President’s Message

David Wegge
January 2021

During this pandemic I have been watching a great deal of old shows on YouTube. Recently I saw bits by Rodney Dangerfield. He would always open his act by coming on stage, adjusting his tie, and saying “What a crowd, what a crowd.” I would revise that for this message as “What a year, what a year!” 

 In the world of Foresight Analysis, this pandemic is what we might refer to as a “Wild Card” event. It is an event/ scenario which has a low probability of happening, but if it does happen it has high impact and creates significant disruption. This was indeed the state-of-affairs in 2020.

Probability-Impact Scenario Matrix
Low ProbabilityHigh Probability
High ImpactWild CardBrewing Storm
Low ImpactFlash in the PanBusiness as Usual

In the Probability-Impact matrix we pay much more attention to the “Brewing Storm” scenario as this has a high probability of happening and it will have a high impact. Scanning for signals of change that point to a “Brewing Storm” makes perfect sense based on the probability of this scenario. 

Prior to 2019 there were numerous individuals and organizations that warned about a probable pandemic. There is now an increasing probability of another pandemic. If so, should we be devoting more resources to scanning for the signals that may foretell another pandemic? 

We do know from post-analyses of other “Wild Card” events that the signals were there, they were simply not in our range of perspective. Identifying these signals provides opportunities for interventions at key points that might avert the “Wild Card” event or reduce the disruption if the event occurs. 

As the global community traversed the COVID-19 landscape what have we learned and how might we prepare for another pandemic? The COVID-19 pandemic brought a few things to the forefront in my thinking. 

At a macro level there are several things that I knew, but they became magnified, by the pandemic. 

  • Wild Card scenarios really do happen, and we have experienced the massive disruption.
  • We are globally, nationally, and locally interdependent.
  • Events in other parts of the world have significant implications for us all.
  • We are better as a society when we collaborate and work together.
  • Polarization does not just apply to our political views. There is societal polarization in the access to education, health care and technology.
  • We need to trust science.
  • Biotechnology is amazing.
  • Communication and logistics are key elements in dealing with a pandemic.
  • Statistical models, while challenging, are useful in projecting the future.
  • Planning, even for “Wildcard “ events, is important.
  • The decentralized national, state and local federal system in the US is challenging if we need to mount a national response. 
  • An external threat to our country does not necessarily unify us as a nation.

How did the pandemic impact your thinking? What should we, as a community, be doing to plan for another pandemic in the future?

Resources

  • Petersen, J. L. (1999). Out of the blue: How to anticipate big future surprises. Lanham, MD: Madison Books.
  • Barber, MP. (2004, 2006) ‘Wildcards – Signals from a Future near You’; Journal of Future Studies Vol 11 No. 1 Tamkang University
  • Hines, A. (2015). Thinking about the Future: Guidelines for Strategic Foresight (2nd edition).