Navigating Investment In Emergency Response And Disaster Preparedness Solutions – Meeting the challenges of COVID-19 today and thriving in the disruptive environment of the future requires improved capabilities in three areas: foresight, agility and resilience.
The COVID-19 pandemic is just the latest in a growing list of distractions facing governments. Technological disruptors such as the Internet, social media and artificial intelligence (AI) are changing society dramatically. From cyber threats and terrorist attacks to hurricanes and riots, disruptors are widespread. Mass societal changes and demographic changes also require adaptation by governments.
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While future events may not take the same shape as a pandemic, it will require governments to navigate profound disruptions nimbly and efficiently.
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Governments will need improved capabilities in three areas to help navigate both current uncertainties and the more uncertain world of the future:
Consider this metaphor: If your organization is a ship navigating dangerous waters, foresight is your ability to anticipate changes in the sea and weather, scan the horizon for immediate threats, and anticipate more distant dangers in order to act in the face of uncertainty. Agility is how quickly and effectively you can steer your ship to react and adapt to unexpected conditions. Endurance is the ability of your ship and crew to withstand adversity and disruption.
Sometimes elements of all three capabilities are combined as “strategic foresight”, “future proofing” or increasingly during a pandemic, “resilience”. This can be a useful shorthand for conversations, but make an effort to examine each ability separately to understand their individual qualities and how they fit together.
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Sometimes elements of all three capabilities are combined as “strategic foresight”, “future proofing” or increasingly during a pandemic, “resilience”. This can be a useful shorthand for conversations, but make an effort to examine each ability separately to understand their individual qualities and how they fit together. Long view
The pandemic has emphasized the importance of foresight. Of course, foresight has been a hallmark of some agencies, especially those tasked with fighting enemies or responding to disasters. The US Coast Guard has used alternative future scenario planning, now called Project Evergreen, for more than two decades.
The US intelligence community has a remote sensing unit; The Canadian Network for Defense and Security Analysis uses foresight and forecasting of future scenarios to advance defense capabilities.
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But recent events suggest that the ability to anticipate disruption often brings significant value to all levels of government. While current events have brought attention to the downsides of disruptive change, effective foresight can also be used to identify and embrace opportunities. Governments looking forward to the potential benefits of disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence are an example of foresight that focuses on opportunities rather than risks.
Figure 2 presents an approach to foresight planning and how organizations can build a bias towards action in the face of uncertainty.
Although most government agencies should have some foresight, this does not necessarily require a separate foresight unit. Organizations can build this capability in a variety of ways, engaging with academics, businesses and others to understand the risks and their implications. Budget and policy offices, government innovation offices, and other entities can come together to participate in strategic foresight exercises. The idea is to embrace uncertainty while actively taking steps to anticipate it.
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Not all unpleasant surprises are due to unexpected events. Social, technological and business behavior is constantly evolving and can surprise governments. Without the ability to sense new trends, government leaders and regulators risk finding themselves constantly trying to keep up with changing citizen expectations, new business models and innovative technologies. Horizon sensing and scanning capabilities can help them stay ahead of the game.
To understand the long-term impact of technology on government policy, the European Commission’s Joint Research Center has launched a research program that attempts to anticipate the consequences of advanced technology.
The Commission has also established the EU Policy Lab, a collaborative and experimental space that combines foresight training with behavioral science and design thinking to improve policy-making.
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In February, the group held a two-day workshop using foresight methods to imagine the future of customs in the EU in 2040, the results of which were used to drive the policy process to take customs to the next level.
The UK Cabinet Secretary’s Advisory Group established a horizon scanning program to better understand how possible future scenarios could affect the policies set by the UK Civil Service. The program assesses new technologies, resource supply and demand, changing societal attitudes and demographic trends to understand how new trends may influence policymaking.
These kinds of capabilities can help government leaders better anticipate future risks and developments so they can think about new policies that may be needed. Today’s technology can help by synthesizing large amounts of data to uncover important trends. Machine and deep learning techniques can produce valuable insights, especially in moments of significant disruption, when a new flood of information can overwhelm decision makers.
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For example, the US government’s COVID-19 Open Research Dataset is the world’s largest collection of machine-readable coronavirus literature. The government is working with the technology sector to build AI tools that can help uncover important trends around COVID-19.
This is just one example of how governments can leverage data analytics and AI tools from multiple sources, including the private sector, to track trends, identify events at an early stage and anticipate later impacts.
There is also a need to understand the critical issues facing each agency to inform data collection, trend analysis and decision making. Organizations should avoid focusing too narrowly, instead incorporating second- and third-order impacts and the full range of ecosystem participants. The Queensland Government and Data61 Australia for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization jointly run the “Q-Foresight” program, which examines long-term trends and risks relevant to the state in areas ranging from health to environmental science and policy.
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After the SARS outbreak, Asian countries such as Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea implemented robust outbreak detection and containment systems. This is an asset in relation to COVID-19.
Even when trying to understand ongoing trends, large “black swan” events such as epidemics can occur. Scenarios deal with such uncertainty not by predicting the future, but by considering different possible futures. They help to look at risks and opportunities more broadly and develop strategies that can be used in different scenarios.
Traditionally, scenarios are associated with long-term futures and truly disruptive black swan events. But near-term scenarios can also be useful in times of great uncertainty. This can be seen in how the scenario helps governments as they move towards a post-COVID-19 world.
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In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the US Department of Health & Human Services. and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response developed five pandemic planning scenarios to inform decisions. The data outlined in this scenario are being used to assess the potential impact of various community strategies, such as social distancing, and by hospital administrators to assess and plan resource needs.
Scenario planning, strategy and tracking can help governments manage uncertainty and disruption in the short and long term (Figure 3: The key to effective use of scenarios).
The specific type of scenario work will vary depending on factors such as level of formality, openness and time horizon.
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Classic scenario planning and strategy often focus on the long term—five to 10 years into the future and beyond—creating multiple futures where different actions can be developed and tested. One can imagine several different paths the world could take as a result of COVID-19 and use these broader short-term futures or long-term futures possibilities as a backdrop to consider the implications for any government agency.
War games tend to focus on action and reaction across multiple “moves”. While common in national security and disaster training, it can be valuable even for organizations that do not see themselves as “warriors” in the traditional sense. In the virtual game Urban Outbreak 2019, the U.S. Naval War College. playing a war game as a multinational humanitarian response to an outbreak of infectious diseases in developing countries. They find that different institutional rights and lack of information often lead to competing responses.
Tabletop exercises provide a relatively structured approach to explore specific courses of action, often within a short time frame, with dynamic risks introduced during the exercise. The current pandemic has spurred huge government interest in desk training. In April 2020, New Taipei City in Taiwan, for example, conducted an hour-long tabletop exercise to simulate the government’s response to a second wave of infections, detailing measures such as travel restrictions, business closures and policies to ensure adequate supply of necessities.
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The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed various tabletop COVID-19 training packages to address different aspects of the outbreak, such as airport entry points and critical issues in urban settings.
To build foresight, an ongoing commitment to accepting uncertainty is necessary. For some governments, this means having a dedicated group, such as Singapore’s CSF. For others, this may involve legal mandates: Finland and Iceland have legal mandates requiring regular megaflow analyses.
New tools and approaches make horizon recognition and scanning easier, including tools that scrape content from the Internet or use crowdsourcing, and scenario-driven decision support tools such as
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