Newsletter 2020

Newsletter - Foresight and Strategy 2020

April 2020

Foresight and strategy companies like SAMI spend their time thinking about the future – how it may pan out, what the implications are for governments, organisations, charities and business, and pointing successful ways forward. An event like the Covid-19 pandemic is, though, as strange for us as it is for everyone – a sort of live scenario test, in real time, with real people and real implications. It is obviously too soon to make any concrete projections what this all means for the future – though we are clearly thinking hard about it. Mostly, though, we are thinking about our friends, family and colleagues: this is the sort of time when “We hope this letter finds you well” is sincerely meant. So all of us at SAMI really do hope this edition of Foresight & Strategy finds you well – and looking, as we are, to the time when we shall meet again in the real world.

Adapting to the lockdown will have been challenging and worrying for many.  SAMI has always been a “virtual” organisation, running most of its processes and communications online.  We use the basic version of Skype, in voice mode, for our weekly admin calls, and for work team conferences; and Skype for Business for our project for the European Commission, with other team members in Germany, Denmark and the US. Several SAMI people use Zoom for training courses, and we plan to use it for our training courses and other client workshops over the next few months.

Other tools such as MeetingSphere can be used to add more structure in facilitated workshops; outputs are captured instantly as a word or pdf.  VOIP Review looked at several free online conferencing systems including Cisco Webex, used by larger companies, and Google Hangouts.

Although online conferences cannot fully match the face-to-face experience, over the coming weeks many more people will have become familiar with the technology – and associated processes and protocols (eg not all talking at once!) – so we can expect to see remote working replacing meetings even once the pandemic is over.  Cabinet meetings were held using Zoom (despite some security concerns) and even the Commons is experimenting with “technological solutions”– maybe they could work remotely while the Palace of Westminster is being refurbished?

SAMI Principal Joe Ravetz’s forthcoming book, Deeper City, is an application of new thinking on ‘deeper complexity’ challenges such as runaway urbanization, climate change and rising inequality.  The key is to move beyond smart efficiency with ‘winner-takes-all’, towards wiser human systems where ‘winners-are-all’. Examples for strategic action, moving  from ‘smart to wise’ are presented, ranging from local neighbourhoods to global finance.

We published a review of the work of various governments and consultancies on megatrends: “Meta-Megatrends”. This is a valuable resource with which to commence a futures project. Email huw.williams@samiconsulting.co.uk for a copy.  It will also shape the way we at SAMI review and refine our own set of megatrends that we use in workshops.

We are continuing our relationship with the Chartered Quality Institute.  Jonathan Blanchard Smith has written an article for Quality World (to be published soon); Garry Honey will be running a seminar on Post-Covid scenarios based on a recent blogpost, which was also picked up by the Journal of Futures Studies.  The CQI itself published a report on the Future of Work which we will review on our blog shortly.

SAMI principal Wendy Schultz was quoted in Al Arabiya English discussing artificial intelligence and robotics innovation, their potential and current limitations.

Executive Education
We were planning to run our next public course in September, but will keep this under review and may move it online. Please let us know if you are interested. We also design courses tailored to the needs of your organisation; these can usually be arranged at relatively short notice if required. To register an interest, please contact training@samiconsulting.co.uk.

We also offer several courses aimed at Boards and Senior Management designed to help them manage risk and seize opportunities – to “survive and thrive”.

Futures Issues
Telemedicine has been slow to take off, but the COVID-19 outbreak has provided a spur. Both the Centre for Disease Control and World Health Organisation are advocating telemedicine to monitor patients and reduce risks of them spreading the virus by traveling to hospitals. Robots help in monitoring infected patients to limit contact with medical personnel, deliver medical supplies and disinfect wards.

3-D printing has also come to the rescue, producing a replacement valve for a reanimation device when normal supply chains had broken down.  Others are printing face shields or ventilators.

Blockchain technology has been used to develop a COVID-19 tracker that publishes up-to-date, accurate and trusted information on the spread of the disease. Health insurance companies and medical aid firms in Asia have started to use it to reduce the paperwork required for coronavirus related claims and payments.

Robots are being called upon for food deliveries in Milton Keynes, reducing social contact still further.

By analysing how lithium ions move in batteries, researchers have found how alternative electrode materials could unlock the secret to faster-charging EV batteries

The EU’s European Food Safety Authority is expected by the insect industry to endorse whole or ground mealworms, locusts, crickets and grasshoppers as being safe for human consumption within a few weeks.

“Smart agriculture” is starting to get real, as IoT and Big Data combine to help improve yields and reduce disease.

To add to the coronavirus, East Africa is facing a second even larger wave of locusts caused by climate change. The Four Horsemen are upon us.

