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Using short story competitions to predict the future.

The Economic and Social Research Council has just announced the winners of its 'World in 2065' writing competition, and very good they are too.  The winning entry, by James Fletcher is called 'City Inc' and is a future vignette about the rise of the City State.  Other entries from Josephine Go Jeffries and Gioia Barnbrook, both explored themes relating to climate change and how they could impact on the future. 

Looking through these great entries, it does make you think about all the other submissions.  By necessity for short story competitions you do have to have a winner, that's how these things go.  But, if you think about it, the reason we commission creative exercises about the future is about getting ideas.  So, if you run a competition what happens to all the ideas and insights contained in the entries that didn't make it to the short list?

Now, generally there could be a good reason that stories didn't make it to the short list.  Probably, they were difficult to read, possibly they were incredulous or maybe they weren't entertaining enough.  The reasons they didn't make the cut will be defined by the selection parameters of the judging panel, in this case, a high profile one (including Tash Reith-Banks from the Guardian) really knows its stuff artistically.

But, I can't help reflecting on how short story competitions could be best used to gather ideas about the future.  We know that they don't really provide a more accurate view about what could happen, so what value to they have?

The value of ideas from short stories.

The real value from short story competitions comes in the ideas and possibilities they raise.  This is where they are so valuable and its so important for them to be creatively unconstrained and really highlight as wide a range of ideas as possible.

Unfortunately, this is where the traditional means of assessing competition entries fall down a little, as they only select and take forward a small proportion of the entries for further exploration.  It means all the ideas contained in the entries that don't make the shortlist aren't used.

As a futures analyst, I feel this is a shame as it wastes ideas.  But, I do understand, that for a competition, you do need to have a winner, and choosing an entry based on its artistic merit is a good way to go.  However, there is an alternative...

Data mining competition entries

In this data-led age its now possible to rethink how we run competitions.  So, as well as choosing an overall winner, you can also filter the ideas contained in all the entries, this will give futures analysts what they want - i.e. a broad a range of ideas about the future as possible.  Then when you take these ideas and map them, you get a real understanding of the bulk of what people are thinking when they write their entries.  For example, take the following map.

Sample Map from the Scan of Scans.

Sample Map from the Scan of Scans.

This data visualisation is based on the content of around 300 foresight reports and summarizes that most frequently occurring terms.

Now, if you take this approach with all of your competition entries - you then have an additional source of ideas and material.  Which for a futures analyst is highly desirable as any one of these could be a potential lead on a trend in the future...

Unfortunately, at present most competitions aren't designed with getting this added value from its entries, however, perhaps as we become used to being more data-driven this could change in the future.

And, for those sci-fi short story aficionados out there - the data driven approach in journalism, was actually predicted by Paolo Bacigalupi in his short story called 'The Gambler' - in this media agencies track the most popular stories using a live data visualisation called the 'Maelstrom', a brilliant name for a living, evolving complex mess.  And its such things that can be a little daunting to work through.  But for the first time we have the tools and the know-how.  It would be great to start using them to get more value from short story competitions...

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A data-driven forecast for the future of healthcare.

Back in November 2014, we produced a forecast that was entirely data derived. Unlike a lot of futures reports, this analysis is based entirely on openly available data and analysed and visualised in a manner that illustrates all of the available data used to derive judgements. We believe this is important as it means we can reduce bias in our assessments but also when we make predictions for the future we can produce quantified assessments to reflect our belief in whether they will happen or not.  We've now developed this analysis significantly and have used it to test ideas and trends in a wide variety of areas, but, if you're interested in the future of health, we've now made the analysis available here.

But, for those of you, too busy to read the actual report, the main 'Top 5' findings are detailed below [caveated appropriately!]

Top 5 trends in Healthcare 2015 - 2050.

1. Fee paying healthcare is likely to increase out to 2050.

Insight - Because of greater demand on health systems (ageing, obesity and disease), the rise of new healthcare markets and strategies (from emerging markets) and increasing technologies and medications to promote and prolong life, fully funded state-based healthcare is unlikely to be sustainable out to 2050.

