Opinion

Foresight: the art of predicting the future

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Foresight is a technique that has been used in many fields in which future scenarios and hypotheses are handled, based on strategy and analysis of variables. Intelligence analysts are often in charge of projecting this technique, having to handle many other analytical procedures and exposing themselves to situations that are not always imaginable today or in the past; see the case of the Taliban in Afghanistan, or COVID-19 around the world.

Knowing how to use foresight rigorously will enable organisations and states to foresee the future, establish their present and be more competitive in geostrategic and geopolitical terms

Development

The RAE defines foresight as "the set of analyses and studies carried out with the aim of exploring or predicting the future in a given area". The Instituto de Prospectiva Estratégica de España (1999), defines foresight as "a discipline with a global, systemic, dynamic and open vision that explains possible futures, not only through past data, but fundamentally, taking into account the future evolution of variables - quantitative and qualitative - as well as the behaviour of the actors involved, in a way that reduces uncertainty, illuminates present action and provides mechanisms that lead to an acceptable, desirable or desired future".

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In this sense, foresight is used within Intelligence Analysis to foresee future scenarios based on a series of analyses of possibilities, according to the information obtained, all of which is subject to constant revision and modification. For example, a few days ago, the US predicted that it would take a long time for the Taliban to take Afghanistan. Subsequently, that time was reduced to a week, and it took only a few days for the Taliban to take all of Afghanistan.

These statements are not based on assumption or chance but will be justified by the fact that one of the techniques that can be used to develop prospective analysis is that of OSINT and SOCMINT monitoring of key figures within the Taliban world, knowing their closest ties and future movements. However, this is not always enough, and it shows that reality moves very fast and that review, and modification processes must be constant.

On the other hand, and in terms of geostrategy and geopolitics, Colonel Pedro Baños writes in his book 'Así se domina el mundo' that geopolitics today should no longer be considered only as the influence that is determined within a single territory or area, but rather as the meaning that links the power of a state on an international scale, the possibility of dominating the future of the planet without other states being able to influence them. In other words, a country's geopolitics will need to be governed by a foresight exercise; guidelines designed at the present time, which will allow it to set the course for achieving future objectives.

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In this regard, the US National Intelligence Council develops five-yearly reports called 'Global Trends'. These reports involve a prospective analysis of different aspects related to society, policies, inter-state relations, the environment, technology and human development. They assess key trends and uncertainties when developing a state strategy and, without forgetting that this is the world's largest power, they should be understood as a way of modelling the world, rather than as a pure prediction.

In highly uncertain environments, with rapid and highly complex changes such as those taking place in Western societies today, and therefore in the framework of global geopolitics, predictive models must try to offer scenarios of the future, in order to adopt measures in the present that will lead to the desired future, or at least avoid undesired ones. This is where Gaston Berger's definition of foresight in 1991 makes sense, when he said that "it is a science that studies the future in order to understand it and to be able to influence it", thus acquiring a fundamentally strategic character.

In spite of all this, and framing foresight in a current historical context, it is not going to be easy to use this technique, since nowadays we handle enormous quantities of information, there is a tendency towards short-termism and urgency, localisms and nationalisms are superimposed on globalisms and, despite the specialisation of professionals, not all States and organisations have the same resources, interests and strategies.

What is clear is that, when carrying out a prospective analysis, one must first clarify the object of study to be treated, the temporal and geographic framework in which it is to be carried out, and the purpose to be achieved through this analysis. It should not be forgotten that this study will be able to support the strategic, tactical and operational design of the organisations.

Moreover, this process requires constant revision, as the most appropriate techniques may not always have been used, the most optimal elements may not have been considered, or new indicators may appear which had not been considered and which may have a particular influence on future scenarios. For example, prospective analyses had been carried out taking into account the possibility of a global pandemic, caused by a virus. However, when COVID-19 appeared, it became apparent that the possible scenarios that had been described did not reach the real magnitude of importance and influence that it has today.

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The use of different analytical techniques such as OSINT, SWOT analysis, which allows you to differentiate the factors that affect the phenomenon being analysed, as well as their evaluation and impact, or the MACTOR actor analysis, which establishes the actors involved in the analytical study, their objectives and their cross influences; together with the aforementioned constant review and updating, and even the subsequent review by another team of analysts, will lead to a marked improvement in the prospective analysis carried out and, therefore, to a better study of future scenarios, based on the current situation and the known past. Likewise, the fact that different intelligence groups come to the same conclusions or assume the same scenarios on their own is further proof that the hypotheses put forward are possible and certainly feasible.

In short, foresight is a valuable, useful and recommendable technique if what is desired, as an organisation or State, is to establish a strategic course, which will allow it to achieve social, political, economic and technological interests, with which to be able to submit national interests to geostrategic and geopolitical interests which, as has already been said, will be of a global nature. By being able to foresee future scenarios and situate oneself in them, it will be possible to turn one way or the other, choosing the voyage and, above all, the port to be reached.

Mario Bautista Rubiera, contributor to Sec2Crime's Intelligence Analysis Area