Our Blogs
Over the last few weeks our blogs have reflected the challenging times we are living in with several posts about coronavirus and what this might mean for our future world. Firstly we looked at whether it was something we could have seen coming, then a post about what things might be like after the pandemic and latterly some scenarios for what a post-virus world could look like. These have been interspersed with some thoughts on the global satisfaction with democracy and also on what we can do when a ‘wild card’ emerges.

March 2020


SAMI is producing a new prospectus on the Government Office for Science Futures Framework contract. This makes it easier for Government departments, Agencies and other public sector bodies to commission Futures work.  Details will appear on our website in due course.

Patricia Lustig revisited the chapter that she and Gill Ringland wrote for “After Shock”, a review of 50 years since Alvin Toffler’s “Future Shock”.  They argue that younger generations are actually quite comfortable with the rapid change of technology. They don’t feel threatened at all. Rather, many of them actually feel empowered by it. They effortlessly exploit the myriad technologies at their disposal in countless ways to connect with their worlds, often to the chagrin of their parents.
 
The Coronavirus outbreak (or similar) is something which public health experts have seen coming for ages – always a question of “when, not if”.   It’s a classic “wildcard” to be played in almost any scenario.  The US National Intelligence Council, in “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World”  (November 2008) suggested the potential emergence of a global pandemic. Both the cause of the global pandemic (Coronavirus) and its source (China) were mentioned exactly. The UK Cabinet Office covered “Emerging infectious diseases” in their 2017 National Risk Register, suggesting that the risk had increased since 2015 because of global warming and globalisation.
 
Of course, this should have meant contingency plans were developed. It is also important to test these plans against a practical worst case scenario, to determine the capability to meet the challenges, train responders and identify potential areas of weakness. Scenarios are a powerful tool for both the analysis and management of risks. Foresight tools also help to anticipate future risks, where there is often a lack of data.
 
Now, we should be thinking about what might change permanently – will we get global collaboration on disease vigilance and sharing of data, or will populists close borders and repel all “filthy foreigners”?  Will the impact on global supply chains be irreversible?  Will working from home and remote learning become much more common? What are the second- and third-order effects?  Let us know what you think at: info@samiconsulting.co.uk.

Ex-Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, and top economist John Kay, have written a book of foresight, called “Radical Uncertainty: Decision-making for an unknowable future”.  Its thesis is that the future cannot be forecast, and that quantitative predicitons give us a false understanding of our power to make predictions. This chimes with SAMI’s approach to “robust decisions in uncertain times”.  Just because the future is unknowable doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about it – in fact you need to think harder and more widely.

Executive Education
We are planning to run our next public course in September, but we have not fixed a specific date at this time: please let us know if you are interested in this. We also design courses tailored to the needs of your organisation; these can usually be arranged at relatively short notice if required. To register an interest, please contact training@samiconsulting.co.uk.
 
We also offer several courses aimed at Boards and Senior Management designed to help them manage risk and seize opportunities – to “survive and thrive”. 
 
Futures Issues
Tropical forests are losing their ability to absorb CO2 owing to the impacts of higher temperatures, droughts and deforestation, and could even turn into sources of CO2 within a decade.
 
Local and regional governments across Switzerland are embracing civic technology to understand the views of their citizens, especially on planning and development proposals. Several collaborative platforms, including Crossiety (dubbed the “digital village square”) and Decidim, are being used to involve citizens directly in the decision-making process. And the London Borough of Camden and others are using a service from Commonplace for consultation on planning and policy

Three-quarters of the world’s population now live in urban areas, according to the EC Joint Research Council’s new Atlas of the Human Planet. From 1975-2015, the share of people living in urban areas has increased from 69% to 76%. Over the same period, the number of countries with more than 90% of their population in urban areas doubled from 16 to 32.
 
CRISPR–Cas9 gene therapy has  been administered, for the first time, directly into the body a person with a genetic condition that causes blindness . Previously the technique has been used to edit the genomes of cells that have been removed from the body and the material then infused back into the patient.
 
Honeywell International claims to have achieved a breakthrough in quantum computing, with a machine that is 4 times as powerful as previous ones – notably IBM’s Q System One with a 20-qubit processor. Honeywell plans to offer cloud-based access to the computer within three months.
 
The health tracking market – smart bracelets, smart beds and smart chest straps – is projected to reach 25% of the US adult population by 2022.  Growth is mainly in smartwatches and “hearables” – the fitness market seems to be slowing.
 
