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4 Aug, 2011

State of the Future Report: Global Decision-Making Processes Face Overhaul

A “State of the Future Report” issued by a Washington DC-based think tank says it is high time for a major overhaul of the structures and processes to improve the quality of global decision-making, away from short-term, insular, parochial considerations towards more ethical, universal and long-term considerations. Citing the ongoing transition to a multi-polar world, and the complex web of accompanying environmental, economic, geopolitical, demographic and technological challenges, the report by the Millennium Project says, “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.”

Source: The Millennium Project

It says, “There is no question that the world can be far better than it is, IF we make the right decisions. When you consider the many wrong decisions and good decisions not taken—day after day and year after year around the world—it is amazing that we are still making as much progress as we are; hence, if we can improve our decision-making, as individuals, groups, nations, and institutions, then the world could be surprisingly better than it is today.”

Designed to “set a context and framework for better decisions,” the 2011 State of the Future Report was released on July 31, and provides an overview of the present global situation, problems, solutions, and prospects for the future. It lists “15 Global Challenges” such as energy, food, science and technology, ethics, development, water, organized crime, health, gender relations, demographics, war and peace, and others. Now in its 15th year, the report is designed to help “decision-makers, opinion leaders, and educators who fight against hopeless despair, blind confidence, and ignorant indifference— attitudes that too often have blocked efforts to improve the prospects for humanity.”

Click here to access links to summaries of the reports

Not to be mistaken with the “UN Millennium Project” headed by Prof. Jeffrey Sachs designed to address the 8 Millennium Development Goals, the Millennium Project says it was established in 1996 as “the first globalized think tank.” It conducts independent research via its 40 worldwide nodes where groups of individuals and institutions pick the brains of their region and feedback the global results. It says it is “supported by UN organizations, multinational corporations, universities, foundations and the governments of Azerbaijan, Kuwait, South Korea, and the United States.”

This year’s report also has special chapters on an Egyptian assessment of its post-revolution priorities; elements shaping the future of the arts, media, and entertainment industries by 2020; scenarios for the future of Latin America by 2030; the State of the Future Index; and environmental security.

Overall, the report “finds the world is getting richer, healthier, better educated, living longer, and is more peaceful and better connected; yet half the world is potentially unstable. Food prices are rising, water tables are falling, corruption and organized crime is increasing, environmental viability for life support is diminishing, debt and economic insecurity are increasing, climate change continues, and the gap between the rich and poor is widening dangerously.”

The report offers a score-card, claiming that the world is “winning” in the following areas: Improved water access, Adult literacy, Secondary school enrollment, Poverty at $1.25 a day, Population growth, GDP per capita, Physicians per population, Internet users, Infant mortality, Life expectancy at birth, Women in parliaments, GDP per unit of energy, Number of major armed conflicts .

However, the world is “losing” in the following: CO2 emissions, Global surface temperature anomalies, People voting in elections, Corruption, People killed or injured in terrorist attacks, Refugees and displaced persons.

A third area of uncertainty is listed thus: Unemployment, Non-Fossil fuel consumption, Population in countries that are free, Forest area, Countries having or thought to have plans for nuclear weapons, Food availability-undernourishment, Prevalence of HIV, Low and middle income country debt, R&D budgets.

Most important elements

Perhaps the most important elements driving this need for change are the projected increase in global population, the changing demographic patterns within that growth projection, and the availability of resources and systems to support that growth.  Says the report, “Today our consumption of renewable natural resources is 50% larger than nature’s capacity to regenerate. In just 39 years, humanity may add an additional 2.3 billion people to world population. There were 1 billion humans in 1804; 2 billion in 1927; 6 billion in 1999; and 7 billion today.”

The implications of the report for the travel & tourism industry are profound, and could/should pave the way for fundamental changes in the way the industry measures its status and performance. This could mean moving away from measuring tourism as a “cash-cow” generator of jobs and economic growth and putting that more into the broader context of its environmental, social and cultural costs.

If peace, stability and a more fair and just world order is to emerge, a key question addressed in the report is: “How can ethical considerations become more routinely incorporated into global decisions?”

It offers a stark reminder that “our failure to inculcate ethics into more of the business community contributed to the global financial crisis and resulting recession, employment stagnation, and widening rich-poor gap. The report adds, “Although quick fixes have pulled the world out of recession, the underlining ethics has not been addressed sufficiently to prevent future crises.”

