Monday, June 2, 2008

Mapping The Future -- Part 1 (CSIS And Original Research)

While some "crises" are unpredictable, many can be easily foreseen. That is because the crisis is clearly associated with a known event. For example, it is possible to predict, if not the exact size and scope, then at least the high likelihood of anti-globalization protests of some kind at virtually any gathering of world leaders. It is with these thoughts in mind, perhaps, that the Global Strategy Institute at the Center For Strategic And International Studies published a "map" of key future events from 2008-2012 late last year.

The Institute itself claims that its intent was to "help us all elevate our thinking beyond today's headlines and to anticipate the competing obstacles and opportunities we can expect to navigate in the future." The interactive version of the map highlights events in science, politics, conferences, forecasts, construction, sports and other importnat anniversaries and shows where they intersect in time. The pdf version of the map (the screenshot below is taken from that version) shows much the same thing but without the explanations regarding the events.

While this map is very interesting (and worth detailed study), what is even more interesting, to me, at least, is that I gave my graduate students in my Intelligence Communications class much the same assignment back in early March. We did not discover the CSIS map until mid-May and, therefore, they did their study independent of the CSIS study. Their goal was much the same, however: Identify important events where the date could be reasonably well determined, catalog them and then analyze and rank order them with respect to their potential impact on US national security.

What makes this even more interesting is that I do not have just one data set to compare with the CSIS study -- I have two! I divided the class into two sections. One looked at the issue from a purely geographic framework (i.e. they divided up the world by continents and looked at events in each) and the other group divided up the world by topics (such as political, economic, etc) and looked at events from that perspective.

(A couple of notes about the Intelligence Communications class. First, it is not a class about world events. It is a class designed to teach students how to communicate in written and oral forms the results of their intelligence analysis to senior decisionmakers. It is first and foremost a writing and briefing class. In order to give the students something real to write and brief about, however, I pick a new topic each term. Last term, I picked world events. Second, I usually divide the class into two teams and require them to look at a similar target from different perspectives. For example, during the winter term of this last school year, we looked at organized crime in Europe from the perspective of police looking at criminals and from the perspective of criminals looking at police. I find that the difference in perspective, even when minor, always results in different analyses at the end of the class even though both teams are always working on the same fundamental intelligence requirements. As an exercise, it really helps drive home the point about perspective in intelligence analysis).

The CSIS study does not explicitly highlight US national security interests as the focal point of the study but it does seem to have that at least partially in mind when it states, "Our goal is to paint a picture of what the landscape will look like when the new president takes office and to identify the major signposts we can anticipate." Nor does the CSIS study explicitly rank-order the events in order of importance. Still, the projects were very similar in scope; certainly similar enough to invite some comparisons.

Tomorrow -- The Geographical Perspective

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