archive

Archives de Tag: Riel Miller

Namur (Wallonia), August 28, 2021

Anticipating means visualising and then acting before the events or actions occur. This implies taking action based on what is visualised, which just goes to show how complex the process is and how problematic our relationship is with the future. The saying “to govern means to foresee » is at odds with this complexity principle. It also refers to individual responsibility. Blaming politics is a little simplistic and unfair, as it is up to each of us to govern ourselves, which means we must “anticipate”. Yet we are constantly guilty of not anticipating in our daily lives.

 

1. Our relationship with the future

 Our relationship with the future is problematic. There are five different attitudes, of which anticipation is merely the fifth. The first is common: we go with the flow; in other words, we wait for things to happen. We hope everything will go well. It is business as usual, or we have always done this as they say in Wallonia. We can also echo the words used by the miners whenever the colliery tunnels were shored up: it can’t hurt, it’s not dangerous, it’s strong, it’s reliable, etc. My father taught me to ridicule this cavalier attitude and, above all, to challenge it.

The second attitude is more active: it involves playing by the rules and working within the norms. The elected officials pay close attention to this, and so do we all. We have to have an extinguisher in our car in case of fire, but mostly to comply with the legal obligations, regulations, technical checks, and so on. Note that public buildings and businesses are also required to have them and to ensure that they are checked regularly. Very few people have one or more fire extinguishers in their house or apartment, and, even if they do, they may not be in working order or suitable for the different types of fire that may occur. We know that it is not a legal requirement, so most people don’t bother about it.

The third attitude towards the future is responsiveness: we respond to external stimuli, and we adapt quickly to the situations that arise. Images of firefighters and emergency workers come to mind, of course, and entrepreneurs as well. Responsiveness may be a virtue, but we know that it is sometimes ineffective in the face of fast-moving events. In defence of their discipline, futurists often quote a saying which they attribute to the statesman Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754-1838): when it’s urgent, it’s already too late.

The fourth attitude towards the future is preactivity: our ability – or lack of – to prepare for changes once they are foreseeable. The word foreseeable is clearly related to forecasting, in other words, an assumption is made about the future which is usually quantified and associated with a confidence index based on an expectation. This involves taking a number of variables and system elements into account against a background of previous structural stability and analysing them and their possible evolutions. The likelihood of these possible evolutions is then calculated. Validation is always uncertain due to the complexity of the systems created by the variables. A common example is the weather forecast: it gives me a probability of rain at a given time. If I am preactive, I take my umbrella or I pile sandbags in front of my doors.

The fifth attitude towards the future is proactivity. In his work on the Battle of Stalingrad – 55 years after the event –, British historian and former officer Antony Beevor criticises the German general Friedrich Paulus (1890-1957) for not, as the military commander, being prepared to confront the threat of encirclement which had been facing him for weeks, particularly by not retaining a strong, mobile, armoured capability. This would have enabled the Sixth Army of the Wehrmacht to defend itself effectively at the crucial moment. But, Beevor adds, that implied a clear assessment of the actual danger [1]. This means that, faced with expected and identified changes (I would say exploratory foresight), or even desired changes, which I will cause or create (I would then say normative foresight), I will take action. Anticipating means both visualising and then acting in advance, in other words, acting before the events or actions occur. That is why we could also say, with Riel Miller, that if the future does not exist in the present, anticipation does. The form the future takes in the present is anticipation [2].

 

2. A threefold problem to comprehend the future

We are all faced with a threefold problem when confronting the future. The first problem is that, in the tradition of Gaston Berger (1896-1960) [3], we are expected to look far ahead but, in reality, the future does not exist as an object of knowledge. Clearly, it does not exist because it is not written and is not determined, as Marx believed or as some collapse theorists today believe.

We are also expected to take a broad view and to reflect systemically. But forecasts only focus on a limited number of variables, even in the era of Big Data. Yet we find ourselves faced with systems which are all complex and interwoven in a tangle of unlikely events. We are all familiar with emergences [4] or sudden occurrences linked to the relationships between participants and factors within the system. When driving my car, I can anticipate a puddle, to avoid aquaplaning, or a patch of ice by telling myself that I must not break. But, in reality, I never know what my reaction will be when I feel my wheels shaking, or how my car, my tyres or the road surface will react. Similarly, I never know what the reaction will be of the drivers in front of me or behind me, or in the other lanes, or of the bird that happens to strike my windscreen at that precise moment. So, I have to deal with the complexity, but I cannot reduce it.

The third problem is that, faced with world systems of such complexity, my own knowledge tools are limited. We are trained in disciplines, epistemologies, knowledge methods, vocabularies, and scientific jargon which do not encourage multidisciplinarity (studying one discipline through several disciplines), interdisciplinarity (transferring methods from one discipline to another) or transdisciplinarity (a demanding approach which moves between, across and beyond disciplines), to echo the distinctions expressed by the Franco-Romanian physicist Basarab Nicolescu in response to the works of Jean Piaget (1896-1980) [5]. Our narrowmindedness and reluctance to open up affect our humility, encourage received ideas, create ambiguity (words do not have the same meanings), prevent the necessary constructive dialogue, and adversely affect collective intelligence.

A key achievement of the French economists and futurists Jacques Lesourne (1928-2020) and Michel Godet was to demonstrate the limits of forecasting, which looks to the past for invariants or relationship models to suggest its permanence or its relatively constant evolution in the future, leading to conditional forecasts: ceteris paribus, all things being equal”. Michel Godet’s major work is entitled The Crisis in Forecasting and the Emergence of the « La Prospective », (Pergamon, 1979). In it, he writes that it was on account of the philosopher Gaston Berger, who was himself nurtured on the reflections of Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) and Maurice Blondel (1861-1949), and numerous Anglo-Saxon sources of inspiration, that the foresight approach developed. This intellectual stance involves taking the past and future into consideration over the long-term, comprehending the entire system in a seamless way, and exploring capabilities and means of action collectively.

