these for two reasons: first they like to have the freedom to decide how to allocate the nation’s resources and second because ring-fenced budgets have little incentive for efficiency savings as their income is guaranteed.

The other suggestion doing the rounds is for pensioners to pay NI contributions.

Apart from the fact that NI starts at a much lower base than income tax (which would bring many more lower income pensioners into the tax bracket), can anyone really see a Conservative government alienating its core vote in this way?

If the ‘dementia tax’ was a step too far, this policy is in another league altogether.

Questions and answers

If we have reached a tipping point, is there an answer? These are the key questions…

How do we get more money into social care?

How do we deal with the perennial problem of NHS and social care silos shifting budget costs to each other?

And how can at least some of the perversities of the current system be resolved?

I would bring in the care cost cap because it would encourage the development of long-term care insurance bought by the working population which would eventually lead to more self-funding entrants to care homes which would give more money to cross-subsidise LA-funded entrants.

I would merge LA and NHS responsibilities for health and social care.

This is already happening in Greater Manchester.

The result has been that delayed discharges from hospital have been almost halved; care workers are being paid more (avoiding recruitment problems) and all of this has saved money overall.

And I would give DH the money from HCLG – not just rename it.

Written by Richard Walsh, SAMI Fellow and first published in Cover magazine, January 2018.

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ESPAS Conference 2017

February 21, 2018

I spent an interesting two days in Brussels at the ESPAS annual conference ‘Global Trends to 2030: The Making of a New Geopolitical Order?’ on 22-23 November 2017. ESPAS is inter-institutional collaboration between the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European External Action Service, which aims to monitor global trends and offer strategic foresight to the EU’s decision-makers.

The focus this year was on Europe’s role in a new world order, and the conference’s accompanying publication: Shaping the Future of Geopolitics contains a rich collection of over 30 original, forward-looking, anticipatory essays from the speakers. These were from European institutions and also from external perspectives – Russia, Middle East, China, Brazil, USA, Australia, and representing Africa. As last year a star contributor was Aaron Maniam from Singapore. One session was titled “What if winter were coming? Is Europe prepared for the security challenges to come? Which the panellists all answered with “no”.

The second day explored soft and hard power in this context, through the lenses of international regulation, of an economically interdependent world, and the future of warfare..

Cat Tully of SOIF organised an interesting breakfast meeting to discuss the successes and challenges of applying foresight in organisations – I will circulate the results later – and she also chaired a spoof “ESPAS 2035” interview with the Secretary General of the new European Congress formed after BREXIN in 2029.

Additionally, Angela Wilkinson had been commissioned to write a ‘Strategic Foresight Primer’, an easy-to-use guide on strategic foresight, which was given to all delegates.

Videos and photos of the event are available on the ESPAS website and, if you are on twitter or medium, you can read more about the conference at #ESPAS17 and

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow Emeritus.

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

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Five key lessons for boards from the Carillion collapse

February 14, 2018


The sudden collapse of a business like Carillion has raised questions about financial reporting controls, auditor vigilance and exactly who should have acted sooner. The government is embarrassed by exposure to public infrastructure projects across several departments, while many smaller sub contractors will never be paid for work they’ve done. The board of Carillion must bear much of the blame so what could they have done to avert this crisis?

  1. Accept collective responsibility – Boards are made up a experienced directors selected on merit to deliver commercial success in the form of profit and shareholder dividend. The executive members operate the business on a day-to-day basis, while the non-executive members offer balance and wider perspective tasked with holding the executive to account on behalf of the shareholders. Together both groups collectively share responsibility for the business model, its strategy and risks. it is not acceptable to blame the Finance Director or auditors alone, the board is a culpable entity.
  2. Separate governance from management – Distinction is often hazy but it is worth quoting from the British Standard for Effective Governance of Organizations (BS 13500): ‘Management is about getting work done, whereas governance is about ensuring that the right purpose is pursued in the right way and that the organisation continuously develops overall.’ A board should know if suppliers are being paid late or that bill payments are being made with credit: a cash-flow problem demands attention, not as an emollient to shareholders, but to address inherent structural problems.
  3. Respond to warning signs – Some are obvious but not all: a rapid turnover of chair or FD is pretty obvious and demands question, but so too does hedge fund activity in shorting your share price. If professional investors are betting on your share price collapsing in the future what information do they have that you don’t? Boards can suffer from optimism bias and ‘groupthink’ and justify ‘inside knowledge’ for why they know better, but these viewpoints can prove to be delusional. Responsible directors ask probing questions even at the risk of making others around the table uncomfortable.
  4. Challenge experts – Just because the Head of Risk says that risk is being managed it doesn’t mean he’s right. Risk is not a concept that all directors understand equally and that is a good thing. Perspective is a valuable tool in risk appreciation, especially as once recognised controls for handling it can be pretty straightforward. The same goes for assertions from the FD, Head of Internal Audit or indeed Head of Sales. Future business is never certain until the cash is in the bank. This is something Enron learnt to its cost. Even Tesco now understands that external auditors can be wrong also.
  5. Prevent the death spiral – This can be quite fast and consists of five stages: it starts with shares being sold in volume forcing the price down and reducing market capitalisation. Lenders get nervous and refuse further loans so the cost of borrowing increases. Ratings agencies downgrade your stock and cash flow stalls, this is the liquidity crisis often known as the Wall. Death can be averted through cash injections but white knights are scarce, the fifth and final stage is administration. Boards need to prevent this death spiral through listening to investors not just their own executive team.

There is an ominous sixth lesson for boards as well: avoid performing so poorly as to attract the attention of a Commons select committee. MPs will ask probing questions you should have had the temerity to ask, a press and wider public will be amazed at your lack of scrutiny. In order to take ‘robust decisions in uncertain times’ collective leadership must be competent and capable.

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.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

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