The current crisis has brought to the fore some of the most salient issues we face as humanity—from the scale of people living at the edge of poverty, to huge inequities in access to technology and healthcare, to the increasing disruptions we face from a warming climate. We know the future will look different—the decisions we make now will either leapfrog our progress on these major challenges or cause us to slide back in time as we retrench and de-risk.
On April 14th, Tembo-APCO in partnership with Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) hosted a virtual roundtable, A Futurist Meets the C-Suite: Making this Moment Matter, where we had the chance to take a deeper look at how the tools of future scenario planning can help business and philanthropic leaders navigate the tough decisions facing them today—balancing short term trade-offs, with long term value creation.
The leading futurist at BSR’s Sustainable Future’s Lab, Jacob Park, kicked off by sharing how humans—in times of high uncertainty—often respond with denial, paralysis or confirmation biases. When faced with complexity, we oversimplify and have false confidence in our assumptions, which allows for blind spots in our decision-making. Scenarios are a tool that allow us to expand our field of view, holding multiple uncertainties at once, and give us a framework for developing plans and strategies that keep in mind all the plausible possibilities. More specifically:
- Scenarios correct against cognitive biases. By challenging assumptions, they help us identify blind spots in our thinking.
- Scenarios allow us to stress test strategy. The most resilient ideas will work across most or all scenarios.
- The future will contain elements of all the scenarios we develop. By planning for multiple plausible outcomes, we avoid the risk of planning for one projected future that could be quite off.
The Four Scenarios
Park laid out the four scenarios he sees as the world emerges from the COVID-19 crisis:
Build Back Better – Effective Public Health Response & Progressive Socio Economic Policies
- Epidemiological measures are well coordinated, contain the spread for the virus, and public health surveillance data is anonymized.
- Stimulus spending addresses inequalities.
- There is a resurgence in global cooperation as countries realize they need to work together to solve their problems.
- Ex: A GOP senator just proposed a Denmark-style recovery plan where the government helps pay workers’ wages during the coronavirus pandemic
Winners and Losers – Effective Public Health Response & Regressive Socioeconomic Policies
- Public health response in patchy, but drug and antibody therapies come online quickly.
- Access to treatment in inequitable.
- Stimulus spending largely benefits large corporations with insufficient support for ordinary people.
- Economy rebounds but the inequality grows wider and deeper.
- Asia emerges as the undisputed global economic leader.
- Ex: Drug makers are racing to develop immune therapies for COVID-19. Will they be ready in time?
Torn Asunder – Ineffective Public Health Response & Regressive Socioeconomic Policies
- Epidemiological response is uncoordinated and insufficient.
- Premature relaxing of Social Distancing measures leads to resurgent outbreaks.
- “immunity certificates” allow the fortunate to return to work, but many others are left to fend for their own health and economic security.
- Global economy enters a depression.
- Polarization is rampant, heightening global conflicts and internal rifts within the US and Europe.
- Ex: Rift between White House and states threatens a cohesive response
Community Safety Nets – Ineffective Public Health Response & progressive Socioeconomic Policies
- Federal public health response in the US is uncoordinated and insufficient.
- States, cities, and local communities take it upon themselves to protect their own people.
- Mutual aid programs keep people afloat.
- Growth in social solidarity helps improve outcomes for all.
- Globalization unwinds as local economies grow.
- Ex: One City Is Paying Restaurants to Make Meals for Homeless Shelters
Abraham Lincoln once said, “the best way to predict the future is to create it.” So, in the spirit of creating a future, Park recommended the following next steps as the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold:
- Act with strategic agility and foresight, hold mental models lightly and practice horizon scanning. As the coronavirus situation continues to develop, more information will be flooding in over the next few months, requiring scenario planning to be flexible enough to adjust for new research and insights.
- Help others understand the benefits of long term solutions and act with integrity. Consumers will remember how organizations behave in this time of crisis.
For more information, watch the April 14, 2020 webinar Tembo-APCO partnered with BSR to host below, and visit APCO Worldwide’s Coronavirus Hub for additional COVID-19 insights, resources and research.