Millennium Project
Factors Required for Successful Implementation of
Futures Research in Decision Making


Chapter 4. Results of the Millennium Project Lookout Panel

This chapter presents a third source of information obtained via questionnaires on the factors required for successful implementation of futures research in decisionmaking. The Global Lookout Panel identified and rated impediments, including the ethical barriers to use of early warning from futures research decisionmaking as well as the information that has proven effective.

4.1 The questionnaires. The Global Lookout Panel was given three rounds of questionnaires. This international panel was composed of futurists, scholars, business planners, and policy advisors. They were selected on the basis of their publications, interests, expertise, and recommendations of the ten Millennium Project Nodes around the world. This inquiry was not intended to be a statistical survey, but rather an effort to gain insight into perceptions and concepts about the use of futures research in decisionmaking.

The first round of the questionnaire series asked about ethical issues related to timely use of early warnings. Building on the answers to the first round and the interviews, a second round questionnaire asked about: Impediments to timely decisionmaking and methods for reducing these impediments; the usefulness and availability of various types of decision relevant information; and the role of moral and ethical issues in decisionmaking and suggestions for methods by which these issues might be addressed.

The third round focused on evaluating new suggestions collected in the second round regarding: impediments to decisionmaking; information that could facilitate timely decisionmaking; and means for correcting moral and ethical impediments. It also explored the practicality and effectiveness of the methods suggested by the respondents for addressing the moral and ethical issues raised in the earlier rounds.

The second round asked panelists to judge the relative importance of each of the impediments on the extended list from round 1 and the interviews, according to the following instructions:

The panel was asked to imagine two or three situations with which they are familiar, in which early warning was available but effective action was delayed. What were the causes? The panel was asked to provide their judgments about importance, according to the following scale and situation:
  5= Almost totally responsible
4= Mostly responsible
3= Important but shared responsibly with other reasons
2= Somewhat involved but other reasons were more important
1= Not involved or only a minor contributor
4.2 Decisionmaking Impediments. The responses, including those evaluated in Round 3 are rank ordered by average importance and appear below:

Table 2
 
Impediment
Imp.
2. Institutional: the fact that no one has responsibility to act; lack of adequate coordination among responsible ministries and agencies; institutional inertia.
3.90
1. Financial: lack of funding or the fact that the people who ought to pay are unwilling to do so.
3.89
19 Disinterest in the future: near term issues gain more attention than those that have more distant future consequences.
3.81
16 Planning inadequacy: lack of a long-term view.
3.77
7. Personnel: lack of decision skills - decisionmakers do not understand the complexities of the issues about which they must decide; lack of professionalism of policy makers; lack of trained personnel; lack of an inventory of national and regional capacities; reduction of brain drain.
3.73
12. Strategic: lack of clear-cut strategy and goals, lack of coordinated actions among nations.
3.69
11. Complexity: lack of understanding of the magnitude of problems; lack of models showing complex interdependence of events and policies; lack of understanding of consequences of actions; stereotypical thinking.
3.63
3. Political: the action interferes with national interests or it has been proposed by a political opponent; lack of involvement of regions, corporations and specific groups.
3.63
6. Information: lack of accurate, reliable and sufficient data and information, or the uncertainty of the risk; conflicting information; lack of coordinated scanning.
3.60
14 Lack of consensus: differing interests and ideology among key actors, politicians, public, and particularly lobbying groups in society.
3.60
28. Paradigm lock: not being able to see or accept that there may be a completely different world view
3.59
22. Responsibility: personal desire to avoid responsibility for decisionmaking; not wanting to rock the boat.
3.41
25. Absence of a sense of urgency; thinking that someone else will take care of it.
3.40
30. Influence of prior mistakes made by other powerful actors, e.g. international institutions like the IMF, the UN agencies, powerful states influencing policy in other countries. 
3.28
10. Communication: inadequate reports - unduly complex or too long for decisionmakers.
3.24
17 Lack of receptiveness: lack of a crisis atmosphere; conflicts between effective actions and ideology of policy makers and between proposals and tradition.
3.24
29. Over focus: picking a small do-able project at the expense of the bigger picture.
3.24
24. Lack of tools for integrating future estimates into daily decisionmaking.
3.20
8. Resources: lack of required natural resources, including biological resources; lack of adequate technology transfer, particularly between developed and developing countries.
3.05
23. Inadequate intercultural communications and media exposure.
3.04
27. Lack of rewards for action that pays off in the long term (vs. short term rewards).
2.99
9. Legal: lack or inadequacy of necessary laws and appropriate regulations.
2.98
18 Moral lapses: loss of morality in decisionmaking; taking the easy way rather than the right way.
2.93
15 Complacency: public complacently; the growing cult of leisure; materialism; lack of a sense of dedication and sacrifice and changing attitudes about the value of hard work. 
2.86
21 Inadequate time available to study the issue; press of other matters.
2.85
13 Technological: lack of required technology or unwarranted trust in technology.
2.82
26. Benefits of taking action not clearly articulated.
2.81
20 Criminal activities: corruption and bribery. 
2.72
5. Psychological: the fear of making a mistake or looking silly.
2.54
4. Cultural: roles of men vs. women, racism, or ethnocentrism.
2.34

