Archive

Posts Tagged ‘weak signals’

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what about a GIF alert with 12 frames on the evolution of COVID-19?

March 26, 2020 Leave a comment

This blog post on the COVID-19 crisis aims to provide timely evidence-based alerts and sound advice to multiple stakeholders. 

In the last few days, many of us have been locked in our own disbelief for the lack of adequate and timely actions from key actors such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), and many other (inter)governmental organisations. I have been reading BBC News and other mainstream media everyday since the first case was reported. However, it was really surprising to see Italy asking and receiving help from Russia, China and Cuba, while at the same time European media outlets (except Italian) decided to suppress what can only be seen as humanitarian and lifesaving actions, regardless of who is actually behind them.

My frustration for the lack of trustworthy information drove me to make my own analysis of the situation based on freely and publicly available data about the most difficult to manipulate and closest to the reality figures, i.e. number of deaths and the weekly death rate. Thus I am grateful for the almost real time work carried out by people at WHO producing the Situation Reports (as provided by national authorities), as well as the OECD Artificial Intelligence Policy Observatory and an interactive web-based dashboard hosted by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. Of course, it is important to have a panoramic overview of the number of confirmed cases, but the truth is that these figures are definitely not reflecting the reality on the ground for several reasons, including lack of tests, different diagnostic and case confirmation definitions, and the quarantine itself, to name a few. Having said so, knowing the weekly death rate and the number of officially confirmed cases is enough to recognise the situation is not under control (except for China and South Korea, with 0,02 and 0,62 most recent weekly death rate respectively).

The animated GIF image below includes 12 frames showing in 3 minutes the timeline of the the COVID-19 evolution, with highlights from decisions and actions that were often not (or wrongly) taken. The last frame offers some recommendations for civil society, government, business, and research and education actors.

COVID19_GIFT_Alert_in_3_min

With all of the above in mind, and following recent reflections I shared in LinkedIn and Twitter, I strongly believed that now more than ever policy analysts, scientists and foresight practitioners should raise their voice and reach out to their networks so as to mobilise a critical mass capable of alerting policymakers about the urgent need to upgrade (sometimes ‘old but still gold’) future-driven recommendations into practical and transformational policy actions and priorities.

In the foresight and innovation research community, some of us are trying to raise awareness with the help of specialised and responsible media in Finland, such as Tekniikka&Talous, and we hope that this kind of blog posts in professional social networking platforms will help us reach out to beyond-the-obvious audiences in business, policy, and other circles. Collective and timely actions can play a key role in taming wild cards such as the unexpected and impactful consequences of the current Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.

If you would like to look at the frames in detail and have more time to see the evolution of the pandemic and early (lack of) response, please feel free to use and/or circulate the images below.

 

What if the European Union would have acted upon the results of its own research on wild cards, which foresaw a Coronavirus-like scenario 10 years ago?

March 20, 2020 Leave a comment

Over a decade ago the European Union invested around 1 million Euro to fund the iKnow project as one of the so-called Blue Sky forward-looking activities. The project aimed at interconnecting Knowledge on issues and developments potentially shaking or shaping the future of science, technology and innovation (STI) in Europe and the world.

In the early 2000s there was a general consensus that the identification and analysis of Wild Cards and Weak Signals (WI-WE) and their effects on European and global science, technology and innovation (STI) policy often remained out of the policy radar and therefore deserved more attention in foresight and forward-looking activities.

Wild Cards are the kind of issues that can potentially shake our present and future, like the way the current Coronavirus is unfolding. While Weak Signals are ambiguous events, often referred to as seeds of change, providing advance intelligence or hints about potentially important futures, including Wild Cards, challenges and opportunities. Weak Signals lie in the eye of the beholder and are generally influenced by the mental frameworks and subjective interpretations of individuals with limited information about emerging trends, developments or issues in a particular time and context. Their weakness is directly proportional to levels of uncertainty about their interpretations, importance and implications in the short-medium-to-long-term. Thus, Weak Signals are unclear observables warning us about the possibility of future game changing events.