An AI system has discovered a powerful antibiotic that kills some of the most dangerous drug-resistant bacteria in the world.  The system was first trained on the atomic and molecular features of nearly 2,500 drugs and natural compounds, and how well or not the substance blocked the growth of the bug E coli. Then it searched a library of more than 6,000 compounds under investigation for treating various human diseases. Rather than looking for any potential antimicrobials, the algorithm focused on compounds that looked effective but unlike existing antibiotics. This boosted the chances that the drugs would work in radical new ways that bugs had yet to develop resistance to.
 
 
Our Blogs 
In the middle of February we blogged about the possible economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak and whether it indicates how frail the global economy might be. We then published blogs on topics ranging from a review of a meeting at the Reform Club where University of Helsinki academics spoke about issues of climate change, then some thoughts on predicting the future and the accuracy of forecasts and finally some further ideas around decarbonising oil.

 

February 2020

As part of the Government Office for Science Futures Framework contract, we are preparing a prospectus outlining SAMI Consulting’s range of services and previous experience.  This document will be used as part of the GO-Science “fair” in March, and will also be available to download from our website.  Although targeted at potential Government clients, the content will be a good explanation of who we are and what we do that many will find helpful.

A Twitter network analysis mapping relationships among 1000 futurists and futures-adjacent Twitter users showed that Jennifer Jarratt, Maree Conway, and SAMI Principal Wendy Schultz (@wendyinfutures) were the futurists most followed by their peers.

 

Professor Paul Moxey and SAMI Principal Huw Williams will be presenting to Directors from the Finance sector at a special half-day meeting of The Transparency Forum on 19th March. Topic covered will include cognitive bias and risk management, key drivers of change and approaches to foresight. Contact huw.williams@samiconsulting.co.uk for more information.

One of the sessions at the CRSA Forum meeting on cybersecurity was by Daniel Roberts on “Facing Reality: Convincing Directors and Boards to invest in Cyber Security”.  As part  of his talk he led the group through a couple of case studies that illustrated very well the competing real-world pressures that mean that cyber-security doesn’t get the attention and investment it needs. Details are available on his blog site here. Notes of the meeting will be published by the Institute of Risk Management’s shortly. Contact paul@moxey.co.uk for more information.

Executive Education

Our next Futures Thinking course is planned for 23rd/24th March 2020. To register an interest, please contact training@samiconsulting.co.uk.

We also offer several courses aimed at Boards and Senior Management designed to help them manage risk and seize opportunities – to “survive and thrive”.

Alternatively, we can arrange bespoke in-house courses for teams wanting to get started in horizon scanning and scenario planning.

Futures Issues

The Consumer Electronics Show produced its usual range of the weird and wonderful. ABI Research identified 33 “key take-aways”, and noted a degree of realism creeping in – away from fully autonomous vehicles to integrated systems, and some genuine 5G use cases.

Researchers have created a robot hand that sweats. The soft, clammy appendage regulates its own temperature by secreting water on to its “skin” when it gets too warm. The water then removes heat as it evaporates into the air. This approach could stop robots overheating in hot environments.

In an effort to reduce the risk to health professionals, a telemedical robot is being used to treat a patient with the coronavirus. The robot is equipped with a stethoscope, and enables doctors to communicate via a large screen.

It may not have felt like it, but 2019 was the best year ever. Every single day

Historically, almost half of all humans died in childhood; as recently as 1950, 27 percent of all children still died by age 15 – now that figure has dropped to about 4 percent.

Our Blogs 

We have covered several different areas in our recent blogs. Firstly, we looked at whether eliminating fossil fuels is possible in the shorter term; then continued our climate emergency series with a look at how change could be supported through the legal landscape before completing the series with a summary which included updates on changes since we began the series 6 months ago. More recently we looked at risk and what the real level of understanding of this subject is.

January 2020

Welcome to 2020 – we hope you are ready for it!  Thinking about the “known unkowns” we will at least have to deal with:

  • UK trade deals with EU and maybe US – will they be sorted or not?
  • Labour’s new leader: what approach will they take? What difference will that make?
  • What happens next in the Middle East tinderbox?
  • US election – who will be the Democrat challenger and how radical will be their policies? Will Trump win his second term?
  • Hong Kong – will China back down or send in troops?
  • Climate emergencies and UK hosting COP26 – will progress be made at last?


David Lye is stepping down as SAMI’s People Director, though he will continue to be involved in various projects – we would like to convey our many thanks for all his support over the years.

Bill Aiken will take his place, and also lead SAMI’s approaches to the Government sector and SAMI’s training offering.

Bill specialises in strategy development, organisational transformation and capability development.  He has worked with a wide range of clients from engineering firms and global consultancies to the European Commission, Government Departments including the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence, the NHS and FCO, and security agencies and Police Forces.

He has previously acted as People and Change Director in a number of consulting firms.