Against our cultural, mental, intellectual, scientific, social and political background, this approach is not encouraged. It does, however, move us on from the question “what is going to happen” to the question “what may happen” and, therefore, “what if?”. This is also linked to one of our major preoccupations: the short-, medium-, and long-term impact prior analysis of the decisions we take.

Foresight has developed methods based precisely on the issue of these emergences. In addition to analysing trends and trajectories – which can identify crises such as the global financial crash in 2008 –, it also works with wildcards: major surprises and unexpected, remarkable, and unlikely events, which may have significant impacts if they occur: the 9/11 attacks, the Icelandic volcano in April 2010, the Covid crisis in 2019, the floods in July 2021, and so on.

There is also much talk today of black swan events as a result of the work of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, formerly a trader and now professor of risk engineering at the University of New York. This involves identifying events that are statistically almost impossible – so-called statistical dissonance – but which happen anyway [6].

 

3. Constructing a political agenda for complexity

First of all, we must be sceptical about the retrospective biases highlighted by the economist, psychologist and future Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and his colleague Amos Tversky, which involve exaggerating, retrospectively, the fact that events could have been anticipated. These biases are linked to the need we all have to make sense of things, including the most random events [7]. When the unpredictable happens, it is intellectually quite easy for us to see it as predictable.

Next, it should be noted that political leaders are faced with the core issues of appropriation, legitimacy, and acceptability – especially budgetary – of a decision taken at the end of a dialogue and negotiation process involving multiple participants. The public will not necessarily be in favour of the government spending significant amounts on understanding problems they cannot yet visualise. Like St. Thomas, if they can’t touch it, they won’t believe it. At the outset, the population is not ready to hear what the politicians have to tell them on the matter, whether it involves a “stop-concrete” strategy or a perishable supply of masks. For experts and elected officials alike, it is no longer enough to make claims. They now have to provide scientific proof, and, above all, avoid denial, as the emotional link can be considerable. The significant role played by the media should also not be overlooked. For a long time, it was thought that a pandemic was an acceptable risk, as in the 1960s with the Hong Kong flu which caused at least a million deaths globally between 1968 and 1970, whereas the sight of Covid-19 victims in intensive care is unbearable and makes us less willing to accept the number of deaths. Remember how, in France, Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot was criticised and accused of squandering public money when she bought health masks and vaccines for swine flu (H1N1 virus) in 2009-2010. At the same time, humans have a great capacity to become accustomed to risk. Think of the nuclear sword of Damocles that was the Cold War, which continued until the early 1990s. We should also question whether this military nuclear risk – the anthropic apocalypse – has disappeared.

We constantly find ourselves needing to agree on the priority of the challenges facing us. Constructing a political agenda for such complexity is by no means clear, and political leaders wonder whether they will be criticised for starting works that may not seem urgent or sufficiently important to merit sustained attention, stakeholder mobilisation, and the resulting budgets.

Finally, governing not only means solving organisational problems, allocating resources and planning actions over time. It also means making things intelligible, as the French historian Pierre Rosanvallon points out [8]. The political world does not appreciate the importance of the educational aspect. In Belgium, politicians no longer go on television to talk to people directly and explain an issue that needs to be addressed. Government communications have disappeared; now, there are only televised addresses from the Head of State, who in this way becomes the last actor to communicate values to the public in this way.

 

Conclusion: uncertainty, responsibility, and anticipation

In May 2020, during the Covid-19 lockdown, the host of Signes des Temps on France-Culture radio, Marc Weitzmann, had the bright idea of recalling the first major debate of the Age of Enlightenment on natural disasters and their consequences for human populations [9], a debate between Voltaire (1694-1778) and Rousseau (1712-1778) about the Lisbon disaster of 1755 [10].

HRP5XD Lisbon Tsunami, 1755 – Woodcut – The Granger – NYC

On 1 November 1755 (All Saints Day), Lisbon was hit by a huge earthquake. Three successive waves between 5 and 15 metres high destroyed the port and the city centre [11], and tens of thousands of inhabitants lost their lives in the earthquake, tsunami and huge fire that followed. When he heard the news, Voltaire was deeply affected and, several weeks later, in view of the gravity of the event, he wrote a famous poem in which his intention was to go beyond mere evocation of the disaster and compassion for the victims.

Come, ye philosophers, who cry, “All’s well,”

And contemplate this ruin of a world.

Behold these shreds and cinders of your race,

This child and mother heaped in common wreck,

These scattered limbs beneath the marble shafts—

A hundred thousand whom the earth devours,

Who, torn and bloody, palpitating yet,

Entombed beneath their hospitable roofs,

In racking torment end their stricken lives.

To those expiring murmurs of distress,

To that appalling spectacle of woe,

Will ye reply: “You do but illustrate

The iron laws that chain the will of God »? [12]

In this “Poem on the Lisbon disaster”, from which these lines are a short excerpt, Voltaire ponders the appropriateness of attributing the event to divine justice, when, according to some so-called optimistic philosophers at the time, everything natural is a gift from God and, therefore, ultimately good and just [13]. Without calling divine power into question, Voltaire counters this concept, rejects the idea of a specific celestial punishment to atone for vices in the Portuguese capital, and instead declares fate responsible for the disaster.