4.3 Form of Information Needed for Successful Use and Examples

Using information derived in the decisionmaker interviews, the respondents were asked to judge the usefulness of various kinds of information used in decisionmaking and to give examples. Their average responses were (where 5= extremely useful and 1= likely to be counterproductive):

Table 3
 
Information Type
Usefulness
Examples
1. Information that demonstrates unequivocally that a crisis is pending.
4.44
6 hour weather forecasts
Mettur Dam release
Species depletion
Ozone hole
Forecasts depicting the potential spread of AIDS, cancer, etc.
17. Knowledge about what is possible: how science and technology might affect the outcomes of decisions
4.08
U.S. Office of Technology Assessment providing policy recommendations to Congressional staffs.
19. Education of decisionmakers and opinion shapers on issues of long term significance, rather than those of short term populist interest
3.91
16. Simple, clear, precise information in political, cultural and social (non-technical) terms, connected to goals and strategies
3.80
The Apollo project in the USA in sixties.
13. Sufficient information about what is required to implement various policy options: e.g. manpower, systemic effects, technological change, etc.
3.80
Technology assessments of 2nd order social and environmental consequences.
18. Information about how a contemplated decision may affect stakeholders
3.68
6. Information about the success or failure of other institutions and countries that have similar problems and have attempted to implement policies; inspiring success stories.
3.62
Privatization process in former socialist countries - e.g. voucher privatization
Asian financial crisis
Polish experience of "shock therapy" was studied by Russian before implementation of " shock therapy" in Russia in 1992
IMF used its experience in Lat. America for the development of recommendations for Russian reforms.
5. Development and popularization of appropriate indicators; coordination of indicators among institutions that rely on cooperation to design and implement policy.
3.62
Municipal air quality
Flow of financial resources
Currency reserves
Human Development Index in UNDP Human Development Report.
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists clock showing time to doomsday
State of the Environment reports
Russian Central Bank and Ministry of Finance system of indicators reduced to a common methodology.
Socially responsible investing. e.g. Domini social 400 index.
2. Testimony of eminent scientists. 
3.61
Montreal Protocol
Natural calamities
AIDS forecasts
IPCC’s influence in global warming debate
Manhattan Project
Acid rain in eastern Canada/northeastern USA
Population forecasts
11. Information about probability and risks associated with issues and their policy solutions.
3.56
EPA regulations of removal of lead from gasoline
Quarantines for infectious diseases
Warnings about potential for AIDS spread
Nuclear warfare risks and START actions
Global warming
Security strategy of Central European countries and their efforts to join NATO
Contraceptives, tobacco, some medical technologies
14. Attention paid to the issue by the media.
3.55
TV images of famine in Somalia affected decision to get involved.
3. Accurate projections of computer models.
3.44
Weather forecasts
Forecasts of spreading epidemics
Global climate models

