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ISN Editorial Plan Starts: Future Forecasting

The future is this way. Photo: Michelle Bartholomew/flickr

Dear Colleagues:

Last week we provided a General Introduction to the three-part Editorial Plan we would like to explore on the ISN website in the weeks and months ahead. Well, our plan begins today and our first broad area of inquiry will be on the macroscopic structural changes we are experiencing in the international system. To analyze this large-scale topic properly, over the next 14 weeks we plan on exploring the 8 supporting sub-topics we identified in Part 1 of the General Introduction, including what many have come to call “futurology”:

Future Forecasting has always been a controversial topic, especially when it relates to structural change. In fact, if unprecedented political, economic and socio-cultural changes are occurring at the global level, which we at ISN believe is the case, then several questions immediately follow. What are these changes and where are they taking us? How do we expect these trends to evolve? Finally, what changing or new political dynamics do we expect to dominate our near-, mid-, and long-term world? We hope to answer these questions and others over the next two weeks. To do this properly, however, there will be a Part A and a Part B to our efforts.

This week represents Part A. After first looking at the pro-con debate surrounding the utility of future forecasting, which we’ll do today, we’ll then look at three problems that are endemic to effective forecasting — politics, risk analysis and methodology. Finally, we’ll wrap up this week by looking at how these problems actually manifest themselves in the security strategies of the United States and China. After looking at these broader challenges and issues, next week we’ll look at some of the more popular predictions of how the international system might evolve over time (our Part B).

But, first things first. Is future forecasting helpful in identifying the contours of structural change or is the effort no better than letting chance play itself out? Well, consider what this discussion (prepared by ISN staff) says on this fundamental subject.