The iKnow project had two interconnected objectives: 1) To develop and pilot conceptual and methodological frameworks to identify and analyse Wild Cards and Weak Signals (WI-WE); and 2) To assess the implications and impact of selected WI-WE on, science, technology and innovation (STI) and key dimensions of the European Research Area (ERA). There are plenty of outcomes resulting from the project, including reports, a pioneering early warning system for the co-creation of strategic intelligence, the first open bank of wild cards and weak signals and more, all publicly available at http://news.iknowfutures.eu/. However, the rest of this blog will address the following question:

What if the European Union would have acted upon the results of its own EU-funded research on wild cards, which foresaw the Coronavirus 10 years ago? 

Back in May 2010, together with some colleagues and health experts from Germany, we organised a workshop  in which we discussed what we then called a Killer Virus, described as a highly infectious and lethal virus (that) appears and spreads out around the world fast due to the high mobility of the world population. The number of casualties is high and rises constantly, leading to massive social problems. The impacts are vast on all areas of life.

The Killer Virus was only one of some 44 wild cards we decided to feature in the iKnow Policy Alerts (2011) report. Interestingly it was the first wild card discussed and fully analysed with surprising wild features, key actors (i.e. early warners, shapers and stakeholders), potential impacts and, most importantly, potential actions for policy, business and research actors. We also provided some weak signals indicating that prospective mutations of such viruses could lead to large numbers of casualties.

An innovative contribution of the iKnow project was the effort devoted to “tame” the wild cards and with the help of weak signals and a systematic methodology to explore implications for science, technology and innovation (STI) policy.

With this in mind, for each of the featured wild cards we emphasised the ‘recommended research‘ that needed to be funded by the European Union. This advise was provided in the form of an imaginary “Call for proposals” following the same style used by the European Commission in its Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. In other words, we clearly specified the 1) Thematic Area (Health); 2) Research Topic (Prevention of pandemics: Awareness reading and surveillance systems); 3) Objective (To increase the probability of virus detection at the earliest possible stage. It is also to prevent behavioural patterns from accelerating the rapid spread of a virus); Expected Impact (To reduce the risk of delays in detecting lethal viruses; To facilitate behavioural interventions to control the effects of a virus; and To help to control and contain the infection within a region or population and before it reaches pandemic scale); and Importance for Europe (Europe is one of the world’s largest traffic junctions and is therefore especially vulnerable to the appearance of a lethal virus. Europeans are highly mobile both for business reasons and tourism. New viruses often originate in tropical regions, which Europeans are increasingly likely to visit).

Unfortunately, we can fast-forward 10 years from the completion of the iKnow project and find ourselves in the current Coronavirus pandemic with no effective awareness raising or surveillance systems in place. This is definitely not the first example of highly relevant research and policy advice that policymakers did not act upon. However, the evident inadvertence or lack of foresight from European and other stakeholders capable of doing the ‘right thing’ at the ‘right time’ shows that it is not sufficient that EC Project Officers congratulate Project Coordinators for the successful completion of their projects! There are cases where follow-up actions are crucial, especially when recommendations can help to build resilience and readiness towards grand societal challenges.

Hopefully this blog will help to create the ‘right momentum’ to mobilise a critical mass capable to reach out to policymakers with the power to introduce a much-needed set of “foresight-driven” mechanisms or instruments that will allow us to act upon very explicit and timely reported ‘Policy Alerts’ that can literally shake our societies in Europe and the rest of the world. While projects like iKnow would certainly deserve some kind of ‘aftercare’ funding to continue generating strategic policy advice, our efforts would only translate into further frustrations if politicians driving us to the future continue to be asleep at the wheel.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this personal blog do not represent the views of my past or current employers. These are my own reflections as a foresight practitioner and a true believer that change can also happen if individual or collective authoritative voices reach out to the right people through impactful channels. Social media can become a powerful instrument to “undust” the results of such a large-scale foresight study combining evidence, expertise, interaction and creativity to support decision makers in policy, business and research circles. Despite these views, I am a strong believer in the wide-ranging benefits of European Commission Framework Programmes for Research and Innovation, thus I remain an active player in many projects, some of which are still ongoing.

Killer_Virus_recommended_research_2011

New Instruments in Foresight Studies

October 13, 2011 Comments off

Dr Popper (2011)Presentation on New Instruments in Foresight Studies at the “Research Workshop Foresight and Science, Technology and Innovation Policies: Best Practices” (Higher School of Economics, Russia).

