On a recent trip to Washington, I had an opportunity to catch up with David Gordon. David is Senior Adviser Eurasia Group and former head of Policy Planners Staff (PPS), US State Department and was one of the most memorable and practical speakers at our #SOIF2013 strategic foresight retreat offering his insight on the value of long-term thinking and how it can be implemented into long-term decision-making.
David led the US PPS at the same time I was working in a similar role for the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office and, as part of a wide ranging conversation, I managed to get David’s perspectives on key risks, foresight implementation and global infrastructure, the latter being the Policy Focus for our #SOIF18 foresight retreat later this year.
Cat: what new or interesting risk or opportunity is on your mind?
David: The big opportunity now is the global economic recovery. This will facilitate new thinking that is non zero-sum. Recently, thinking has been zero-sum, for example on migration, Syria and the refugee crisis. The negative framing and associated fear-mongering led to Brexit and Trump. The return to growth means we can now have discussions and outcomes that are non-zero sum. On the other hand: the risk is that the fears that Ian Bremmer (President of Eurasia Group) depicted about the GZero world, while premature, is coming to fruition now. Both global leading powers are taking increasingly nationalist perspectives. OBOR/BRI (One belt One Road / Belt and Road Initiative] was originally designed 3-4 years ago on multilateral terms. Recently, there has been a shift away from this approach (e.g. using The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as a vehicle) to now being driven by unilateral Chinese instruments. In the US, you see protectionist trade narratives and denigration of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). If the two big powers become more nationalist, how does that affect other countries? And where does the impetus for global problem-solving come from?
Cat: What 3 intriguing things will come together to affect our world?
David: The growing impact of technology, intersecting with geopolitical uncertainty, and the political impact of power being decentralised. Nation states just don’t have the dominant political role they used to have… Other forms of action and representation, such as local or issue-driven, are meaning more to citizens.
Cat: Why should we address the theme of infrastructure and risk from a strategic foresight perspective?
David: I completely agree it’s a great issue to look at because of the economic turnaround… Before, it was off the agenda because no-one had confidence to lay out resources.
But now companies and governments are thinking about investment… and the need to help them engage with the risk environment around this investment is enormous due to uncertainty. It is important to think through how to get local buy-in and infrastructure sustainability issues into projects and also factor in political risk (geopolitical and national): the timing is absolutely perfect.
Cat: What could accelerate foresight implementation?
David: The timing is propitious. Organisations have since the global financial crisis all been short term focused. But economic improvement creates opportunities. Businesses were hanging onto cash, but now opportunities are growing. So economic cycles themselves become a big driver for foresight work and adoption. We are now in a moment very ripe for foresight because companies have more confidence about investing, but also face a more uncertain environment. The big question facing companies that foresight can help on is: how do we develop strategies that are resilient to alternative futures, but neither passive nor defensive?
Follow our #SOIFInfrastructure hashtag for specific news on our Policy Focus or #SOIF2018 for updates and announcements on the Retreat and the range of worldclass speakers and foresight practitioners who will be joining us.