Population forecasts

20. Clarity of forecasted condition without action and technical feasibility of proposed action
3.41

 

Nuclear winter 
Acid rain
12. Creation and use of accurate simulations and training which make clear the consequences of actions.
3.40
Flight simulators
4. Intended actions of other ministries, countries or decisionmakers.
3.39
International police information
Sustainable development strategies of other countries.
Most examples in this category come from the intelligence community: 
- the Israeli assessment of a future nuclear weapon threat from Iraq 
- the Israeli pre-eruptive air strike on the OS Iraq nuclear reactor
US strikes on Afghanistan and Sudan as a result of the assessed threat from Osaman bin Laden
7. Popularization of issues through public communities, business, research institutions, individuals under leadership and guidance of government.
3.38
Agenda 21
15. A set of long-term scenarios, ranging from dreadful to positive.
3.18
The Shell scenarios
World Bank
Demographic forecasts were used ( as one of the sources of information) for the planning of the system of education development in USSR 
8. Popularization of visions showing the consequences of and possible outcomes of the issues; cooperation between artists (e.g. Spielberg) and futurists. 
3.16
Jurassic Park
Seven Years in Tibet
Toffler’s forecasts of migration
Sagan’s nuclear winter
Russian Government was going to change the river bed of some Siberian rivers. Developed scenarios of the consequences of this action) and wide discussion of this issue by media blocked the action of Government
10. Information about (or derived from) corporate lobbying that could influence decisionmaking by institutions and governments.
3.01
Can't think of a single lobbing effort linked to early warning of an issue. All lobbing examples that came to mind had negative results.
(Lobbying is) mostly narrow, self-interested disinformation without full disclosure.
9. Knowledge about criminal activities that could adversely influence decisionmaking by institutions and governments. 
2.90
Colombian and Mexican narco cartels and its political parties financing and penetration. Clinton & Lewinski affair and its adverse results to Republican party.
Construction of nuclear power plants (e.g. Temelín in the Czech R.)
US tobacco industry and lobbing.
Middle East governments lobbying in Washington D.C. for financial and military aid

Clearly, the suggestions by the panel included some key current issues that served to illustrate the belief that futures research, as embodied in the information forms listed, was used in a wide variety of applications.

4.4 Moral and Ethical Issues. Moral and ethical considerations affect the uses and usefulness of futures research for several reasons:

1. Futures research is often used to examine the potential consequences of alternative decisions. This evaluation involves judging which outcome is potentially "best" not only from the standpoint of economics, but from an overall perspective, which involves value-based judgments which are inevitably tangled with moral and ethical issues.

2. Rarely are decisions that are informed by futures research of the right vs. wrong or legal vs. illegal sort. Those kinds of decisions are simple to weigh: take the right and the legal and reject the wrong and illegal. Most often, decisions informed by futures research involve trade offs between two or more "right" alternatives and/or involve elements that have conflicting impacts on various groups. Futures research techniques can be used to examine these conflicting interests and their potential evolution.

3. Sometimes decisions that seem correct for the short-term, have negative consequences for the longer term. These temporal trade-off between short and long term issues can be explored using futures research.

4.. The Millennium Project Lookout panel said that the loss of morality in decisionmaking often impedes decisionmaking and that because of such lapses decisionmakers sometimes take the easy solution rather than "the right way." So, even though foresight might provide insight leading to a beneficial decision, without moral integrity, other less appropriate actions might be chosen.

5. Many of the barriers to the use of foresight are driven by moral factors, thus understanding what those moral factors are necessary to overcome the barriers. Some of the most prominent examples of barriers (from the Lookout Panel) that have moral overtones are:

Barrier: Disinterest in the future; near term issues gain more attention than those that have more distant future consequences. This is an example of a trade off between NEAR-TERM and LONG-TERM, where what's good for now is at odds with what's good for the future. Take, as a single case the question: "How can sustainable development be achieved for all?" To realize sustainability of almost any sort requires that sacrifices or limits be placed on current consumption in order to achieve later bounty. How much sacrifice? By whom?

