Israel: Leveraging Foresight Techniques to Warn Against Surprise Attack

The recent conflict involving Israel and Hamas has garnered global attention. Due to the unexpected nature of the attack, questions have arisen regarding the effectiveness of intelligence agencies, both in Israel and in the United States. A case can be made that with the application of Foresight Analysis, it might have been possible to anticipate and potentially avoid such an attack.
I was struck by how the Hamas attack shared similarities with the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai. For example, in a Foresight workshop that focused on the Mumbai attack, one of the scenarios predicted an unanticipated attack launched from the sea which had not been previously considered, the taking of hostages, and detailed planning to attack multiple targets—all of which occurred with the Hamas invasion.
When reflecting on the situation, three Foresight techniques come to mind that could have potentially provided strategic warning of a Hamas attack: Multiple Scenarios Generation, Quadrant Crunching™, and the Cone of Plausibility. In this month’s Analytic Insider, I will describe these techniques, explain how they have been used successfully, and suggest how they could be used to assist decisionmakers in Israel.



In counterterrorism analysis, this technique is used to identify new vulnerabilities and assess, anticipate, and prioritize possible attacks and attack methods. It provides a useful framework for developing indicators and formulating field collection requirements.

The Process:

  • Produce a set of 4-5 key drivers that will determine how a situation will evolve over several years.
  • Array the key drivers in 2×2 matrices to generate two dozen or more candidate scenarios.
  • Select scenarios that illustrate the greatest downside risks, opportunities for enhancing national security, emerging unnoticed trends, and/or a main line scenario.

In Israel, employing Multiple Scenarios Generation could serve as a valuable approach for exploring innovative attack strategies and reconsidering the revitalization of a Middle East peace plan or the invigoration of other regional diplomatic efforts.


In a workshop facilitated by Pherson in London, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) developed the Quadrant Crunching™ technique to anticipate how to protect UK water systems from terrorist attack. Quadrant Crunching™ generates scores of potential attack scenarios—many of which are unanticipated or counterintuitive.

The Process:

  • Begin with a lead attack scenario.
  • Brainstorm alternatives to the key elements of that scenario.
  • Assess which permutations pose the greatest threats to national security.

In Israel, the technique could be deployed to answer the question: What are other potential attack modes Hamas or other groups might employ that are not anticipated now?


Used widely by Canadian and UK analysts, this technique allows analysts to generate a range of plausible scenarios or “futures” that describe the plausible ways a situation may evolve looking out over a given timeframe.

The Process:

  • Identify key drivers (or forces) that shape current events and will remain relevant over the timeframe under examination.
  • Make assumptions about how each driver will behave.
  • Define a baseline scenario that is usually an extrapolation of the present-day situation.
  • Generate alternative scenarios by altering one or more of the assumptions and working through the impact of the changes in the baseline.

In Israel, the technique can be used to optimize the effectiveness of future operational courses of action.



  • When the US Marine Corps was preparing to depart Iraq in 2011, it sponsored a Foresight workshop applying Multiple Scenarios Generation and Quadrant Crunching™. The objective was to anticipate how Anbar Province would evolve after the Marines departed and what proactive mechanisms could be implemented to minimize instability. Several distinctive scenarios were developed with accompanying Indicators. The indicators were operationalized to provide the foundation needed to capitalize on the US investment in the province.


  • The Canadian Forest Service (CFS) and the US Forest Service (USFS) have developed strategic Foresight programs using the Cone of Plausibility to help plan and operate in an environment of growing complexity, uncertainty, and rapid change. The USFS has engaged in Foresight Analysis since 2010, and the CFS’s foresight team is using Foresight techniques to provide advice to policymakers to build capacity for forward thinking within their organization. The two organizations have partnered to share their findings and approaches. In the study “2035: Canada’s Forests in the Future,” the technique helped forest decisionmakers identify strategic surprises, especially those arising in domains outside of forestry. They learned that anticipating potential wild card scenarios facilitates the development of proactive management strategies and minimizes the risks of being blindsided by unforeseen change. The ultimate gain is to strengthen resilience within forestry communities.

The effective use of these Foresight techniques in addressing the Israeli conflict should involve a group of 20 to 50 participants from various sectors, including policy, intelligence, academia, and industry communities. Historically, such workshops have typically required a duration of three days of intensive interaction or a more extended process spanning over three months.

Our team at Pherson possesses extensive experience in conducting
Foresight Analysis workshops for a diverse range of government and commercial clients worldwide. 
For more information about our capabilities, please refer to our website.

Read more about 

Multiple Scenarios Generation and Quadrant Crunching™

 in the Handbook of Analytic Tools and Techniques, 5th edition (2019).

Explore the concept of the Cone of Plausibility in Structured Analytic Techniques in Intelligence Analysis, 3rd edition (2021).

The Battle of Contrasting Narratives

I recently had the opportunity to teach courses and present at the Australian Institute of Professional Intelligence Officers (AIPIO) conference in Adelaide, Australia. The question everyone asked is “What is going on in America? Are you all going crazy?” As the sole conference attendee from the United States, I felt obliged to respond. After reflection, I concluded that America is experiencing a clash of competing narratives: several mostly false and the others firmly rooted in reality.

Narratives are stories that are compelling and coherent in their structure. Key drivers that enhance the power and adoption of narratives are the growing impact of social media, Confirmation Bias, and the phenomenon of echo chambers.


PAST: The Republican Party has been increasingly radicalized to the point it has been transformed from a political party to a cult of personality. Former President Donald Trump refuses to accept the fact that he lost the election and has convinced his followers to adopt the false narrative that massive fraud occurred and Trump actually won the election. The radicalization of the movement is certain to intensify, cementing the false narrative in the minds of Trump followers.

