DISCUSSION PAPERS. CRISIS and COVID-19
좮T'S THE PROSPECTIVE, STUPID!
Professor-researcher and coordinator of International Relations course, IELAT, Universidad de Alcal? Master in European Communities from the Polytechnic University of Madrid. Member of the Planning Committee of the Millennium Project Futures Studies & Research. Director-Founder of the Chilean Council of Prospective and Strategy. Former Chilean ambassador in Geneva.
With a forward-looking vision and public policies designed on the basis of scenarios, this pandemic could have been avoided, or at least substantially mitigated in its effects. The objective of foresight is to study the future, based on concrete data, trends, perceptions, feelings and imagination, to anticipate scenarios and build possible and desirable futures considering the inevitable and the imponderable. His reason for being: reduce uncertainty, anticipate and illuminate the present. Its effect, especially in this crisis, is to face the fear of the future in society.
According to Michel Godet, foresight (Prospective) is the anticipation of scenarios that may be inevitable, possible and desirable. And it becomes a strategic prospective, when it deals with the present, what can be done, what we can do and how we are going to do it.
The dramatic situation in which we find ourselves due to the pandemic, which has generated a crisis of proportions throughout the world, and which has taken governments and multi-lateral institutions in charge of global governance by surprise, shows that strategic thinking, and specifically the elemental components of strategic foresight have completely missed at that level of decision making.This pandemic was announced in the last two decades by the scientific community and research centers and prospective studies. Suffice it to point out a few: for example, the Millennium Project in its "State of the Future" reports issued periodically since 1997 systematically warns, based on objective data and the distillation of multiple scientific studies, of the forthcoming appearance of new infections due to the virus mutation and bacteria, with the certain risk of being pandemic due to increasing inter-national mobility, the growth of tourism, student exchanges, etc. Adding that what is observed from the point of view of global governance is that the more globalization, the more difficult it is to coordinate and make cooperative decisions. For their part, the intelligence systems of the United States, based on reports from the scientific community, issued similar warnings to political power. George W. Bush, in 2005, explicitly included these warnings in a message to Congress and other instances, which was ignored. Donald Trump, for his part, ignored a specific report in this regard for campaign reasons.
So, as not to elaborate further, only to note that researchers from the University of Hong Kong released a very specific report on coronaviruses and their possible mutations in animals that are consumed in southern China. And more recently, the World Health Organization, in 2019 was very explicit, in its report "The World is in Danger", pointing out that preparing for the crisis to come was "a global public good".
That is to say, the information was available, and the warnings were very clear, but we lacked of a prospective intelligence and processing capacity, at the level of decision-making, that, through the methods of this discipline, visualized the scenarios, and responded to the questions of what to do, what we can do and how we are going to do it.
It's the prospective, stupid!
We can say paraphrasing that famous phrase from the Bill Clinton election campaign.
There are many things that we still do not know for sure about the SARScoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19 disease. There are no specific treatments yet, we do not know how long it will take to have an effective vaccine, which would exceed 12 to 18 months, according to scientists working in different parts of the world. A doubt that arises, moreover, is how this will be applied worldwide, the costs and who would bear them. Nor do we know firmly the economic, labor, productive, financial and existential impact derived from the effects of this crisis. Approaches, preliminary studies are available from the UN, ILO, WTO, World Bank, IDB, ECLAC and other international organizations, all of which announce a dramatic drop in world product, a prolonged economic recession, millions of lost jobs and overwhelmed health and social security systems. Global and local governance is affected and will surely be more so in the future. Public institutions are stressed or overwhelmed. And each government tries to save itself as it can.
Instead of cooperating, we are competing on measures and competing for health supplies.
Having greater certainties would allow us to respond with a certain margin of safety, and mitigate the impact. Again, it is the field of foresight, which, even in the midst of the situation, should be an instrument to anticipate, define and prepare the scenario that comes, with that flees from speculation and is not confused with futurology.
So, that an institutional and social disaster caused by an event like this, or other global disasters, does will occur again, it is essential that we have an integrated global collective intelligence system -like have been designed by The Millennium project- through Strategic Prospective Units located at decision levels in governments, local and national, multilateral organizations, companies and social organizations, connected to each other, to permanently study trends, create scenarios and anticipate responses.
And at the social level, promote in the educational system, from the first levels, strategic thinking, critical vision and creative imagination. In other words, if we are all prospectivists, we can imagine that desirable future and make it possible.
The present is built from the future.