As mentioned by Jean-Paul Deléage, who, in 2005, published in the Écologie et Politique review the letter which Rousseau sent to Voltaire on 18 August 1756, Voltaire went on to propose a new concept of human responsibility. This concept was social and political rather than metaphysical and religious. Thus, in his reply to Voltaire, Rousseau states as follows:

 (…), I believe I have shown that with the exception of death, which is an evil almost solely because of the preparations which one makes preceding it, most of our physical ills are still our own work. Is it not known that the person of each man has become the least part of himself, and that it is almost not worth the trouble of saving it when one has lost all the rest Without departing from your subject of Lisbon, admit, for example, that nature did not construct twenty thousand houses of six to seven stories there, and that if the inhabitants of this great city had been more equally spread out and more lightly lodged, the damage would have been much less, and perhaps of no account. All would have fled at the first disturbance, and the next day they would have been seen twenty leagues from there, as gay as if nothing had happened; but it is necessary to remain, to be obstinate around some hovels, to expose oneself to new quakes, because what one leaves behind is worth more than what one can bring along. How many unfortunate people have perished in this disaster because of one wanting to take his clothes, another his papers, another his money?  Is it not known that the person of each man has become the least part of himself, and that it is almost not worth the trouble of saving it when one has lost all the rest? [14] 

Whereas, for Voltaire, the Lisbon disaster was an accident and an unfortunate combination of circumstances, Rousseau feels that the natural seismic effects were compounded by the actions, urban choices and attitude of the people during the disaster. It is the responsibility of human behaviour that Rousseau highlights. In essence, he believes that, although Lisbon was destroyed, this was linked to the human decision to build a city on the coast and near a fault line. A lack of anticipation, perhaps.

Rousseau returned to these matters in his Confessions, in which he again absolves Providence and maintains that, of all the evils in people’s lives, there was not one to be attributed to Providence, and which had not its source rather in the abusive use man made of his faculties than in nature [15].

In the appropriately named Signes des Temps, or Sign of the Times, programme, Marc Weitzmann established a link between this debate, the question of uncertainty, nature and mankind, and the thoughts of French urbanist Paul Virilio (1932-2018). Scarred by the blitzkrieg and his lost childhood, and the idea that acceleration prevents anticipation and can lead to coincidence, Virilio, author of Speed and Politics (MIT Press, 2006), The Original Accidentl (Polity Press, 2007), and The Great Accelerator (Polity Press, 2012), emphasised that industrial and natural disasters progressed not only geometrically but also geographically, if not cosmically. In his view, this progress of contemporary coincidence requires a new intelligence in which the principle of responsibility permanently supplants the principle of technoscientific effectiveness, which is, considers Virilio, arrogant to the point of delusion [16].

Thus, as in Rousseau, our natural disasters seem increasingly inseparable from our anthropic disasters. All the more so since, as we now know, we have through our human and industrial actions altered the course of time in all its meanings: climate time, as well as speed time, or acceleration.

The fine metaphor used by futurists on the need to have good headlights at night – the faster we travel, the brighter they need to be – seems somewhat outdated. While, today, we are collectively wondering whether the road still exists, we can still enjoy inventing, plotting, and carving out a new path. For, in the words of Gaston Berger, the future is not only what may happen or what is most likely to happen, but is also, and increasingly so, what we want it to be. Predicting a disaster is conditional: it involves predicting what would happen if we did nothing to change the situation rather than what will happen in any event [17].

Risk management will remain a fundamental necessity on the path we choose. What is more, any initiative involves a degree of uncertainty which we can only ever partially reduce. This uncertainty will never absolve our individual and collective responsibilities as elected representatives or citizens. This uncertainty, in turn, creates a duty of anticipation [18].

Anticipation culture must feature at the heart of our public and collective policies. To that end, we must employ foresight methods that are genuinely robust and operational, along with impact prior analyses for the actions to be taken. That is the only way to tackle a new future without false impressions.

In his conclusions of The Imperative of Responsability, Hans Jonas decreed that, facing the threat of nuclear war, ecological ravage, genetic engineering, and the like, fear was a requirement for tackling the future [19]. We must treat anticipation in the same way. Thus anticipation meets hope, each being a consequence of the other.

 

 

Philippe Destatte

@PhD2050

Related paper: Increasing rationality in decision-making through policy impact prior analysis (July 12, 2021)

 

Direct access to PhD2050’s English papers

 

[1] Free translation from: Antony BEEVOR, Stalingrad, p. 231-232 et 252 , Paris, de Fallois, 1999.

[2] Riel MILLER, Futures Literacy: transforming the future, in R. MILLER ed., Transforming the Future, Anticipation in the 21st Century, p. 2, Paris, UNESCO – Abingdon, Routledge, 2018.

[3] Gaston BERGER, L’attitude prospective, dans Phénoménologie et prospective, p. 270sv, Paris, PUF, 1964.

[4] According to the systemist Edgar Morin, emergence is an organizational product which, although inseparable from the system as a whole, appears not only at the global level, but possibly at the level of the components. Emergence is a new quality in relation to the constituents of the system. It therefore has the virtue of an event, since it arises in a discontinuous manner once the system has been constituted; it has of course the character of irreducibility; it is a quality which cannot be broken down, and which cannot be deduced from previous elements. E. MORIN, La méthode, t.1, p. 108, Paris, Seuil, 1977. – The concept of emergence finds its origin in George Henry Lewes. To urge that we do not know how theses manifold conditions emerge in the phenomenon Feeling, it is to say that the synthetic fact has not been analytically resolved into all its factor. It is equally true that we do not know how Water emerges from Oxygen and Hydrogen. The fact of an emergence we know; and we may be certain that what emerges is the expression of its conditions, – every effect being the procession of its cause. George Henry LEWES, Problems of Life and Mind, t. 2, p. 412, London, Trübner & Co, 1874. – André LALANDE, Vocabulaire technique et critique de la philosophie, p. 276-277, Paris, PUF, 1976.

[5] See: Transdisciplinarité in Ph. DESTATTE & Philippe DURANCE dir., Les mots-clés de la prospective territoriale, p. 51, Paris, La Documentation française, 2009. http://www.institut-destree.eu/wa_files/philippe-destatte_philippe-durance_mots-cles_prospective_documentation-francaise_2008.pdf

[6] Nassim Nicholas TALEB, The Black Swan, The Impact of the Highly Improbable, New York, Random House, 2007.