PRESENT: The current false narrative is that President Biden and various Attorneys General/Prosecutors are weaponizing the halls of justice to illegally “bring down” the former president. The former President claims President Biden is using the criminal justice system to deny Trump time to campaign for reelection. Trump supporters regard his indictments as proof of his victim status which he can leverage to his advantage. Such false confidence explains why Trump supporters are not protesting the indictments. The jailing of 6 January protestors has also made many Trump supporters less inclined to protest, fearing that they will suffer a similar fate.

FUTURE: Most Trump supporters believe the former President will easily win a contest against a barely competent incumbent. Once back in power, Trump will arrange to have all his indictments and convictions overturned. This will free him to retaliate against those he deems disloyal. He will use the Justice System to lock up his opponents and bring retribution against the Deep State and anyone who has proved disloyal in the past. His transformation of the United States to an authoritarian/ undemocratic state will be justified on two grounds: the need for retribution against the disloyal and the push from his supporters to return America to an operating culture they are “comfortable with.” 

These narratives are likely to remain unquestioned unless Trump loses the presidential election. An election loss denies Trump the ability to issue pardons, impose an authoritarian form of government, and probably avoid imprisonment.


PAST: President Biden won the 2020 election and has shown strong leadership in international affairs, rallying NATO to support Ukraine and almost bringing Putin to his knees. His primary focus was to enact laws and executive orders that improved the lives of middle-class Americans. He has managed to get several major bipartisan legislative packages passed that lower health care and drug costs, fight climate change, expand mental health care, and invest in American manufacturing and infrastructure.

PRESENT: Biden’s strategy is to avoid any appearance of trying to influence the judicial process that surrounds Trump. As part of his campaign strategy, he will soon showcase his list of middle-class policy initiatives to be enacted if he is elected and contrast it with Trump’s agenda. Emphasis will be given to substantial progress in creating jobs and bringing down inflation. A key theme will be the institution of Bidenomics which involves building the economy from the “middle out and the bottom up.” 

FUTURE: Looking to the future, the primary narrative likely to be promoted by President Biden is the need to preserve democratic institutions. A key subcomponent of this narrative will be the commitment to pass two voting rights laws: the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. Other issues likely to receive attention will be wrapped around the theme of freedom: freedom of women to seek an abortion, of minorities to vote, for LGBTQ community to live without restrictions, for students to read books of their choice, and ultimately for all citizens to continue to be governed by democratic institutions.  

President Biden’s narrative has had trouble gaining traction and would collapse if Trump became President. In order for the narrative to gain footing, the Democrats would have to obtain control of the Presidency and both houses of Congress. Democrats could further the narrative if they retook control of several state legislatures. 

You can learn more about methods for evaluating contrasting narratives in Chapter 9, “Analysis by Contrasting Narratives,” in

Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis, 3rd edition.

Predicting the Outcome of the 2024 Presidential Election

America faces a confusing and politically volatile presidential election campaign with multiple variables in play. Key questions are whether the two leading candidates (President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump) will remain in the race and should they drop out, who will emerge to gain each party’s nomination and the presidency.

Numerous factors are in play, including the impact of the Trump indictments, the timing and pace of any trials, whether other Republican candidates choose to oppose Trump’s candidacy more aggressively, whether Biden faces a credible primary challenge or drops out, the impact of events overseas, and the potential that either lead candidate could fall ill or die.

Political news broadcasters and commentators are actively covering current events but appear less focused on fundamental drivers that will determine the final outcome. In 2016, most pundits called the election wrong, failing to factor in the popularity of the Trump message and the impact of globalization, social disruption, and technological change.

In this Analytic Insider, I propose that three fundamental drivers will determine who is selected as America’s next president: oxygen, constructivism, and existential threats. Using Strategic Foresight Analysis, the identification of these key drivers is one of the most powerful tools in an analyst’s toolkit.


He who commands the stage is likely to remain on the stage. In 2016, Trump emerged as a credible candidate in large part because the media gave him a disproportionate amount of coverage, sucking up all the oxygen in the system. Ironically, MSNBC was one of the first networks to give him substantial air time which bolstered its ratings. Trump was adept at dominating the air waves with his provocative statements and willingness to ignore norms and standards. The campaign soon evolved into asking what Trump would do next. In 2022, when Trump was not running for office, he had a lower public profile; this may explain in part why the Republican Party did less well than expected.

Looking to the current race, Trump has the “advantage” of being the subject of as many as five indictments, of which two or three could go to trial prior to the election. The key question is whether the media will continue to focus its attention on these legal processes or find that their viewers have tired of the drama. Polls in mid-June show that 59 percent of Republicans believe Trump should end his campaign. The challenge for Trump is that most of his strategies for obtaining free press coverage are not applicable to a court process; it is getting harder for him to control the narrative. So as the months play out, pay attention to whether Biden and the other Republican candidates start gaining air time, squeezing out the oxygen given to Trump.


Recent polls and much anecdotal evidence suggest that a large proportion of the population has simply stopped watching the news. I attribute this phenomenon largely to cognitive dissonance. Citizens do not see the country moving forward as they would prefer and resent the continual bombardment of negative news, ad hominem attacks, and destructionist rhetoric. Too many politicians are obsessed with tearing things down instead of working in a bipartisan way to make things better.

The Biden administration and some Republicans such as New Hampshire Governor Sununu have adopted a more positive, Constructionist strategy, focusing on what has been—and needs to be—done to improve the quality of life for Americans. This small but growing group of politicians believes the people will be more receptive to a positive message focusing on what can be accomplished—shifting the rhetoric from bemoaning American Carnage to promoting Hope and Opportunity. If this approach has legs, it is likely to become more apparent as election campaigns get into full swing and politicians focus on what their constituents are demanding. As the months play out, keep track of how much press attention is given to examples of Constructionist problem solving versus Destructionist political blaming.