Judgement - There is a probability of 0.8 that by 2050, countries like the UK will deliver a far greater proportion of their healthcare through private agencies. State-based provision is likely to become increasingly difficult because of the continued evolution of diverse healthcare demands and increasingly complex technical requirements of future treatments. By such a point, states are likely to focus on facilitating access to affordable healthcare and promoting healthier lifestyles.

2. Global obesity rates are likely to increase over the next 30 years, prompting significant initiatives to address them.

Insight - Without coordinated intervention global obesity rates are likely to increase out to 2050. Basic projections suggest that if global obesity continues at its current level, an estimated 2 billion people in a global population of 7 billion in 2013 (contrasting with 857 million from a global population of 4.5 billion in 1980), then by 2050, around 30-60% of the global population will be obese. In total numbers, if the global population reaches 9.5 billion by 2050, this will represent a range of 2.7-5.7 billion obese people.

Judgement - There is a 0.95 probability that the levels of obesity in the global population will increase from 2014-2050. This trend will be driven by higher calorie diets as lower activity levels become the global norm. However, the problem may become so significant, so quickly, that policy reforms, new technologies and medicines may provide the necessary interventions to mitigate this trend.

3. Out to 2050, states are more likely to occupy the role of facilitating healthcare access as opposed to direct provision.

Insight - Over the next 30 years, the rising cost of healthcare and the increasing diversity of technologies and medicines to promote health and prolong life will mean state-based care strategies will be increasingly costly to maintain. This is likely to lead to many countries developing less costly models to promote and facilitate access to healthcare, guaranteeing a level of access to the least well off citizens alone, whilst enabling access (through part funded and tax incentive schemes) to the majority of their citizens. However, due to the variability of national strategies and priorities, there will be considerable variation in the political attitude to toward state-based healthcare.

Judgment - There is a 0.65 Probability that governments will move to roles based on facilitating access to healthcare as opposed to being the direct provider.

 

4. The use of healthcare data will be increasingly important for healthcare treatments.

Insight - Out to 2050, improvements in sensor technology, data collection and increasingly available open data will drive metric collection and increasingly sophisticated trials and health strategies. Such developments will change many perceptions on the use/protection of health information and patient confidentiality.

Judgment - The use of healthcare data will increase out to 2050. It is a certainty that data (once it has been approved for confidentiality and legal consideration) will be collected and used to improve the quality of human healthcare.

5. Policies to encourage healthy behaviours and lifestyles are likely to become increasingly important.

Insight - To reduce long term health issues government and company policies are increasingly likely to promote healthy behaviors and lifestyles to reduce long term costs on industry and the state. Such strategies will be more cost effective to implement in the long term and reduce the treatment of symptoms rather than the causes. However, certain specific requirements such as the guarantee of basic security and emergency responses to save lives will remain key ‘duties of care’ that will need to be maintained.

Judgment - There is a 0.7 Probability that policies to encourage healthy behaviors will increase over the next 30 years.

Judgment - There is a 0.95 Probability that the duty of care of governments to maintain and protect the health and safety of their citizens will endure out to 2050.

Outliers

As well as weighting our top five findings we've also collected some 'outliers'. These are the rare, and very low reported trends. When you get all these together they can make for interesting reading, just think, if we'd done this exercise in 2009 - where would the term 'healthcare metrics' appeared?

9 'Outlier' trends for the future of Health

1. The next pandemic may not be flu.

2. Both Japan and the EU may suffer from a shortage of trained healthcare providers in the future.

3. Long term chronic illness (such as diabetes or forms of cancer) could represent significant healthcare issues in the future.

4. Hypertension could be an increasingly significant healthcare issue.

5. The rise of counterfeit medicines and synthetic narcotics could be of potential significance to the future of human health and the pharmaceutical industry.

6. The increased use and sophistication of biomarkers could be significant for addressing future health challenges.

7. Cognitive systems that sense, act, think, feel, communicate and evolve, could be increasingly important in how we understand and improve the healthcare solutions at our disposal.

8. ‘Localisation’ and the local environment could be increasingly significant for how healthcare options are delivered to the surrounding populace.

9. A revolution in farming and agriculture could improve or alter health dynamics anywhere around the world.

Any questions?  Get in touch, at info@simplexity.org.uk

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