[7] Daniel KAHNEMAN & Amos TVERSKY, Prospect theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk, in Econometrica, Journal of the econometric society, 1979, vol. 47, nr 2, p. 263-291. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1914185?seq=1

[8] Pierre ROSANVALLON, Counter-Democracy, Politics in an Age of Distrust, Cambridge University Press,  2008.

[9] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Lettre à Monsieur de Voltaire sur ses deux poèmes sur « la Loi naturelle » et sur « le Désastre de Lisbonne », présentée par Jean-Paul DELEAGE, dans Écologie & politique, 2005, 30, p. 141-154.

https://www.cairn.info/revue-ecologie-et-politique1-2005-1-page-141.htm

[10] Cfr Marc Weitzmann, Le Cygne noir, une énigme de notre temps, ou la prévision prise en défaut, avec Cynthia Fleury, Bruno Tertrais et Erwan Queinnec, Signes des Temps, France Culture, https://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/signes-des-temps/le-cygne-noir-une-enigme-de-notre-temps-ou-la-prevision-prise-en-defaut

[11] Sofiane BOUHDIBA, Lisbonne, le 1er novembre 1755 : un hasard ? Au cœur de la polémique entre Voltaire et Rousseau, A travers champs, 19 octobre 2014. S. Bouhdiba est démographe à l’Université de Tunis. https://presquepartout.hypotheses.org/1023 – Jean-Paul POIRIER, Le tremblement de terre de Lisbonne, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2005.

[12] Translation taken from the Online Library of Liberty, https://oll.libertyfund.org/quote/voltaire-laments-the-destruction-of-lisbon-in-an-earthquake-and-criticises-the-philosophers-who-thought-that-all-s-well-with-the-world-and-the-religious-who-thought-it-was-god-s-will-1755.

VOLTAIRE, Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne (1756), Œuvres complètes, Paris, Garnier, t. 9, p. 475. Wikisources : https://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Page:Voltaire_-_%C5%92uvres_compl%C3%A8tes_Garnier_tome9.djvu/485

[13] We are talking about theodicy here. This consists in the justification of the goodness of God by the refutation of the arguments drawn from the existence. This concept was introduced by the German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz (1646-1716) in an attempt to reconcile the apparent contradiction between, on the one hand, the misfortunes that prevail on earth and, on the other hand, the power and the goodness of God. LEIBNITZ, Essais de théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l’Homme et l’origine du mal, Amsterdam, F. Changuion, 1710. – See Patrick SHERRY, Theodicy in Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/theodicy-theology. Accessed 28 August 2021.

We know that in his tale Candide, or Optimism, published in 1759, Voltaire will deform and mock Leibnitzian thought through the caricatural character of Pangloss and the formula everything is at best in the best of all possible worlds … VOLTAIRE, Candide ou l’Optimisme, in VOLTAIRE, Romans et contes, Edition établie par Frédéric Deloffre et Jacques Van den Heuvel, p. 145-233, Paris, Gallimard, 1979.

[14] Translation from Internet Archive, Letter to Voltaire, Pl, IV, 1060-1062, p. 51.

 https://archive.org/details/RousseauToVoltairet.marshall/page/n1/mode/2up?q=lisbon,

Lettre à Monsieur de Voltaire sur ses deux poèmes sur la « Loi naturelle » et sur « Le Désastre de Lisbonne », 18 août 1756. in Jean-Paul DELEAGE, op. cit.

[15] J.-J. ROUSSEAU, Confessions, IX, Paris, 1767, cité par Sofiane BOUHDIBA, op. cit.

[16] Paul VIRILIO, L’accident originel, p. 3, Paris, Galilée, 2005.

[17] G. BERGER, Phénoménologie et prospective…, p. 275. (Free translation).

[18] Voir à ce sujet Pierre LASCOUMES, La précaution comme anticipation des risques résiduels et hybridation de la responsabilité, dans L’année sociologique, Paris, PUF, 1996, 46, n°2, p. 359-382.

[19] Hans JONAS, The Imperative of Responsability, In Search of an Ethics for the Technological Age, The University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Boston, April 30, 2018

In order to conclude the symposium Grappling with the Futures, Insights from History, Philosophy, and Science, Technology and Society, hosted in Boston by Harvard University (Department of the History of Science) and Boston University (Department of Philosophy) on Sunday, April 29 and Monday, April 30, 2018, the organizers wanted to hear about related organizations or initiatives. They wanted to both learn more about them and figure out the potential added value of these possible new additions to the network, which should not duplicate existing ones and should foster mutually beneficial synergies. We therefore heard from Ted Gordon for the Millennium Project, Keri Facer for the Anticipation Conference, Cynthia Selin for the Arizona State University initiatives, Terry Collins for the Association of Professional Futurists, Philippe Durance for the CNAM, Jenny Andersson and Christina Garsten for the Global Foresight Project[1], and myself for The Destree Institute. This paper is a revised version of my short contribution given in this final panel.

 1. A Trajectory from Local to Global

Some groups mainly know The Destree Institute as a local NGO with quite a long history (it will be 80 years old in June 2018) of modest size (10 researchers), a foundation that operates as a ‘think and do tank’ and is close to the Parliament of Wallonia and government, a partner of the regional administration and very open to the world of entrepreneurship. It works at the crossroads between five or six universities in cross-border collaboration. Twenty years ago now, after 15 years of research in history and future studies, The Destree Institute created its Foresight Unit, supplementing this last year with a laboratory of collective, public and entrepreneurial policies for Wallonia in Europe: the Wallonia Policy Lab [2]. Its work in this area is intellectually supported by a Regional Foresight College consisting of 30 leaders from various spheres of society.