Will the focus of the 2024 campaign season shift from personalities to policy issues? If so, five issues that many view as existential threats could play a major role in determining who shows up to vote: abortion, way of life, gun safety, voting rights, and the environment.

  • In the past year since Roe v. Wade was overturned, the abortion debate has emerged as a powerful stimulant for both the right and the left. The desire to tamp down or reverse the impact of restrictions placed on abortion by state legislatures has produced several signal and surprising electoral wins for the pro-choice community and may prove an even more powerful stimulant in the upcoming elections.
  • Many see societal change as posing a fundamental challenge to our national heritage, Christian values, long-established social norms and traditions, and even the “look” of the town where we were born and raised. They believe next year may be the last chance to save America.
  • The debate over gun safety could evolve into a campaign to keep our children safe in school. The number of mass killings and school shootings is unlikely to abate, and young people (supported by their parents) will be mounting major campaigns to elect legislators committed to taking concrete action to make our schools and streets safer.
  • Many people of color are deeply disappointed that the Biden administration failed to pass two foundational voting rights laws: the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. According to the Brennan Center, as of January 2023, state lawmakers in at least 32 states pre-filed or introduced 150 bills restricting voting. For them, the 2024 election is likely to prove the last chance to reverse this trend at the ballot box.
  • Climate change is having an increasingly dramatic impact across the country with record flooding, drought, forest fires, hurricanes, and tornados. Our young people are concerned that the degradation of the climate (and number of severe weather events) is increasing at a much higher rate than predicted, significantly compressing the window of opportunity to take action to prevent irreversible change.

Many more than in the past on both sides of the political aisle see the 2024 elections as a “make it or break it” year for dramatic political change. The question is whether public sentiment to engage in a more Constructive dialogue will grow or, alternatively, America will become consumed with Destructionist rhetoric, plunging it inevitably into a civil war.

Learn more about key drivers and the use of Strategic Foresight Analysis to anticipate the potential for dramatic political change in Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis, 3rd edition.

Anticipating High Impact/Low Probability Events

Recognizing how issues may be evolving in ways that might require action today is not an easy task. Our understanding of current trends is often firmly anchored in the past. We usually:

  • Do not consider what we cannot imagine.
  • Believe the answer is to be found, not created or imagined.
  • Are not programmed to think systematically about what the future will bring.

As a result, we easily fall victim to Intuitive Traps such as Expecting Marginal Change, Lacking Sufficient Bins, and Ignoring Inconsistent Evidence. Intuitive Traps are mistakes practitioners make every day as they do their analysis.

Knowing that you are susceptible to these traps provides little protection against falling into them. The solution is to employ Structured Analytic Techniques that inject rigor into the analysis. In this case, a good technique to use is High Impact/Low Probability Analysis. This article explores how we can use this technique to anticipate the potential for dramatic but unlikely changes in American politics, the Ukraine war, climate change, the influence of the far-right media, and the urban landscape.

High Impact/Low Probability Analysis should be used when one wants to posit a seemingly long-shot development—potentially a “game changer”—that may be more likely to occur than previously thought. This change in perception is usually triggered by an event or report that is inconsistent with one’s working model. Events that would have merited such treatment include the 2008 global economic crisis, the rapid rise of the Islamic State (ISIS), and the 6 January 2021 insurrectionist attack on the US Capitol. This technique allows analysts to explore the consequences of an event not deemed likely by conventional wisdom without having to argue with others about how likely it is to happen. The technique can also be used to anticipate measures that can be taken to avoid the danger or to exploit the opportunities presented by the scenario.

Looking ahead at the next few years, five high impact but unlikely scenarios merit serious attention:

  • The emergence of a three-party system in the United States.
  • The end of the Ukraine war within a year following Putin’s fall from power.
  • A dramatic increase in sea levels or the rerouting of the Gulf Stream, requiring major shifts in resources.
  • The bankruptcy of the far-right media machine (Fox, One America News (OAN), Infowars).
  • The hollowing out of major cities post-COVID.

Using High Impact/Low Probability Analysis, we can imagine how these events will play out, and identify potential dangers and/or benefits that may require additional consideration.

Three Party System. In this scenario, Trump is indicted by federal and state prosecutors but stays in the presidential race. His standing in the polls falls as his campaign evolves into a personal “retribution” campaign to abolish the Department of Justice and the FBI. Prior to the Iowa primary, he announces that he will run as a third-party candidate to avoid becoming subject to the “sore losers” rule in some 20 states which prohibits a candidate from running for office if they lost a primary election. Trump’s new “Make America Great” party captures 40 percent of the Republican vote and 20 percent of the popular vote. The “Revived Republican” party captures around 20 percent of the popular vote, and the Democratic Party celebrates a Blue Wave election winning 60 percent of the vote. Over the next decade, the “Revived Republicans” gain adherents, but the Democrats remain comfortably in power.

Ukraine War. Most knowledgeable observers predict the war in eastern Ukraine will extend for a year or more, particularly if one assumes that Ukraine will continue to insist on a total Russian withdrawal from its territory— including Crimea. As the war continues, in this scenario, Russian President Vladimir Putin comes under growing pressure from many sides. On the far right, the leader of the Wagner group supported by several senior generals and right-wing Russian commentators issues ultimatums to Putin to take more aggressive action to win the war. Meanwhile, battle casualties mount to intolerable levels, junior military officers become increasingly disenchanted, and rural and more conservative Russians begin to protest the impact of economic sanctions and the persistent arrival of war dead. When Putin perceives that his intelligence services and some senior military officers are plotting a coup, he opts to flee, secreting himself away to safe harbor in Venezuela. Support for the war quickly evaporates, and Russia withdraws from Ukraine.