Government enquiries into companies such as Carillion and Thomas Cook showed that the firms complied with statutory reporting and had been audited by reputable accountants, yet both failed spectacularly in circumstances that in retrospect could shout out poor governance. Is this because of a lack of skill or a lack of will? SAMI Associate Garry Honey explores this question in a recent blogpost on the ICSA website.

The Conservative manifesto promised a better deal for the many families in the private rented sector. In a blogpost for the Income Protection Task Force, SAMI Principal Richard Walsh outlines its main provisions and effects on Income Protection, and describes how the “Building Resilient Households Group” will be engaging with Government.

After Shock: In 1970, futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler’s sensational bestseller, Future Shock described a world where “shattering stress and disorientation” would inevitably be brought about by “too much change in too short a period of time.”  Marking the 50-year anniversary of the publication of Future Shock, After Shock brings together the world’s foremost futurists and thought leaders in a compendium that sparks imagination and inspires solutions to the many challenges we face.

Contributors include more than 100 of the world’s foremost futurists, including David Brin, Ray Kurzweil, Lord Martin Rees, – and the unbeatable combination of SAMI Fellow Emeritus Gill Ringland and SAMI Associate Patricia Lustig.

After Shock is published on 4th February 2020. Get it in bookshops or on Amazon.

Professor Paul Moxey and SAMI Principal Huw Williams will be presenting to Directors from the Finance sector at a special half-day meeting of The Transparency Forum on 19th March. Topic covered will include cognitive bias and risk management, key drivers of change and approaches to foresight. Contact huw.williams@samiconsulting.co.uk for more information.

The CRSA Forum meeting on cybersecurity on 17th January 2020 sold out. Notes of the meeting will appear on the Institute of Risk Management’s website in due course. Contact paul@moxey.co.uk for more information.

Executive Education
Our next Futures Thinking course is planned for 23rd/24th March 2020. To register an interest, please contact training@samiconsulting.co.uk.

We also offer several courses aimed at Boards and Senior Management designed to help them manage risk and seize opportunities – to “survive and thrive”.

Alternatively, we can arrange bespoke in-house courses for teams wanting to get started in horizon scanning and scenario planning.

Futures Issues
Brainwave interfaces are developing fast. At this year’s CES, BrainCo demonstrated a headband which reads brainwaves and uses them to control Scalextric type cars. The implications are huge, once you connect the system to the internet – in effect it’s telephathy.

Lignin, a natural polymer intertwined around the cellulose fibres, that gives wood its brownish hue, could be used to generate electricity from heat energy sources just 5 °C warmer than their surroundings.  It may be possible to create shirts made of treated cotton, which is nearly pure cellulose, that could harvest body heat, storing it in a battery to recharge phones, or charging them wirelessly in pockets.

Rolls-Royce unveils all-electric plane.  The plane is part of a Rolls-Royce initiative called ACCEL – short for “Accelerating the Electrification of Flight – and has a target speed of 300+ MPH (480+ KMH) and is expected to trial in late Spring 2020.

A pilot project injecting zero-carbon hydrogen into an existing gas network is now fully operational. Called HyDeploy, the pilot involves injecting hydrogen into Keele University’s existing natural gas network, which supplies 30 faculty buildings and 100 domestic properties. Hydrogen will account for up to 20% of the gas mix in the network. If it’s successful and were to be scaled up across England, researchers at Keele estimate it could mitigate the emission of six million tonnes of CO2e emissions annually.

The FDA has approved an ingestible event marker from the digital health company etectRx. This is the first device of its kind to transmit digital messages from within the body to an external receiver without need for direct skin contact. The device emits a very low power digital message from within the patient after it is ingested and activated by the patient’s stomach fluid. This is then verified by a reader on a lanyard and forwarded to a secure smartphone app.

Global shipments of wearables jumped 94.6 percent year-on-year in the third quarter to 84.5 million, following growth of 85 percent in the second quarter. Demand was driven by new products in the hearables market which accounted for almost half of products sold in Q3, followed by wristbands and smartwatches. The rise of smart assistants in the home and on the phone also helped increase demand for wearables. The market is well on its way to becoming a mass market device category, rather than one mainly focused on health and fitness.

Birth rates in China are falling dramatically, from 17.23 million in 2017 to 15.23 million in 2018 – a fall of 11.6% in just one year. We can now confidently project an ageing Chinese population in just a few years.  What is the impact on geo-politics?

Our Blogs 
In our recent blogs we reviewed our Brexit scenarios in the light of the December General Election, looked back over what happened during 2019 and have revisited the question about whether the coming year will develop a ‘new normal’ of civil unrest and revolution – a follow  up to our previous blog on this topic. We have also continued our series on the climate crisis by looking at some of the social and political trends.

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