The report says that the upcoming shift in global power structures will play a critical role in shaping the outcome. “With the emergence of the G8 and BRIC and the increasing powers of the WTO, ICC, regional organizations, and social media, it is reasonable to forecast a transition from the U.S. being the only superpower to a more multi-polar world. But how that will change global decision-making and ethical considerations is not as clear. Although the U.S. has provided some leadership in bringing ethical considerations into many international organizations and forums, its ethical leadership is compromised— there is still no generally accepted way to get corrupting money out of politics and elections or to stop “cozy relationships” between regulators and those they regulate.”

It notes: “Although there is increasing recognition that accelerating change requires global longer-term perspectives, decision-makers feel little pressure to consider them. Nevertheless, attaining long-range goals like landing on the moon or eradicating smallpox that were considered impossible inspired many people to go beyond selfish, short-term interests to great achievements.”

Cut Both Ways

In the 21st century, many entities—from companies, cities, and countries to regions—are using scenario analysis to help them make policy decisions. The vast resources of knowledge and intelligence can now cut both ways. “We can modify DNA and produce marvelous new life forms that detect and cure disease and shape our prospective progeny, but also the growing spectrum of bio-weapons and grave uncertainty about the morality of using technology to change human destiny and evolution. We have nanotechnology and the worst slums in the world; we grow sugar for fuel when we need food. We make decisions that affect the world without knowing the consequences, using obsolete and impoverished decision-making.”

Hence, the report says, “collective responsibility for global ethics in decision-making is embryonic but growing. Corporate social responsibility programs, ethical marketing, and social investing are increasing. Global ethics also are emerging around the world through the evolution of ISO standards and international treaties that are defining the norms of civilization. Yet 12–27 million people are slaves today, more than at the height of the 19th-century slave trade; the World Bank estimates over $1 trillion is paid each year in bribes; and organized crime takes in $2–3 trillion annually.”

Says the report: “Is the acceleration of global change beyond conventional means of ethical evaluation? Must we invent anticipatory ethical systems? Just as law has a body of previous judgments upon which to draw for guidance, will we also need bodies of ethical judgments about future possible events? For example, is it ethical to clone ourselves or bring dinosaurs back to life or invent thousands of new life forms from synthetic biology?”

It notes the impact of globalisation in the decision-making process and the issues bound to emerge. “The moral will to act in collaboration across national, institutional, religious, and ideological boundaries that is necessary to address today’s global challenges requires global ethics. Public morality based on religious metaphysics is challenged daily by growing secularism, leaving many unsure about the moral basis for decision-making. Unfortunately, religions and ideologies that claim moral superiority give rise to “we-they” splits.”

The report cites the creation of the UN Global Compact—with 8,000 participants, including over 5,300 businesses in 130 countries—to reinforce ethics in decision-making; it has improved business-NGO collaboration, raised the profile of corporate responsibility programs, and increased businesses’ non-financial reporting mandates in many countries. The Compact has been used to encourage corporations to urge their countries to ratify the UN Convention against Corruption, which has been ratified by 143 states. As of March 2011 there were 26 first-year country reviews of corruption under way via the convention.

It adds, “Some believe that Wikileaks will ultimately improve ethical considerations in global decisions, since, it is argued, it shows that many unethical decisions led to poorer results than expected. The global financial crisis demonstrated the interdependence of economics and ethics.”

New Mindset

The report says that solutions will require an entirely new mindset. “Entertainment media could promote memes like “make decisions that are good for me, you, and the world.” We need to create better incentives for ethics in global decisions, promote parental guidance to establish a sense of values, encourage respect for legitimate authority, support the identification and success of the influence of role models, implement cost-effective strategies for global education for a more enlightened world, and make behavior match the values people say they believe in.

“Ethical and spiritual education should grow in balance with the new powers given to humanity by technological progress. The challenge (of ethics in decision-making) will be addressed seriously when corruption decreases by 50% from the World Bank estimates of 2006, when ethical business standards are internationally practiced and regularly audited, when essentially all students receive education in ethics and responsible citizenship, and when there is a general acknowledgment that global ethics transcends religion and nationality.”

It notes that the trend is already under way. The North African uprisings in 2011 were calls for ethics in decision-making, the report says. As China’s global decision-making role increases, it will face traditional versus western value conflicts. In Europe, future immigration policies will have global significance, increasing discussions of ethics and identity for Europe.