Climate Change. Climate change accelerates exponentially in the next few years as various “feedback loops” increase ice melting in Greenland and the Arctic well beyond projections, spur a massive release of methane in the Arctic permafrost, and cause the collapse of the Doomsday glacier in eastern Antarctica. Sea levels are now projected in a recent article in Nature magazine to rise by one to three feet by 2100 (or as much as half an inch per year on average), putting major coastal cities and even whole countries at risk. This could spur significant emergency resources to be committed to planning for this doomsday scenario. Meanwhile, the influx of the melting of Greenland’s ice and the Arctic into the Atlantic Ocean causes the Gulf Stream to divert to the south, decreasing average temperatures in Europe by ten degrees with major negative consequences for agriculture, viticulture, and the economy.

Far Right Media Collapse. Dominion’s $1.6 billion lawsuits against Fox News and OAN and Smartmatic’s $2.7 billion lawsuit against Fox News are successful. The publicity surrounding the trials destroys the Fox brand as key senior commentators are exposed for knowingly making false statements in the pursuit of better ratings. A similar dynamic plays out for Alex Jones and Infowars as lawyers identify his sources of revenue and divert them to the parents of the children murdered at Sandy Hook, who won a $965 million lawsuit against Jones. By 2026, Fox, OAN, and Infowars go into bankruptcy. The dominant position of the far right in the broadcast media is substantially curtailed, although it still can command the loyalty of around 20 percent of the population. This dynamic works to the advantage of more moderate Republicans who want to focus attention on promoting conservative issues and not seeking retribution for stoking fear and anger. It also makes it easier for Democrats—and the population at large—to pass bipartisan legislation.

Hollowing Out of Cities. In the post-COVID world, mayors across the United States come to realize that a substantial portion of workers who live outside the city and began to work at home because of COVID simply will not return. The economic impact of this phenomenon is substantial, especially once elected officials realize that it is a structural problem, not a temporary aberration. Mayors recognize that they need to develop strategic plans to reimagine the role of cities and generate a flow of revenue into their coffers. For starters, much of the chronically empty office space is converted into residential housing. Mayors and governors take the lead in establishing collaborative forums to develop visions of how to rethink the role of cities.

You can learn more about Intuitive Traps and High Impact/Low Probability Analysis in the Handbook of Analytic Tools and Techniques, 5th ed. (2019)

Tracking the 2024 Presidential Race with Framing Techniques

I spent last week teaching analytic techniques to cyber analysts in Oslo, Norway. One of my presentations focused on the work done by Professor Gary Klein on the power of creating frameworks to help decision makers track events and make informed decisions. I was struck by how his approach could structure recent speculation about the most likely candidates to run in the 2024 US presidential campaign. The objective of this month’s Analytic Insider is to show the power of building frameworks in the context of the upcoming campaign, focusing specifically how this dynamic could play out for the Republican Party.

“The purpose of a frame is to define the elements of a situation, describe the significance of these elements, describe their relationship to each other, filter out irrelevant messages, and highlight relevant messages.”

Gary Klein, et al.
“A Data/Frame Theory of Sensemaking”

Analytic frameworks serve many purposes. The intent of this article is not to make a prediction but to offer an example of how building a conceptual framework early on helps analysts track events, identify critical key drivers, and avoid surprise.
Setting the Stage
The first step is to articulate a set of Key Assumptions. For this analysis, let’s assume that:

  • Former President Donald Trump fades as a presidential candidate as he is forced to redirect his attention to criminal indictments.
  • The base of the Republican Party remains committed to Trump’s core Make America Great Again (MAGA) precepts.
  • Many well-known Republican leaders see an opening and throw their hats into the ring.

Defining the Field
As many as a dozen or more candidates could decide to enter the race. The next step in creating an analytic framework is to organize the candidates into three groups:

  • Trump Loyalists who support the former president and often campaign on policies that are even more confrontational. Candidates for this group would include Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott.
  • Hard-Core Conservatives who support many of Trump’s core policies but not necessarily everything that he stands for. This group might include former Vice President Michael Pence, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, and perhaps even former Congresswoman Liz Cheney.
  • Constructive Conservatives who are firmly in the conservative camp but also believe compromise with Democrats is necessary to move the country forward. Representatives of this group include former Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey, Larry Hogan of Maryland, Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, and former Governor John Kasich of Ohio.

Stage 1: The Squid Game Comes to Politics
Once the framework for the analysis is established, attention will focus on the process of winnowing down the large number of competitors. In 2016, former presidential candidate Trump demonstrated substantial political knack for performing this task. In 2024, a candidate with the same skill set is unlikely to emerge. Our analytic framework would posit that the prime objective at this stage would be that the candidates in each group are most likely to compete among themselves to determine who becomes the leading representative for their group. The competition would be intense, and political pundits might characterize this stage of the competition as three simultaneous circular firing squads.

Stage 2: Distinguishing a Party from a Movement
Once a leading candidate emerges from each group, the framework would suggest that the next question is: Would Republican voters prefer to maintain their fidelity to the former president and his movement or decide that it was more important to select someone more electable and more likely to prevail against the Democrat nominee?

Stage 3: The Tipping Point
As the campaign enters the final set of the primaries, the framework would posit that the fundamental issue for Republican voters is whether to remain loyal to candidates who build their campaigns on a foundation of fear, anger, and polarizing policies or support candidates who espouse core conservative principles but are willing to engage the opposition in constructive negotiations.

If it is a three-way race, the advantage is more likely to go to the Trump Loyalist candidate. However, if the Hard Core Conservatives and Constructive Candidates agree on a single opponent, then their compromise candidate might get the nomination.

Final Reflections
A fundamental truism in intelligence analysis is to never predict elections; there are so many variables to factor into the analysis that making a point prediction is a futile exercise. The Brexit vote in the UK and the 2016 US elections demonstrated this principle plainly. However, analysts can make a contribution to the “public good” if they can establish a framework for tracking how political processes are likely to play out and generate indicators to monitor whether their model captures the basic dynamics at play.

