Horizon scanning: how good are we at predicting the future?
Chair: Martin Gill
Masseh Tahiry – Director, Pallas Advisors
Paul Ekblom – Visiting Professor, Department of Security and Crime Science, UCL
Paul Ekblom notes that there are limits in choosing to react to events as they emerge in that a meaningful response is rarely quick. Paul describes it as an arms race between the offenders and the defender. It means that some type of anticipation is vital and that is where horizon scanning comes in. If the security sector can think through how the adaptive criminal will behave it can be better prepared and it can better protect. However, there is no linear progression from the past to the future, the pandemic is an example, different things can act as disruptors. The aim then is to help make a desired future happen. You will hear Paul talk about futures work at the Dawes Centre at UCL. There are different methodologies for scanning horizons, and various guides, but no best techniques and much depends on the context. He advocates a multi method approach, emphasises the importance of declaring assumptions, incorporating different views, and applying theories. He encourages ‘thinking perpetrator’. It isn’t easy, there are multiple things that can have an impact on the future, but be guided by theory and frameworks and don’t be afraid of complex ones (as you will hear he prefers PESHTELOMI over PESTLE). The future may incorporate simulation, artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
Masseh Tahiry notes that the modern world is plagued by wicked problems and that we are unable to rely on classic solutions, we need to think differently. You will hear him mention ‘imagination’ several times not as a vague concept but as an important route to determining what different horizons may look like. Methodologies and techniques are key of course and discussions about these feature prominently, indeed the issues mentioned include: frictionless experience; integrated platforms; interoperability; and data privacy. Masseh’s general advice is to be flexible in the approach taken, to seek to cover all angles and perspectives under consideration and to not forget the practitioner; this is not something to be left to the strategists and the c-suite. Many organisations engage in horizon scanning, even if it is not called that, a reference point is research and development. He warns that you have to appreciate you won’t always get it right, and invites considerations of different futures, not just one, and in so doing to prepare for different outcomes. Indeed, he avoids the default to the middle option by not working with three scenarios (he works with eight). For the future he points to the use of creative facilitation, gaming and virtual platforms to better identify what is possible.
Although there are different methodologies and techniques for scanning horizons, and technologies are evolving possibilities, there is always the need to imagine, question and recognise that the process is a skilled one. It can be difficult to do, both panellists note that, but to use this as an argument to not bother is to underestimate the dangers of not trying to understand what threat actors will do, in response to current mitigation measures but also future ones. Offenders are imaginative, responders need to be so too.
10th March 2022