The report notes there is reason for optimism. New technologies also make it easier for more people to do more good at a faster pace than ever before. Single individuals initiate groups on the Internet, organizing actions worldwide around specific ethical issues. News media, blogs, mobile phone cameras, ethics commissions, and NGOs are increasingly exposing unethical decisions and corrupt practices, creating an embryonic global conscience.

The increasing complexity of everything in much of the world is forcing humans to rely more and more on computers. In 1997 IBM’s Deep Blue beat the world chess champion. In 2011 IBM’s Watson beat top TV quiz show knowledge champions. What’s next? Just as the autonomic nervous system runs most biological decisionmaking, so too computer systems are increasingly making the day-to-day decisions for civilization. The acceleration of S&T continues to fundamentally change the prospects for civilization, and access to its knowledge is becoming universal.

At the same time, the profile of decision-makers is also changing. “New actors that were before excluded in important decisions are now on board in this movement: women who are key players in the economy and education, youngsters who are now pioneering with social enterprises, and elderly people whose population has doubled since 2011 and who are now engaged and feeling the call of the earth too.”

Suggested solutions

(+) National legislatures could establish standing “Committees for the Future,” as Finland has done. National foresight studies should be continually updated, improved, and conducted interactively with issue networks of policymakers and futurists and with other national long-range efforts. Futurists should create more useful communications to policymakers. Alternative scenarios should be shared with parliamentarians and the public for feedback. They should show cause-and-effect relations and expose decision points leading to different consequences from different strategies and policies. Decisionmakers and their advisors should be trained in futures research for optimal use of these systems. Government budgets should consider 5-10 year allocations attached to rolling 5-10 year SOFIs, scenarios, and strategies. Governments with short-term election cycles should consider longer, more-stable terms and funds for the staff of parliamentarians.

(+) Communications and advertising companies could create memes to help the public become sensitive to global long-term perspectives so that more future-oriented educated publics could support more future-oriented, global-minded politicians. Prizes could be given to recognize the best examples of global long-term decisionmaking. Participatory policymaking processes augmented by e-government services can be created that are informed by futures research. Universities should fund the convergence of disciplines, teach futures research and synthesis as well as analysis, and produce generalists in addition to specialists. Efforts to increase the number and quality of courses on futures concepts and methods should be supported, as well as augmenting standard curricula with futures methodologies converted to teaching techniques that help future-orient instruction.

(+) Governments could add foresight as a performance evaluation criterion, add foresight to their training institutions, and require a “future considerations” section be added to policy reporting requirements. Promote the meme: from reaction to anticipation.


Asia and Oceania: China’s Five Year Plan promotes long-term thinking, and since it tends to make decisions in a longer time frame than others, its increasing power and eventually that of India should lead to more global, long-term decision-making as these nations interact with the rest of the world. Japan includes private-sector companies in its long-term strategic planning unit. The Prime Minister’s Office of Singapore has begun an international network of government future strategy units.

Europe: EPTA, the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment, is a network and database of 18 European parliaments to integrate futures into decision-making. Forecasts of migrations from Asia and Africa are forcing Europe to reassess its future, as are the EU2020 strategy, Lisbon Strategy, sovereign debt crisis, emergence of China, and forecasts of public finances for social and health services for an aging population.

The 7th Framework Programme of the EU expands foresight support; the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies provides futures studies for EU decisionmaking; the European Foresight Platform connects futurists; an annual European Futurists Conference is held in Switzerland; iKnow Project scans for weak signals and wild cards, and the European Regional Foresight College improves futures instruction. The Netherlands constitution requires a 50-year horizon for land use planning. Russian Ministries use Delphi and scenarios for foresight, while corporations tend to use technology roadmaps.

Latin America: Research from ECLAC and UNIDO’s technological foresight training could be improved to stimulate long-range decisionmaking; participation in such international organizations will improve the region’s long-range global dialogs. Mexico initiated and signed an agreement to create the Pacific Latin American Alliance with the governments of Peru, Chile, and Colombia to promote free trade in a larger zone than Mercosur. Alternative long-term development strategies are being created by the Bolivian Alliance for the Americas, the Union of South American Nations, and the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States. The shift toward more socialist politics in some countries is motivating alternative futures thinking.