You can learn more about the value of developing frameworks to guide your thinking in Critical Thinking for Strategic Analysis, 3rd ed. (2021).

Could the Next US Congress Achieve Spectacular Success?: A What If? Analysis

Would you be surprised if six months from now the new US Congress had passed landmark bills on abortion rights, gun safety, childcare credits, and immigration? Most prognosticators now expect the opposite to happen, anticipating that the Republican Party’s ultra slim majority will give the far-right Freedom Caucus substantial power, allowing it to block proposed legislation or impose amendments that will force President Biden to cast a constant series of vetoes.

As Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema demonstrated in the current Senate, when the balance of power is almost equal, a few individuals can exert considerable influence, threatening to —and often succeeding in—blocking legislation.

A similar dynamic is likely to play out in the newly elected House of Representatives. Many predict a legislative wasteland marked by infighting within the Republican Party as well as with the Democratic Party-led Senate.

This dismal outcome could be avoided if Democratic and Republican party leaders decide to form a government of national unity. Instead of being obstructed by extreme factions, Democratic and Republican leaders could agree to construct a new “operating framework” that would curtail the power of the most disruptive elements of both parties.

  • The key element of the framework would be for Democrats to work with Republican leaders to elect a Speaker of the House acceptable to both parties and create a bipartisan group to identify legislation that could pass the House without dependence on a small group or members who would hold the Republican leadership hostage to their agendas.
  • Similarly, Republicans would pledge the support of enough Republican Senators to pass bipartisan legislation, ensuring that one or two Democratic Senators could not hold their leadership hostage.

How this could come about is described in the following What If? scenario:

  • On January 3, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy fails to gain enough votes to become Speaker. Alternative candidates also fail to gain sufficient votes as Freedom Caucus members demand concessions that the bulk of the party finds unacceptable.
  • Democrats offer to form a government of national unity, agreeing to cast enough votes for a moderate Republican candidate (e.g., someone like the late Senator Richard Lugar) to win without needing the votes of the Freedom Caucus.
    • Alternatively, party leaders could agree to elect an apolitical Speaker who is highly respected by both parties but not a member of the House, such as the likes of Colin Powell. Under current law, the Speaker does not have to be a member of the House.   
  • As part of the agreement, Democratic and Republican leaders would develop a national unity legislative agenda, focusing attention initially on issues that two-thirds of the US population support.
    • For example, bipartisan legislation could be drafted based on Chief Justice John Robert’s formula for dealing with a woman’s right to an abortion or providing permanent legal status to individuals covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
  • The focus of power would shift in the House from the Freedom Caucus to the Problem Solvers Caucus or a newly formed bipartisan and bicameral group.
    • Established in 2017, the Problem Solvers Caucus is equally comprised of Democratic and Republican House members, and is committed to championing ideas that appeal to a broad spectrum of the American people and breaking the gridlock of today’s politics.
  • Both political parties would benefit from this shift away from political polarization to productive compromise. The power of the most extreme conservatives and progressives would be largely neutralized, and key legislation supported by the majority of members from both parties would be enacted.

Adversarial Collaboration Techniques

If Congress were to establish a government of national unity, its prospects for success would be greatly enhanced if it abandoned its traditional Team A-Team B approach to legislating and adopted Adversarial Collaboration techniques initially championed by Nobel Prize winner David Kahneman.

Kahneman was appalled by the absurdly adversarial nature of academic debates where hardly anyone admitted error or acknowledged learning from the other.  Adversarial Collaboration techniques strive to understand and address the other side’s position rather than simply dismiss it. A key advantage is that they bring to the surface critical items of evidence, logic, and assumptions that that the other side had not factored into its own analysis.
Instead of seeking common ground, the Team A/Team B approach puts each side on the defensive and inserts a counterproductive emotional element into the deliberative process.Six approaches are described in Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis: Mutual Understanding, Joint Escalation, Nosenko Approach, Key Assumptions Check, Argument Mapping, and Analysis of Competing Hypotheses.

You can learn more about the value of applying Adversarial Collaboration techniques in Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis, 3rd ed. (2021)

Will US Mid-Term Elections become the Battle of Existential Threats?

In the July issue of the Analytic Insider, I hypothesized that in the months leading up to the November 2022 mid-term elections, Americans would turn away from their preoccupation with inflation, gas prices, COVID-19, and the availability of infant formula to focus more on what they perceived as “existential threats.” How correct was this prognosis? In conducting my own Foresight Analysis, was my understanding of key drivers correct?

For conservatives, the term existential threat often appears in discussions about:

  • Societal change that is fundamentally challenging our Christian values, long-established social norms and traditions, and even the “look” of the towns where we grew up.
  • Immigration policies that allow for an “unregulated border” with Mexico, allowing drugs, terrorists, and criminals to cross in growing numbers.
  • Abortion laws that do not protect the life of the unborn—and some would say even life from the moment of conception.
  • Gun control measures that undermine our second amendment rights to own guns (including assault rifles).

Liberals, for their part, have increasingly adopted the phrase when discussing:  

  • Abortion restrictions spurred by the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade, state legislation to disallow exceptions for rape, incest, and the health of the mother; and federal law to ban abortions country-wide.
  • Gun violence threatening the lives ofour school children.
  • Climate change that poses a rapidly accelerating threat to the earth.
  • The right to vote—or even to have one’s vote counted–that is being eroded in many states.

Rating the Prediction

After peaking in June, the price of gasoline has declined for almost 100 straight days—from $5.02 to under $3.70, inflation eased but then rebounded, supply chain problems eased, and infant formula is available. Meanwhile, President Biden signed major bills into law that over time will mitigate the cost of living by increasing medical insurance availability, reduce the price of prescription drugs, and launch the largest green energy program in the history of the United States.