Barrier: The (decision under consideration) interferes with national interests. This is an example of a TRUTH VS. LOYALTY, dilemma where one's allegiance to a person, nation, or idea is challenged by one's understanding of what honesty or integrity demands. Take as an example the problem often faced by the media: divulging the truth about security strategies may endanger security; yet the media believe they have an obligation to report fully; should they truncate their reporting in the interest of loyalty to their countries and beliefs?

Barrier: Lack of required natural resources, including biological resources; lack of adequate technology transfer, particularly between developed and developing countries. This is an INDIVIDUAL VS. COMMUNITY dilemma where needs of the self (or small group) and the needs of the community (or large group) are both right and mutually exclusive. An example of this case is "How can everyone have sufficient clean water without conflict?" Or to put it in individual versus community terms, to what degree should the individual curtail water consumption in the interests of the community? Or to what degree should a nation control its consumption in the interests of other downstream countries?

Although the panel did not define a barrier that fits this final category, another example involves a trade off between JUSTICE AND MERCY, where the stern demands of law and the clear need for compassion both need to be considered. South Africa provides an illustration of justice versus mercy: the truth court in which confession of previous crimes, no matter how heinous, and wrongdoing, provided the basis for forgiving and mercy, and punishment, retribution, and justice for those crimes was put aside.

To explore the complex relationship between barriers to the use of futures research and moral and ethical issues, several questions were included in the Lookout Panel inquiry.

In the first questionnaire, a list of issues such as "Lack of honor and lying" was presented and the panel was asked to judge the importance of such issues in their country and in the world. The respondents were asked to add to the list. The composite list was presented to the panel in the second and third rounds and similar judgments were requested for the newly added items. The scale used was:

5= of overwhelming importance
4= of great importance
3= of modest importance
2= of some importance
1= trivial
The table below presents the panelists’ judgments about the importance of moral issues involved in decisionmaking in their countries vs. the world:

Table 4
 
ISSUE
My Country
World
10. Insufficient attention to the needs of future generations.
3.87
3.95
28. Caring about the well-being of only one's own group or nation.
3.78
4.04
16. Corruption of political leaders, policy makers, corporate leaders.
3.75
3.91
1. Corruption in government.
3.74
3.97
9. Waste.
3.70
3.63
6. Greed and self centeredness.
3.68
3.65
2. Economic inequities.
3.67
4.05
21. Lack of a holistic view of the world: fragmentation among many people with a more or less holistic view.
3.65
3.61
18. Undue pressures from lobbying groups.
3.60
3.63
14. Lack of respect for the environment.
3.59
3.95
17. Non-action, the most severe corruption, Honor in leadership is to assume responsibility.
3.56
3.54
22. Advertising may promote inappropriate products and purposes of "overconsumption.".
3.52
3.60
7. Lack of compassion and tolerance for others.
3.49
3.57
27. Unwillingness to understand a culturally different awareness of same issue.
3.46
3.98
26. Fear and mistrust from history.
3.39
3.66
3. Lack of honor and lying.
3.35
3.47
19. Infiltration of organized crime and criminals into government and business.
3.29
3.61
15. Lack of means for educating about morals and ethics.
3.29
3.50
12. Lack of transparency in decisionmaking.
3.27
3.52
20. Alienation of people from self and nature.
3.26
3.31
24. Lack of common agreement about ethics and morals; it changes with advancing knowledge and socio-economic conditions. 
3.20
3.22
23. Lack of role models.
3.05
2.91
5. Disrespect of authority.
3.00
3.06
13. Barriers to freedom of inquiry.
2.98
3.66
4. Lack of respect for women's civil rights.
2.78
3.71
11. National sovereignty used to cover human rights abuses.
2.74
3.52
8. Godless-ness.
2.56
2.69
25 Undue pressure from fundamentalist groups.
2.49
3.09

    1. Interviewees comments on Ethical Barriers
The interview respondents also had some comments to make about moral issues; some key points are listed below: ...corruption in government is a great impediment. But more common impediments are the corruption of some leaders (policy makers or officials) and lack of responsibility….