The workshop was attended by some 100 stakeholders representing the research, business and public sectors in Russia. International speakers included Prof. Ian Miles, Prof. Luke Georghiou, Dr. Michael Keenan and Dr. Jennifer Cassingena Harper, among others.

EFSA’s 15th Scientific Colloquium – Emerging Risks (Parma,Italy)

October 12, 2010 Comments off
  • Keynote on Methods for the Identification of Emerging Risks.
  • Chair of Discussion Group on Methods for the Identification of Emerging Risks.

EFSA’s 15th Scientific Colloquium – Emerging Risks (Parma, Italy)

In a rapidly changing world, governments are frequently confronted with unforeseen crises as well as longer term challenges arising from a broad range of domains. As a consequence, policy makers are now becoming increasingly aware of the importance of having robust systems in place to identify emerging risks at their early inception. Ideally, such a system would provide an opportunity for risk assessors to undertake their full risk characterization, and for risk managers to put in place strategies for prevention and control, possibly avoiding unnecessary scares at a population level.

EFSA is developing a methodological framework, including a data monitoring capacity, data filtering methodology and networking structures to identify emerging risks and drivers of emerging risks in a timely fashion and to communicate these to the risk manager.

The objective of this Colloquium is to bring together international experts from different sectors related to food safety for an open scientific debate on key issues related to the identification of emerging risks, as defined by EFSA in 2007 (Definition and description of emerging risks within the EFSA’s mandate).

The main objective is to provide inputs for the development of EFSA’s methodological framework for emerging risks identification.

Discussions will focus on four main topics, namely on available methods to identify emerging risks, strategic sources of information and strategies for data collection, identification of drivers of change as underling causes of emerging risks, and on opportunities for the establishment of an international network to communicate on emerging risks.

The meeting was structured to enable participants to reach conclusions and make recommendations in small groups, focusing the discussions on four specific topics after a short plenary session with few introductory presentations. The discussion groups (DGs) were focused on the following themes:

DG 1 – Methods for the identification of emerging risks
DG 2 – Identification of data types and sources for the identification of emerging risks
DG 3 – How to build an international network, and to communicate successfully with the risk managers on emerging risks
DG 4 – Potential drivers of change – an expert opinion elicitation

For further information, please click here or visit EFSA Website

For the Colloquium agenda, please click here

Kick-off conference of the European Foresight Platform

June 14, 2010 Comments off

The 2-day kick-off conference of the European Foresight Platform has been held on June 14 and 15, 2010 at the Vienna French Cultural Institute in Austria. With over 80 attendees and about 20 presenters the event has been a huge success by bringing together international professional foresight communities, representatives from the European Commission and policy as well as the EFP consortium and the interested general public.

A variety of different foresight and forward-looking projects and institutions have been presented at the conference. It has been a tour through all different perspectives of future-related activities which included quantitative forecasting and modeling, scenario development, technology forecasts and roadmaps, societal and cultural oriented future studies, participatory elements in foresight, weak signal and wild card research, foresight databases and ideas about new methods like using gaming and social networks for foresight and forward looking activities.

Read more…

EFP Kick-off conference in Vienna (14-15 June 2010)

EFP Kick-off conference in Vienna (14-15 June 2010)

Drivers of future S&T cooperation between the EU and Korea

June 8, 2010 Comments off

In the framework of the analytical work of the KORANET project, the Austrian Centre for Social Innovation (ZSI) and the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) organised jointly a workshop on co-operation policy foresight in Vienna on 7 and 8 June 2010.

During the first day of the event, European and Korean experts provided insights into existing cooperation patterns between Korea and the EU and analytical results of KORANET have been presented to a wider audience of stakeholders.

On the second day, working sessions have been organised to help identify the drivers that shape the future S&T co-operation between the EU and Korea.

Read more…

KORANET Policy Foresight Meeting

KORANET Policy Foresight Meeting

Dynamic 3D tag cloud of keywords for wild cards and weak signals scanning

April 14, 2010 Comments off

The iKNOW project has successfully developed a dynamic three dimensional (3D) tag cloud to visualise keywords associated to more than 400 wild cards and weak signals (wi-we) potentially shaping or shaking the future of science, technology and innovation in Europe and the world.

To visit iKNOW’s tag cloud, please click here.

iKNOW's Wi-We Tag Cloud

iKNOW's Dynamic Tag Cloud associated to Wild Cards and Weak Signals (Wi-We)