The biggest shift over the past three months, however, is the increasingly sharp debate over existential threats.

  • The Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has galvanized both the right (to legislate more restrictive abortion regulations) and the left (to challenge these state laws in court and implement executive measures to limit their impact). In many states, women are registering to vote in unprecedented numbers for candidates who believe women should have control over their bodies. Many Americans were stunned when Nebraska law enforcement authorities decided to prosecute a 17-year-old girl in early August with three felonies for using a mail-order abortion pill and burying the miscarried fetus. Senator Lindsay Graham’s proposed legislation to pass a nationwide ban on abortion after 15 days has further enflamed debate.
  • Volatile weather produced by global climate change is dominating the news with reports of massive floods, uncontrolled wildfires, and more recently crisis-level droughts in the United States, Europe, and China. Since the end of July, six 1,000-year rain events have hit the United States. Meanwhile, sections of Los Angeles are losing access to Colorado River water. Los Angeles, which gets 40% of its water from the Colorado, is imposing increasingly drastic restrictions of water consumption, especially in urban areas. An above-average season for hurricanes is predicted with at least four major hurricanes expected.
  • Mass shootings once again dominated the headlines in July. Seven were killed and many wounded at a July 4 parade in Highland Park, Illinois, just as coverage of the 10 shot in Buffalo and 21 killed in Uvalde, Texas was beginning to fade. In an 5-9 August Gallup Poll, 3 in 10 respondents said they fear for their child’s safety in school. Death threats are becoming common place, and as the political rhetoric heats up so does the potential for a political assassination.
  • A new gun controversy emerged in mid-August as Republican office holders and conservative commentators began making false claims that the 87,000 soon to be hired IRS agents will be carrying high-powered guns and taking guns away from US citizens.
  • Press attention is growing on the impact of voter restrictions in red states. In a 22 August NBC News poll, 21% of respondents ranked threats to democracy as the most important issue facing the country, followed by 16% who cited the cost of living, and 14% who said jobs and the economy.
  • Immigration is once again capturing the headlines with Florida Governor DeSantis’s move to fly migrants legally seeking asylum in Texas to Martha’s Vineyard and Texas Governor Abbott’s efforts to bus migrants to the Vice President’s home, Chicago, and other cities.

Early indications are that the growing polarization of society and the growth of an “us versus them” culture will stimulate increasingly angry political discourse. Tensions will be exacerbated by disinformation campaigns propagated on social media and broadcast channels and reinforced by echo chambers. The coming months could become the Battle of Existential Threats.

  • Politicians on the left and the right will be tempted to adopt Destructionist rhetoric by stoking fear (both legitimate and illegitimate), inciting anger, and motivating core constituents to seek salvation by voting for them.
  • A Constructionist “way forward” out of this conundrum would require new approaches for reducing the impact of disinformation campaigns. In addition, laws against threatening public officials need to be enforced more vigorously, especially in the wake of recent threats to assassinate the Attorney General and kill FBI and law enforcement officials following the FBI’s seizure of classified documents at the former President’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Other potential solutions would be to spur greater media coverage of constructionist solutions; elect new leaders committed to solving, not capitalizing on, the nation’s problems; and refocus public debate on the key drivers that are exacerbating the polarization of society (for a discussion of these key drivers see the May issue of the Analytic Insider).

You can learn more about the use of Foresight Analysis to anticipate the potential for dramatic political change in Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis, 3rd ed. (2021)

Healthcare Analysis: United States vs. Iceland

Randy Pherson, Co-Founder & Managing Partner

Since 2020, I have documented my experience with healthcare systems, both in the United States (How to Get the Right Diagnosis: 16 Tips for Navigating the Medical System) and in Iceland (October 2021 Analytic Insider article).
Unfortunately, I was hospitalized earlier this month, and while a health crisis is never welcome, it provided an opportunity to apply my expertise once again to healthcare analysis. Having had recent hospital stays in both Iceland and the United States, I decided to assess the extent to which Iceland’s best practices are replicated by the US medical system. My disappointing conclusion is that, in many ways, the US system falls short, mostly for structural reasons.
My observations below are based on anecdotal evidence, but I suspect they reflect common experiences across the country because they are largely structural in nature. The five Icelandic best practices are: Incentivize doctors to avoid becoming captives of their specialty. Encourage all team members to challenge assumptions. Listen to and partner with the patient. Consider and test for multiple hypotheses. Foster a robust collaborative team effort. Overspecialization. Over the course of my sojourn in Iceland, I was attended by doctors representing nine specialties, but was impressed by the willingness of these doctors to think outside their area of expertise. The Icelandic doctors said they felt empowered by their system of medicine to consider the broader context of someone’s condition and were free to focus on getting the right diagnosis.

Unfortunately, US doctors are often prevented from thinking outside the “box” of their specialty due to fear of litigation and financial/professional damage.

Key Assumptions. With complex cases, it is important not to discard a hypothesis prematurely. In Iceland, two initial assumptions that made sense turned out to be wrong, and one that appeared implausible turned out to be correct. The team discovered these errors because a culture had been established in which anyone—regardless of rank—could raise questions and challenge expert judgment.

In the United States, complicated health care is put in the hands of specialists who rarely challenge the opinions of other doctors, especially if that doctor represents a different discipline. For example, pulmonologists are reluctant to challenge cardiologists, and infectious disease specialists do not outwardly challenge the recommendations of a rheumatologist. Many even are reluctant to question more senior doctors in their discipline. For legal and administrative reasons, doctors face strong disincentives to question another doctor’s key assumptions or analysis.

Listening.  In Iceland, the first question my doctors and nurses asked me was “How are you feeling?” When I mentioned a symptom that did not fit their pattern of what could be wrong, they explored the discrepancy and did not ignore it.