To others, The Destree Institute is first and foremost a European and global research Centre in the field of foresight, a worldwide NGO with a special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and an official partner of UNESCO (with consultative status) since 2012; a member of the Open Government Partnership Civil Society Community; a founder of the Brussels Area Node of the Millennium Project; a leading partner of many European initiatives; and the headquarters of the Millennia2025 Women and Innovation Foundation, a global foresight initiative for women’s empowerment and equality, involving more than 10,000 members, researchers and grassroots workers in five continents, whose international foresight research process was launched in 2008 with the support of the Millennium Project and the patronage of UNESCO’s Director-General.

Both views are correct. The Destree Institute’s development from a local history research Centre in Wallonia to a European and global foresight actor is easily traced; at the same time, it has succeeded in maintaining strong local roots.

One of the main ambitions and achievements of The Destree Institute lies in its ability to develop a strong operational conception of foresight. We use foresight not only to think about the future but to shift the system, to trigger transition and transformation. Far from just thinking that one could modify the future simply by looking at it, Gaston Berger – whose importance has been emphasized by the organizers of the symposium – saw change as a process that is hard to implement and difficult to conduct, as the American researchers in social psychology whose models inspired him had shown. Berger particularly referred to the theories of change and transformation processes described by Kurt Lewin, Ronald Lippitt, Jeanne Watson and Bruce Westley[3]. With this in mind, we developed in 2010 a tool named the Bifurcation Method (in the sense of ‘bifurcations’ used by Nobel Prize-Winner Ilya Prigogine) in order to identify the different moments when the system, or a part of it, or an actor, could take different directions or trajectories. We first apply this tool to the past in what we call the retroforesight phase, identifying trajectories that could have been taken at particular past moments and what developments would have ensued. We can then use the techniques of foresight to try to identify bifurcations and trajectories in the future, using institutional rendezvous, assumptions and wildcards, events of low probability but with high impacts which can open up the cone of the future and cause movement in the system.

In this way, we are able to structure concrete operational work drawing on the kind of expertise described during the symposium by historians, philosophers, STS experts and others.

2. History does not hold the keys to the future

From History to Foresight is also the title of a well-known book by Pierre Chaunu [4]. It was written by the great French historian and Sorbonne professor in 1975 for a collection named Liberty 2000.

Chaunu wrote that a good reading of the present, integrating the past, leads imperceptibly to the future. It is, by nature, foresight-oriented [5]. He added that this foresight is, of course, linked to the idea of mankind. It therefore involves the « unfolding » of history [6]. He also observed: History does not hold the keys to the future. It cannot map out the path, but a history that is made part of the human sciences can correct us; it can impose a check on infantile projections that are captive to the short term [7]. I think that the integration of future studies in the human sciences will always remain a real and difficult challenge.

Those who were able to attend the Harvard meeting certainly feel, as I do, that more than 40 years after Chaunu’s analysis, we are fully on track to achieve the aims that the main organizer Yashar Saghai (Johns Hopkins University) proposed at the opening of the symposium for the meeting and its follow-up: to end isolation within each discipline (history, philosophy, science, technology and society) and between countries, to learn from each other in depth beyond interdisciplinary conferences, to gain an up-to-date knowledge of current research, to deepen connections with future studies practitioners and theorists. Yashar also insisted on the importance of probing the needs for a permanent network or platform for our communities. The challenge is, as Riel Miller said in his keynote address but also in his new book[8], to reinforce our understandings, practices and capacities.

3. Main requirements for a permanent network or platform

With its partners, The Destree Institute has launched and/or managed many networks and platforms in the last twenty years: the Millennia2015 foresight process, the Millennia2025 Foundation, the Internet Society Wallonia Chapter, the European Regional Foresight College, the European Millennium Project Nodes Initiative (EuMPI), the Regional Foresight College of Wallonia, the Wallonia Territorial Intelligence Platform, etc.

In all cases, the main requirements were the same:

1. to define clear aims that make sense and generate a desire to involve all the actors. These goals should be understood by all the partners without ambiguity. Clarifying words and concepts is a key task for all scientific ambition, and as such is shared by the futurists;

2. to stay firmly connected to the ground and able to come back to the present: what we will do tomorrow needs to be thought about in the present. We need our heads in the stars but our feet in the clay…

3. to fight against certainty. We often talk in terms of trying to throw light on our uncertainties, but we should also fight our great certainties about our disciplines, our fields, our methods and our perceptions of the world;

4. good leadership with proper respect for the members. In March 2018, the Women’s Economic Forum awarded my colleague Marie-Anne Delahaut the Woman of the Decade in Community Leadership Prize for her work for Millennia2025 [9]. We all know how sensitive these tasks are;

5. professionalism in management, because we need to improve our work and gain precious time for our researchers instead of wasting it;

6. relevant communication materials (logos, websites, etc.), although I tend to say, as General de Gaulle might have done, that logistics should follow ideas rather than vice versa;

7. and finally, as Professor Michel Godet often repeats, loyalty, competence and pleasure.

Pleasure in thinking together, pleasure in working hard together, pleasure in meeting together.

I feel that we have assembled these ingredients during these two days shared at Harvard and Boston Universities. Thank you to the organizers for bringing us together.

 

Philippe Destatte

@PhD2050

 

On the same subject: What is foresight?

Direct access to Philippe Destatte’s English papers

 

[1] Global Foresight Project :

https://www.socant.su.se/english/global-foresight/participating-researchers/christina-garsten

[2] Philippe DESTATTE, A Wallonia Policy Lab on the Foresight Trajectory, Blog PhD2050, Namur, April 11, 2018, https://phd2050.org/2018/04/11/wpl-en/

[3] Gaston BERGER, L’Encyclopédie française, vol. XX : Le Monde en devenir, 1959, p. 12-14, 20, 54, in Phénoménologie du temps et prospective, p. 271, Paris, PuF, 1964.

[4] Pierre CHAUNU, De l’histoire à la prospective, Paris, Robert Lafont, 1975.