They do not have a long, all-aspect viewpoint, they disregard long-term benefits, (and) they do not consider the interest of future generations…. We should advocate a new ecological ethics which encourages the harmony between human and human, and human and nature…. The will to act is interconnected with clarity and transparency, of aims with adequate priorities. If the aim is not clear, also the impulse is missing…. Transitional periods are periods of crises in ethics too. That is why (ethics are) a key problem today.

This examination of morals and ethics leads to certain recommendations for organizations that are considering the implementation of foresight activities:

1. As illustrated by the comments of the interviewees and the Lookout Panel during the analysis of moral and ethical impediments, there is general recognition that most decision situations involve a short term focus and that long term issues are usually of lower priority. A justification for implementing futures research activities is therefore to satisfy the need to devote some continuing effort to the study of the long-term consequences of decisions made on the basis of short-term issues.

  1. Implementation of foresight activities can help overcome several moral and ethical impediments to effective decisionmaking. For example:
Table 5
 
Moral and Ethical Impediment
Futures Research Considerations
Caring about the well-being of only one's own group or nation; lack of compassion and tolerance for others  Well done futures research examines the potential impacts of decisions on various groups and actors
Corruption of political leaders, policy makers, corporate leaders. Corrupt leaders may try to inhibit futures research since corruption may rise to the top of the list of political and societal issues
Lack of transparency in decisionmaking Futures research techniques often involve making explicit the steps required for policy implementation, thus transparency is enhanced.
Greed and self centeredness When futures research is used in planning it is often necessary to develop normative- that is, desirable, futures. It becomes obvious when these images are lopsided.
Lack of means for educating about morals and ethics Futures research is an educational tool. It can involve many people in an organization in a common exploration of possible futures and their comparative benefits. In such systems, participants usually begin to share a common sense of the future and the correctness- including the moral correctness- of possible actions.
Lack of common agreement about ethics and morals As this study shows, there are large areas of agreement that transcend national boundaries; this demonstrates that futures research may be a link in reaching international agreements that depend on common ethical beliefs and images of the future.

3. Similarly, overcoming the impediments to the implementation of foresight activities can involve moral and ethical issues; for example:

Table 6
 
Impediments to Implementation of Futures Research Programs
Moral and Ethical Consideration
The fact that no one has responsibility to act; lack of adequate coordination among responsible ministries and agencies; institutional inertia. Diffuse responsibilities often makes initiation of a foresight activity difficult. Diffuse responsibilities in this area often exist because no one has included future considerations in their missions and charter, which, by their nature are value-laden statements. Therefore, an initial step for AEPI and others is assure that their mission include a future focus 
Disinterest in the future: near term issues gain more attention than those that have more distant future consequences. A clear example of the moral issue of trading off long term interests for short term exigencies; to overcome this moral barrier, decisionmakers can be shown successful case studies, participate in prototype studies and be encouraged to revise charters and mission statements to make the need for futures work explicit.
Personnel: lack of persons who can implement foresight programs Not only experience in foresight is required, but when outcomes involves important uncertainties and potential value conflicts, persons conducting futures studies should be skilled in values research or values issues. There are few enough of such persons. Therefore, organizations contemplating such systems should be involved in training in both futures studies and values.
Complexity: lack of understanding of the magnitude of problems; lack of models showing complex interdependence of events and policies; lack of understanding of consequences of actions; stereotypical thinking. Resolution of value dependent issues is a complex process. Values are rarely stated explicitly, even in futures studies, but when they are, the seeds of future conflict can often be discerned. Recommendation: make sure that systems apt to deal with value laden issues make values explicit where possible.



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