In the United States, almost every doctor and nurse wanted more time to consider inconsistent data but simply lacked the time. I could see them actively managing how much time they could take to listen (often restricted to 10-15 minutes) versus breaking loose from me to work their way through an intimidating case load. My experience with US health care is that healthcare workers are encouraged to increase revenue by processing more cases more quickly.

Multiple Hypotheses. In Iceland, the doctors and nurses worked as a group to generate a list of candidate alternative diagnoses (think of the TV show House). Instead of testing the hypotheses in a serial fashion, they conducted synchronous evaluations. As a result, the diagnostic process was much more efficient.

In the United States hospitals are similarly inclined to consider multiple potential diagnoses but more likely to test each hypothesis sequentially to reduce risk and legal liability. In my experience, out-of-hospital care is almost entirely based on a model of sequential treatment.

Collaboration. What impressed me in Iceland was the robust culture of collaboration demonstrated by everyone associated with my case. On at least three occasions, a panel of doctors, nurses, and even technicians convened to brainstorm diagnoses, decide on the best treatment, and estimate a discharge date. Over 18 days, I was seen by 12 doctors, and the transfer of knowledge was smooth and comprehensive. They managed to collaborate so effectively probably because their system was not driven by the need to optimize revenue generation.

Earlier this month in the United States, I was also treated by a team of 12 doctors, but they had to struggle more to collaborate. Numerous structural obstacles had to be overcome, including difficulties sharing information across various data systems, communicating with and engaging out-of-hospital consultants with in-hospital doctors, and administrative dictates that doctors stay within their procedural lanes.

In sum, my most recent health emergency reinforced my concerns—shared by most of the doctors and nurses I consulted—that the US system is fundamentally and structurally broken. The challenges US doctors and nurses increasingly face are driving many to opt out of the profession. They do not believe the system will be improved; too many are literally counting the days before they can retire. The implications for medical practice of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will seriously aggravate this problem. Learn what you can do as a patient to help overcome these challenges by reading my book, How to Get the Right Diagnosis: 16 Tips for Navigating the Medical System.

Has the Supreme Court Sparked a Battle of Existential Threats?

Over the past three years, the media has dramatically increased use of the term “existential threat.” I suspect this reflects the growing polarization of society and the growth of an “us versus them” culture, exacerbated by disinformation propagated on social media and broadcast channels and reinforced by echo chambers. The term and the threats cited could emerge as key drivers defining the political dialogue as the country moves toward mid-term elections in November. The early identification of key drivers is one of the most challenging—and rewarding—tasks in Foresight Analysis.

On the right, the phrase often appears in discussions about the following topics:

  • Societal change is posing an existential threat, fundamentally challenging our national heritage, Christian values, long-established social norms and traditions, and even the “look” of the town where we were born and raised.
  • Gun control measures pose an existential threat to our second amendment rights to own guns (including assault rifles). We need our guns to defend ourselves and our families and to resist an oppressive government should that day come.
  • Abortion poses an existential threat to life of the unborn—some say even from the moment of conception. The Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade opens the door to defend life by enacting legislation needed to outlaw abortion, contraception, and in vitro fertilization in all states.
  • Immigrants crossing America’s “unregulated open border” with Mexico pose an existential threat to our national identity, maintaining law and order, and keeping the cost of health care and social services in check.

Those on the left, for their part, have increasingly adopted the phrase when making the following arguments:   

  • Abortion restrictions spurred by the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade pose an existential threat to women’s rights to be in control of their own bodies. Not allowing abortions in the case of incest, rape, or risk to life or protecting life from the point of conception impose totally unacceptable burdens to women’s lives and livelihoods.
  • Gun violence poses an existential threat to everyone, including our school children and worshipers at churches and synagogues. The Supreme Court recently loosened open carry restrictions, and mass shootings with powerful guns are now so common that anyone could become a victim. Over the 4th of July weekend, the Gun Violence Archive reported shootings in nearly every state—including 11 mass shootings—killing 220 people.
    The right to vote is being rapidly eroded as many states are creating obstacles to registration and even allowing election boards to override the popular vote. This poses a fundamental threat to democracy and an existential threat to our rights as citizens. Americans could wake up in 2022 or 2024 living in a world where democratic norms and even the rule of law no longer apply, people’s votes no longer count, and long cherished freedoms are eroded by newly selected autocrats.
  • Climate change is accelerating, posing an existential threat not only to our children and grandchildren but even to current generations. The threat is not being addressed effectively, and the Supreme Court’s decision regarding Executive authority to limit carbon emissions could block global efforts not to exceed more than a 1.5 percent increase in global temperature. With this court decision, we are likely to approach in a few years—not decades–an irreversible tipping point in preserving a sustainable environment.

In the coming months, the rhetoric is almost certain to heat up in the wake of new abortion legislation spurred by the Supreme Court decision, continuing or even accelerating reports of mass slayings, a summer immigration surge, prohibitions on limiting carbon emissions, and mounting reports of voter disenfranchisement as the 2022 mid-term elections approach.

This focus on existential threats would be accelerated if current concerns about inflation, gasoline prices, COVID-19, and the availability of baby formula wane. That would require the Federal Reserve to get inflation under control, gas prices to fall as supply increases, COVID-19 to evolve into just another endemic flu, and baby formula to return to store shelves.

Under such circumstances, media reporting could shift to covering demonstrations and debate over what people proclaim as more pressing existential threats. The months preceding the November elections could emerge as The Battle of Existential Threats. Politicians on the left and the right could adopt Destructionist rhetoric by stoking fear (both legitimate and illegitimate), inciting anger, and motivating core constituents to seek salvation by voting for them. Most election ads would label the 2022 mid-term and the 2024 election as “do or die,” “us versus them” events that would do irreversible damage to society if the other side won. And whoever does win would find it almost impossible to reunite the country.