[5] Une bonne lecture du présent intégrante du passé débouche, insensiblement, sur l’avenir, elle est, par nature, prospective. P. CHAUNU, op. cit. p., 283.

[6] Elle est, bien évidemment, liée à une idée de l’homme. Elle implique donc le « déroulé » de l’histoire. Ibidem, p. 285.

[7] L’Histoire n’a pas les clefs de l’avenir, elle ne peut pas tracer la voie, mais une histoire intégrée aux sciences de l’homme peut rectifier, elle peut réduire les projections enfantines, prisonnières du temps court. Ibidem.

[8] Riel MILLER, Transforming the future, Anticipation in the 21st Century, Paris-Abingdon, UNESCO-Routledge, 2018.

[9] http://www.millennia2015.org/Women_Economic_Forum_Award_2018_EN

Hour-en-Famenne, le 31 décembre 2013

From anticipation to action est un livre fondateur de la prospective, dû à la plume de Michel Godet en 1994 [1]. Préfacé par le prospectiviste américain Joseph F. Coates, ce texte constituait la première mouture de ce qui allait devenir, au fil de nouvelles expériences du terrain, le manuel bien connu de prospective stratégique [2]. Ainsi, cet ouvrage, publié par l’UNESCO, valorisait une des marques de fabrique du disciple de Jacques Lesourne et son successeur à la chaire de Prospective industrielle du Conservatoire national des Arts et Métiers à Paris (CNAM) : le fameux triangle grec qui figurait d’ailleurs sur la couverture de l’édition française de ce texte (1991). Ce schéma pédagogique met en évidence et en interrelation trois composantes essentielles de l’attitude et du processus de la prospective : l’anticipation que favorise la réflexion prospective, l’appropriation intellectuelle et affective des enjeux et des réponses à y apporter, la volonté stratégique qui se décline en actions collectives et adéquates. La leçon enseignée par Michel Godet est que le passage de l’anticipation à l’acte stratégique ne peut se passer du sens, de la mobilisation et de l’appropriation du processus prospectif par les parties prenantes.

Anticipation, appropriation et action sont des concepts-clefs que les entreprises et les organisations attentives à l’intelligence stratégique, et donc à la prospective, ont intérêt à avoir à l’esprit.

L’anticipation de mon avenir est constitutive de mon présent

Comme le relevait le pionnier de la prospective Gaston Berger (1896-1960) citant l’académicien Jules Chaix-Ruy, l’anticipation de mon avenir est constitutive de mon présent : on ne saurait dans sa vie se couper de cet amont que constitue le passé et de cet aval que sera  le futur. Cet isolement rendrait le présent absurde [3]. La faculté d’anticipation permet non seulement de se représenter une évolution ou un événement ainsi que ses conséquences avant qu’ils ne se réalisent, mais aussi et surtout d’agir, en prévenant ou en devançant ce moment favorable ou fatidique. L’action, voire la réaction, à cette connaissance générée, est indissociable de l’anticipation. En prospective, à l’initiative semble-t-il de Hasan Ozbekhan (1921-2007) [4], on parle de préactivité lorsque l’acteur prend en considération les changements possibles et qu’il s’y prépare, et de proactivité lorsque, ayant identifié l’intérêt de cet événement ou de cette évolution, il mène une action volontariste destinée à le ou la provoquer. C’est aussi ce professeur à l’Université de Pennsylvanie qui a popularisé le terme d’anticipation dans le monde de la prospective, y voyant un modèle construit logiquement et concernant un avenir possible, assorti d’un degré de confiance non encore défini [5]. L’astrophysicien autrichien Erich Jantsch (1929-1980), qui s’en est considérablement inspiré, assimilait les anticipations aux futuribles chers à Bertrand de Jouvenel ou les alternative world futures d’Herman Kahn [6].

Le concept d’anticipation fait actuellement l’objet d’un effort tangible de clarification et d’approfondissement par les prospectivistes Riel Miller (UNESCO), Roberto Poli (UNESCO Chair of Anticipatory Systems, University of Trente) et Pierre Rossel (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne). Se basant notamment sur les travaux des Américains Robert Rosen (1934-1997) [7] et John W. Bennett (1915-2005) [8], ces chercheurs réunis autour de la direction de la prospective de l’UNESCO s’interrogent sur la possibilité de fonder explicitement l’anticipation comme une discipline constituant un ensemble de compétences qui permettent aux êtres humains de prendre en compte et d’évaluer des évolutions futures [9]. Cette réflexion est assurément stimulante sur le plan de la prospective d’autant qu’elle rejoint l’effort de la Commission européenne de désenclaver les recherches prospectives. Ainsi, la direction générale de la Recherche et de l’Innovation s’investit-elle de son côté, et depuis plusieurs années, dans les Forward Looking Activities (FLA), les activités à vocation prospective  [10], comme jadis l’Institut européen de Séville l’avait fait en développant, autour de la prospective, les outils d’intelligence stratégique en politiques publiques (Strategic Policy Intelligence – SPI) [11].

L’anticipation, si elle s’écarte résolument de la simple imagination prophétique ou de la prévision sans vocation stratégique, pour intégrer des méthodes de veille et de recherche prospectives et en faire un outil d’intelligence économique ou territoriale, constitue une ressource de premier choix pour l’entreprise.

L’appropriation des enjeux et des réponses à y apporter, premier facteur de changement

Intuitivement mais aussi par expérience, le responsable de toute organisation sait que le pilotage de l’entreprise ne saurait se faire à partir d’une tour de contrôle coupée des laboratoires, des ateliers et de l’ensemble des services qui contribuent à son fonctionnement, pas plus que de ses bénéficiaires extérieurs. Toute dynamique d’évolution, de changement est fondée sur l’interaction, la communication, l’implication de chaque acteur. Comme le rappelait Michel Crozier, les moyens, surtout quand ils sont humains, ne se plient pas aussi facilement aux objectifs et bloquent finalement – et heureusement – la belle ordonnance rationnelle [12]. Ce sont donc le pragmatisme et la réalité du terrain qui prévalent.

