Michael Reilly - Learning to rhyme: reflections on foresight


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Presentation at the STEPS Conference 2010 - Pathways to Sustainability: Agendas for a new politics of environment, development and social justice


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Michael Reilly - Learning to rhyme: reflections on foresight

  1. 1. Learning to rhyme: reflections on foresight STEPS Conference 24th September 2010 Michael Reilly Foresight Research and Knowledge Management Government Office for Science
  2. 2. What is Foresight? Land Use Futures Mental Capital Sustainable Detection & Intelligent and Wellbeing Energy & the Built Identification of Infrastructure Environment Infectious Diseases Systems Tackling Obesities: Brain Science Flooding & Cyber Trust & Exploiting the Future Choices Addiction & Drugs Coastal Crime Prevention Electromagnetic Defence Spectrum
  3. 3. Four discussion points on anticipating future critical transitions and tipping points • Exploring the future is contingent on understanding the past but without becoming beholden to history • Social structures create noise that can that make it difficult for us to hear the signal of transition • Need to improve our knowledge on social system dynamics at micro and macro levels • Could a data revolution and improved modelling capability be in of itself a critical transition?
  4. 4. Obesity Systems Map1 Societal influences Individual psychology Individual Food activity Activity Food Production Consumption environment Biology
  5. 5. Four key variables that act as conduits of dispersed changes into the core engine2
  6. 6. Social Flood Vulnerability Index was a lens to explore critical transitions for flooding in the UK3,4
  7. 7. Basic disease model – a systematic method for gathering informed opinion and insights5
  8. 8. Zoonoses identified as one of eight global disease risks6,7
  9. 9. Cognitive resilience and reserve are important aspects of mental capital8 Cognitive resilience Cognitive reserve “an individual’s successful adaptation “an individual’s resistance to and functioning in the face of stress or impairment in cognitive processes eg trauma” memory, reasoning and attention” • Predictors for children - high levels •Evidence that education and of intellectual functioning, strong occupational social class provide attachment behaviour, optimism, some cognitive reserve altruism and active coping styles •Appears to be affected by • Predictors for adults - group environmental factors acting during bonding, altruism and effective adulthood performance under stress •Recent evidence suggests that • Religious coping and social support cognitive reserve is not fixed, and can also confer resilience be increased through physical or • May become possible to strengthen mental activity, social stimulation, and resilience through pharmacological potentially also through medication or and non-pharmacological means dietary interventions
  10. 10. The volatility of the price of rice has risen significantly in the last twenty years9 Changes in volatility over time. Lavender coloured bars, 1970–1989; magenta bars, 1990–2009.
  11. 11. Export restrictions played a particularly significant role in the rice price peak of 200810 The effects of export restrictions on rice, 2007/08
  12. 12. William Sewell suggested a simple duality of social structure that can explain transformation11 • Cultural schemas (or rules) are the code (or DNA) of a society • Resources embody their and fortify their schemas • Social structures therefore have reproductive bias • But transformation in social structure can be explained • Structures are diverse, subject to agency, they can intersect, schemas are transposable, resource accumulation is unpredictable
  13. 13. Diffusion of innovation has two complementary theories based on weak and strong social ties • Weak ties (eg acquaintances) can provide remarkable shortcuts between remote clusters12 • Takes only a small fraction of these shortcuts to reduce the degree of separation in highly clustered networks13 • But strong ties (eg friends) may be required to provide social reinforcement for adoption of riskier innovations14 • Social relations, structure and network size are important explanatory variables
  14. 14. Can demographic-structural theory explain critical socio-political transitions in history15? Integrative secular trend Disintegrative secular trend Variables Expansion Stagflation Crisis Depression/Intercycle Population dynamics Low; Rate of growth High; Rate of growth Declines; Rate of Low; Declines or accelerates decelerates decline accelerates stagnates Elite dynamics Low to moderate Competition; High numbers; conflict Reductions; civil war numbers; modest conspicuous cons.; and downward mobility; consumption counter-elites consumption collapse Socio-political Low point Low but increasing Peaks High but declining instability Taxes Increasing Stagnant or declining in Tax system in state of Variable; periods of high real terms; heavy crisis taxes alternate with burden on peasantry collapse of system Internal peace and Increasing; a ‘golden High but unravelling; Uprisings; interelite Recurrent civil war; order age’ resistance to taxation conflicts; political fragmentation
  15. 15. References 1. Foresight. 2007. Tacking Obesities. Government Office for Science 2. Ibid. 3. Foresight. 2004. Volume I: Future risks and their drivers. Flooding and Coastal Defence. Office for Science and Innovation. 4. Tapsell, S.M et al. 2002. Vulnerability to flooding: health and social dimensions. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. A 360, 1511-1525 5. Foresight. 2006. Risk analysis. The Detection and Identification of Infectious Diseases. 6. Foresight. 2006. Future Threats. The Detection and Identification of Infectious Diseases. 7. Zommers, Z. and McDonald, D. 2006. The wildlife trade and global disease emergence. Office for Science and Innovation. 8. Foresight. 2008. Mental capital through life: future challenges. Mental Capital and Wellbeing. Government Office for Science.
  16. 16. References 9. Gilbert, C.L. and Morgan, C.W. 2010. Food price volatility. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 365, 3023-3034. 10. International Food Research Policy Institute. 11. Sewell, W. H. 1992. A theory of structure: duality, agency and transformation. The American Journal of Sociology 98, 1-29. 12. Granovetter, M.S. 1973. The strength of weak ties. The American Jounral of Sociology 78, 1360-1380 13. Watts, D. J. and Strogatz, S.H. 1998. Collective dynamics of ‘small-worl’ networks. Nature 393, 440-442. 14. Centola, D. and Macy, M. 2005. Complex contagion and the weakness of long ties. 15. Turchin, P. and Nefedov, S. 2009. Secular cycles. US; Princeton University Press.
  17. 17. Learning to rhyme: reflections on foresight Michael Reilly, Foresight Research STEPS Conference 24th September 2010