A Constructionist “way forward” out of this conundrum would require fresh leadership, new controls over the dissemination of disinformation, and a refocusing of public debate on the key drivers that prompted such polarization (for a discussion of these key drivers see last the May issue of the Analytic Insider). Key drivers cited in that article that deserve attention include:

  • Decreased trust in institutions and news reporting
  • The growing influence of social media as a political mobilization tool
  • Increased popular anxiety over social change, the pace of globalization, and introduction of new technologies

Learn more about the use of Foresight techniques to anticipate the potential for dramatic political change by reading Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis.

Is the United States Heading Toward Radical Political Change?

Is the United States Heading Toward Radical Political Change?

In Analytic Insider issues published in 2016 and 2020, we explored whether the American system of governance will undergo a major transformation in the coming decade. Using Strategic Foresight Analysis, I identified six drivers that played a major role in the 2016 presidential campaign and now appear to be even more influential today:

  • Increased popular anxiety over social change, the pace of globalization, and introduction of new technologies
  • Decreased trust in institutions and news reporting
  • Heightened focus on personalities rather than issues
  • The impact of big money in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling
  • The diminished influence of political parties
  • The growing influence of social media as a political mobilization tool

These forces and factors can be represented in large part by two independent spectrums (see graphic below). Each spectrum is defined by:

  • Who is best positioned to leverage political capital? Institutions (to include political parties and Congress) or personalities (to include wealthy candidates and major donors)?
  • How will decisions be made and future conflicts be resolved? Through democratic processes or by more authoritarian means?

Arraying these spectrums on an X and a Y axis enables us to generate four mutually exclusive stories or scenarios describing how the US political system of governance could change radically in the next decade.

Were the projected scenarios we developed in 2016 prescient or off the mark? Events of the past six years suggest that all four scenarios are just as—or even more—likely to describe how radical political change could come about. Their continuing viability indicates the quality and power of the initial key drivers. The question is: Which one best represents the future?

Scenario 1. Autocratic Rule: A Near Miss but a Serious Possibility

Growing levels of social discomfort and increasing political polarization has opened the door for the emergence of an autocrat—be it former President Trump or another who takes up his mantle, hailed as a “political savior” by a majority of the population. The events of January 6 almost made this scenario a reality. Last fall, Pro-Publica identified 48 Republican state and local officials as members of the militant extremist Oath Keepers group. A 13 May 2022 study by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights that tracks right-wing extremism found that 875 of 4,375 Republican state legislators surveyed (about 1 in 5) were members of 789 far-right Facebook groups such as white supremacists, anti-abortionists, Sovereign Citizens, and neo-Confederates. Not included in this far-right category were such groups as the NRA, pro-Trump, or Make America Great Again (MAGA) groups.

A key driver for these movements is the perceived “existential” threat to traditional values and ways of life. A key factor fueling this scenario would be the ascent of far-right politicians and administrators through elections and appointments who are willing to subvert established norms and laws. Such candidates would tap nativist sentiments, silence the press, offer simple solutions, subvert existing institutions, and create or spur social media outlets to promote their agenda and reinforce a cult of personality.

 Scenario 2. One Party Rule: Early Traction but Another Near Miss

When the Democratic Party gained control of the Presidency and both houses of Congress in 2020, enactment of a fully funded Build Back Better program could have generated substantial momentum for this scenario. But failure to pass the program in the Senate put the party into a tailspin. President Biden’s popularity has since fallen to 39 percent as inflation surges over 8 percent, COVID becomes endemic, and families face baby formula shortages.

In the unlikely event, however, that the Republican Party experiences dramatic losses in the 2022 or 2024 election, a Democratic resurgence could make this scenario plausible. Such a turn in events would probably be triggered by Democrats galvanizing support around perceived “existential” issues including abortion, voting rights, climate change, or the institution/promise of policies that offer economic relief to inflation (e.g., childcare support). In this scenario, over time the populace would opt for a more authoritarian—yet still “democratically” based—replacement for today’s increasingly dysfunctional two-party system.

 Scenario 3. Established Multi-Party System: Early Signs It Could Emerge

Over the past six years, the Republican Party has become increasingly divided. It could split into three factions: 1) one based on the MAGA politics of Trumpism, 2) a more traditional conservative faction, and 3) an evangelical Christian faction. Serious divisions are growing in the Democratic Party as well, as progressives champion more leftist policies and gain greater influence in Congress. Democratic centrists are increasingly being contested by progressives in primary elections. Any new political parties that emerge, however, would have to develop independent political machines and sources of funding, and instill new administrative procedures that allowed them to contest elections at the state and local level.

 Scenario 4. Celebrity Democracy. A Growing (but Sustainable?) Trend

As the influence of political parties wanes, candidates for elected office have increasingly been drawn into the political process from the ranks of millionaires, celebrities, or charismatic individuals supported by extremely rich donors. Witness ex-New York City mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s run for the presidency in 2020 and the candidacies of TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz, hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick, and athletes Hershel Walker and Caitlyn Jenner.

In this scenario, democratic processes would be retained, but the ability of political parties to orchestrate who runs for elective office would erode. Success would be measured mostly by a candidate’s “popularity” and not his or her ability to govern. This scenario would become less viable if people concluded that celebrities were incapable of governing well.

A simple analysis of the matrix reveals that the more the key drivers propel US politics to the top-right corner of the matrix (and away from the bottom-left corner) the healthier the political system. The question is how will these drivers play out? A common mental mistake is to assume that change will be gradual or incremental. The coming years could prove that wrong!

Learn how to generate key drivers and use Foresight techniques by attending our Foresight workshop, The Impact of Global Climate Change on Law Enforcement and Security Forces to be held prior to the IAFIE conference in Treviso, Italy on 18-19 June 2022. Click here for details and registration.