Philippe Bernoux a montré que, dans une vision du changement non imposé (différent du loyalty or exit de Hirshman [13]…), deux principes sont prépondérants : l’autonomie des acteurs et la légitimité qu’ils accordent aux décisions les concernant, et qu’ils exprimeront par leur « voice », la prise de parole protestataire [14]. Pour l’auteur de Sociologie du changement dans les entreprises et les organisations, le changement constitue bien un apprentissage de nouvelles manières de faire, de nouvelles règles, un apprentissage par assimilation de nouvelles régulations. Le changement ne peut être que coproduit, fabriqué par tous les acteurs [15]. Le changement ne peut avoir lieu que s’il y a construction de nouvelles relations : changer, c’est rendre possible le développement de nouveaux jeux de relations. Cet ajustement ne peut d’ailleurs être que le fait des personnes en interrelations ainsi que des systèmes de relations qu’elles contribuent à créer [16]. Bernoux rappelle que, plus que les structures des organismes et des institutions, l’interaction entre les acteurs est centrale. Elle suppose l’autonomie réelle des acteurs, même s’ils ne peuvent tout faire puisqu’il y a des règles : sans leur capacité d’action, le changement ne peut avoir lieu. Ainsi, ces acteurs sont-ils de vrais acteurs et ne peuvent être réduits à un rôle d’agents agis [17]. Et même davantage : comme l’indique le psychologue du management Harold J. Leavitt (1922-2007), quel que soit le pouvoir que possède le l’acteur- « changeur », quel que soit son rang dans la hiérarchie, l’acteur « changé » reste maître de la décision finale [18]. Cette observation est valable pour l’entreprise qui, bien qu’institution, est aussi actrice : elle conserve toujours la capacité d’influer sur un environnement auquel elle n’est pas soumise, de participer à la construction sociale du marché, de garder en partie la maîtrise de ses interactions avec la société [19]. Ainsi, les changements ne réussissent que s’ils sont acceptés, légitimés et transformés par les acteurs chargés de les mettre en œuvre [20].

Arrêtons donc de penser que l’on puisse transformer en restant extérieur au système ou en se cantonnant dans un rôle de grand architecte. C’est parce que les acteurs seront concernés et impliqués qu’ils porteront la stratégie du changement. Cela induit qu’ils co-construisent et partagent la vision de l’entreprise, ses finalités, les enjeux de l’environnement et les bonnes réponses à y apporter. Collectivement.

L’action : des finalités au processus de transformation

Dans une célèbre conférence donnée au Centre de Recherches et d’Etudes des Chefs d’Entreprises, Gaston Berger définissait l’action véritable comme une série de mouvements tendant à une fin; elle n’est pas, disait-il, l’agitation par laquelle on cherche à faire croire aux autres qu’on est puissant et efficace [21]. Comme l’avait bien observé l’ancien directeur général de l’Enseignement supérieur français [22], ces finalités sont d’abord celles du changement et des processus de transformation étudiés en psychologie sociale. Ces théories ont été décrites par le chercheur américain d’origine allemande Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) [23]. Celui-ci a développé la science expérimentale de la dynamique des groupes, avant de s’intéresser au changement social. Lewin a travaillé sur la notion d’équilibre des forces égales et opposées permettant d’atteindre un état quasi stationnaire. La recherche d’un nouvel équilibre se fait après modification des forces pour provoquer un changement vers cet objectif. Trois périodes marquent ce processus : d’abord, une période de décristallisation pendant laquelle le système remet en question ses perceptions, habitudes et comportements. Les acteurs se motivent. Ensuite, une période de transition, pendant laquelle les comportements et attitudes deviennent instables et contradictoires. Les acteurs en expérimentent puis en adoptent certains. Enfin, une période de recristalisation pendant laquelle le système généralise les comportements pilotes adaptés à la nouvelle situation et harmonise les nouvelles pratiques.

PhD2050_Lewin_2013-12-31Comme le décrivent Didier Anzieu et Jacques-Yves Martin : comment surmonter la résistance initiale qui tend à ramener l’équilibre au niveau supérieur ? En « décristallisant » peu à peu les habitudes par des méthodes de discussion non directives, jusqu’au point de rupture, de choc, où une recristallisation différente peut s’opérer. Autrement dit, abaisser le seuil de résistance et amener le groupe à un degré de crise qui produit une mutation des attitudes chez ses membres, puis, par influence, dans les zones voisines du corps social [24].

Berger le rappelle : les Américains Lippitt, Watson et Westley [25] ont poursuivi cette réflexion. Ainsi, ont-ils découpé ce processus en sept phases qui s’articulent assez bien avec les étapes d’un processus prospectif : 1. développement d’un désir de changement, 2. création d’un cadre de relations orienté changement, 3. établissement du diagnostic des enjeux du système, 4 examen des chemins alternatifs et choix du plan d’action, 5. transformation des intentions en efforts de changement, 6. généralisation et stabilisation du changement, 7. détermination des relations finales avec les agents de changement. D’autres modèles existent, largement utilisés par les prospectivistes qui puisent dans la psychologie sociale et la sociologie comportementale pour mieux comprendre les processus de transformation qu’ils observent et les optimaliser lorsqu’ils veulent les mettre en œuvre eux-mêmes [26].

Conclusion : volonté et leadership

Les plans stratégiques ne se mettent pas en œuvre d’eux-mêmes, rappelle souvent le professeur Peter Bishop de l’Université de Houston. Ce sont des gens qui les mettent en œuvre. Et ces gens s’appellent des leaders [27].

