‘Futures Intelligence’

In an earlier post I mentioned the term ‘futures intelligence’ in the context of the activity of gathering information about the future and undertaking what I like to call ‘futures intelligence analysis’. (Obviously, this is done with a view to utilising it for decision-making processes, such as setting strategy or developing policy, which is generally the end goal of any sort of intelligence analysis, futures or otherwise.) Here I want to expand briefly upon the multi-faceted concept of ‘futures intelligence’ itself, and two complementary ways that I think the term can be used.

Essentially, I see the concept of ‘futures intelligence’ as having (at least) two distinct complementary aspects:

  • ‘intelligence’ in the sense that is used in the familiar term ‘intelligence analysis’ (e.g., Heuer 1999) – namely, the creation of estimates or assessments arising from amassing information about a topic area and seeking to draw some deeper insights about it (this is the ‘analyst’s usage’); and
  • ‘intelligence’ in the sense that is used when speaking of ‘multiple intelligences’ (e.g., Gardner 2000) – namely, the mental capacity/ies utilised in various activities requiring the use of cognition (this is the ‘psychologist’s usage’).

Both of these usages can be found mentioned in the academic literature (not to mention in various ‘popular’ forms on the web) – the analyst’s by, e.g., Muller (2009), and the psychologist’s by, e.g., Roper (2016) – while the title of Heuer’s widely-used and oft-cited work (1999) hints at their close relationship and potential overlap. In essence, the latter is the cognitive ability that we use to make assessments about various futures (per, for example, the different categories of the Futures Cone), while the former is the product or output that arises from the process of utilising that capacity, usually directed at specific domains or topics of interest. Thus, ‘futures intelligence’ has an interior aspect – the psychological capacity of the practitioner/analyst – and an exterior aspect – the outputs or products of that process of analysis, as well as the methods used to gather information and develop those outputs, which naturally includes the choices made in assessing and selecting the information sources out in the external environment to utilise as a basis for that analysis.

It has long been clear to me that both intelligence analysts and futurists – the latter doing what has for many years been called ‘environmental scanning’ (Aguilar 1967; Choo 1999) – have been undertaking very closely-related activities; if they are not siblings, then they are at the very least first-cousins. Indeed, in my very first serious journal article written as a professional futurist, back in 2001, I noted in the Concluding Remarks, that (Voros 2001, p.551):

Environmental scanners and intelligence analysts are involved in basically the same work – trying to generate knowledge and intelligence out of incomplete or ambiguous information. Scanners are at an advantage, because there is (probably) no counter-intelligence activity trying to obfuscate the information stream.*

Over the intervening years this conviction of the very close relationship between futures scanning and intelligence analysis has only grown stronger, and the current futures scanning retrospective I am undertaking has simply cemented that conviction. I now think that a full-blown formal research program is clearly worth undertaking, examining the resonances, overlaps and distinctions between these activities, and whether and how insights from the one might benefit the other. This research would draw upon both intelligence ‘tradecraft’ as well as foresight methodology, together with material from the psychological and cognitive sciences to explore both the interior and exterior aspects of ‘futures intelligence’ more fully. Indeed, an ‘Integral’ view (Esbjörn-Hargens 2006, 2009) of ‘futures intelligence’ would be even more thorough, an approach I’ve explored previously in several contexts: among others, for scanning (Voros 2001), entrepreneurship (Voros 2007) and Futures Studies itself (Voros 2008). The integrated multi-perspectival view produced by an Integral approach would very likely generate insights that the separate ‘true-but-partial’ perspectives might not be sufficient to reveal in and of themselves. This potential for deeper insight is always the prospect and promise of taking an integral perspective on, or approach to, anything.

As we move into a world growing increasingly turbulent, our methods for attempting to make sense of – and respond to – such a world also need to be refined, whether for intelligence analysis in the conventional sense, or for futures scanning in the strategic and policy sense. Combining insights from the practices of both futures scanning and intelligence analysis holds out the clear hope of being able to contribute meaningfully to our achieving that rather daunting task. For increasingly, it seems, our civilisation’s – and perhaps even our species’ – continued survival might depend critically upon our further developing and applying futures intelligence.

Note

* As I’m currently reading William Gibson’s The Peripheral, I’m glad I put the ‘probably’ into that sentence twenty years ago, even though it seemed like a bit of a preposterously cheeky qualification to add at the time. Of course, since then the category of Preposterous futures has been added to the Futures Cone, driven in part by the lesson learned from the Sept 11 terrorist attacks and the fact that that very wildcard was consciously removed from the deck, on the grounds of wild implausibility, prior to facilitating a wildcards process run during a futures workshop on that very day. The lesson was clear: even the most seemingly outlandishly preposterous ideas need to be left in play, ‘just in case’…

Image Credit: Photo by Robynne Hu on Unsplash

References

Aguilar FJ (1967) Scanning the business environment, Macmillan, New York.

Choo CW (1999) ‘The art of scanning the environment’, Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science, 25(3):21–24. doi:10.1002/bult.117.

Esbjörn-Hargens S (2006) ‘Integral research: A multi-method approach to investigating phenomena’, Constructivism in the Human Sciences, 11(1):79–107.

——— (2009) An overview of Integral Theory: An all-inclusive framework for the 21st century, Resource Paper No. 1, Integral Institute, Boulder, CO, USA.

Gardner H (2000) Intelligence reframed: Multiple intelligences for the 21st century, Basic Books, New York.

Heuer RJ, Jr (1999) Psychology of intelligence analysis, Central Intelligence Agency,Washington, DC. Available at: https://www.cia.gov/resources/csi/books-monographs/psychology-of-intelligence-analysis-2/.

Muller DG, Jr (2009) ‘Improving futures intelligence’, International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, 22(3):382–395. doi:10.1080/08850600902896894.

Roper J (2016) ‘Futures intelligence: Applying Gardner to public relations’, Public Relations Review, 42(2):258–263. doi:10.1016/j.pubrev.2015.04.005.

Voros J (2001) ‘Reframing environmental scanning: An integral approach’, Foresight, 3(6):533–552. doi:10.1108/14636680110697200.

——— (2007) ‘Towards an “integral” view of entrepreneurship’, Journal of Futures Studies, 12(2):5–22. Available at: https://jfsdigital.org/articles-and-essays/2007-2/vol-12-no-2-november/.

——— (2008) ‘Integral futures: An approach to futures inquiry’, Futures, 40(2):190–201. doi:10.1016/j.futures.2007.11.010.


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