Dans un débat récent portant sur le décret dit paysage, tenu au Salon du Livre politique le 10 novembre 2013 à Liège, Jean-Claude Marcourt, vice-président du gouvernement de Wallonie, en charge de l’Économie, des Technologies nouvelles et de l’Enseignement supérieur, estimait que l’on peut être progressiste sur le plan des idées et conservateur quand on vous propose le principe du changement. Hors de toute considération sur la droite, la gauche ou le centre, cette formule est particulièrement heureuse. Dans le landerneau politique comme dans le monde de l’entreprise ou des organisations, la capacité stratégique ne peut exister sans réelle volonté de transformation. Celle-ci peut et doit être portée par un leadership qui, de nos jours, ne peut être que collectif pour être puissant, même si, de l’anticipation à l’action, il s’organise sous la houlette de femmes ou d’hommes dont on reconnaît les capacités effectives à impulser et catalyser ce changement.

Ce qui rapproche la ou le responsable d’un gouvernement et celle ou celui d’une entreprise, c’est le même défi à activer les parties prenantes pour favoriser l’anticipation et faire en sorte que, s’appropriant les enjeux et la stratégie, elles passent à l’action.

Philippe Destatte

https://twitter.com/PhD2050


[1] Michel GODET, From anticipation to action, A handbook of strategic prospective, coll. Futures-oriented Studies, Paris, Unesco Publishing, 1994. – En 1991 était parue chez Dunod la version française de ce livre : De l’anticipation à l’action, Manuel de prospective et de stratégie.

[2] M.GODET, Manuel de prospective stratégique, 2 tomes, Paris, Dunod, 3e éd., 2007.

[3] Gaston BERGER, Le temps (1959) dans Phénoménologie et prospective, p. 198, Paris, PUF, 1964. Jules CHAIX-RUY, Les dimensions de l’être et du temps, Paris-Lyon, Vitte, 1953.

[4] Selon Michel Godet, aux Assises de la prospective, organisées par Futuribles à Paris Dauphine, les 8 et 9 décembre 1999.-  M. GODET, La boîte à outils de la prospective stratégique, Problèmes et méthodes, coll. Cahier du Lips, p. 14, Paris, CNAM, 5e éd., 2001.

[5] Cité par Eric JANTSCH, La prévision technologique : cadre, techniques et organisation, p. 16, Paris, OCDE, 1967.

[6] « The possibility of acting upon present reality by starting from an imagined or anticipated future situation affords great freedom to the decision maker while at the same time providing him with better controls with which to guide events. Thus, planning becomes in the true sense « future-creative » and the very fact of anticipating becomes causative of action. (p. 89 & 139)  » Hasan OZBEKHAN, The Triumph of Technology: « can implies ought », in Joseph P. MARTINO, An Introduction to Technological Forecasting, p. 83-92, New York, Gordon & Breach Science publishers, 1972. – Eleonora BARBIERI MASINI, Why Futures Studies?, p. 56, London, Grey Seal, 1993. – Erich JANTSCH, Technological Planning and Social Futures, p. 17 & 37, London, Associated Business Programmes, 2nd éd., 1974. Anticipations are « intellectively constructed models of possible futures ».

[7] Robert ROSEN, Anticipatory Systems, Philosophical, Mathematical and Methodological Foundations, Oxford, Pergamon Press, 1985. – R. ROSEN, Essays on Life itself, New York, Columbia University Press, 2000.

[8] John W. BENNETT, Human Ecology as Human Behavior: Essays in Environmental and Development Anthropology, New Brunswick, NJ, Transaction Publishers, 1993.

[9] Riel MILLER, Roberto POLI & Pierre ROSSEL, The Discipline of Anticipation: Exploring Key Issues, Unesco Working Paper nr. 1, Paris, May 2013. http://www.academia.edu/3523348/The_Discipline_of_Anticipation_Miller_Poli_Rossel_-_DRAFT

[10] Domenico ROSSETTI di VALDALBERO & Parla SROUR-GANDON, European Forward Looking Activities, EU Research in Foresight and Forecast, Socio-Economic Sciences & Humanities, List of Activities, Brussels, European Commission, DGR, Directorate L, Science, Economy & Society, 2010. http://ec.europa.eu/research/social-sciences/forward-looking_en.htmlEuropean forward-looking activities, Building the future of « Innovation Union » and ERA, Brussels, European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, 2011. ftp://ftp.cordis.europa.eu/pub/fp7/ssh/docs/european-forward-looking-activities_en.pdf

[11] Alexander TÜBKE, Ken DUCATEL, James P. GAVIGAN, Pietro MONCADA-PATERNO-CASTELLO éd., Strategic Policy Intelligence: Current Trends, the State of the Play and perspectives, S&T Intelligence for Policy-Making Processes, IPTS, Seville, Dec. 2001.

[12] Michel CROZIER, La crise de l’intelligence, Essai sur l’impuissance des élites à se réformer, p. 19, Paris, InterEditions, 1995.

[13] A.O. HIRSCHMAN, Exit, Voice and Loyalty, Paris, Editions ouvrières, 1973.

[14] Philippe BERNOUX, Sociologie du changement dans les entreprises et les organisations, p. 10-11, Paris, Seuil, 2010.

[15] Ph. BERNOUX, Sociologie du changement..., p. 191.

[16] Ibidem, p. 11, 85 et 308.

[17] Ibidem, p. 11 et 13.

[18] Harold J. LEAVITT, Psychologie des fonctions de direction dans l’entreprise, Paris, Editions d’Organisation, 1973. Cité par Ph. BERNOUX, op. cit., p. 15-16.

[19] Ph. BERNOUX, Sociologie du changement…, p. 144.

[20] Ibidem, p. 51.

[21] Gaston BERGER, Le chef d’entreprise, philosophe en action, 8 mars 1955, dans Prospective n°7, Gaston Berger, Un philosophe dans le monde moderne, p. 50, Paris, PUF, Avril 1961.

[22] G. BERGER, L’Encyclopédie française, t. XX : Le Monde en devenir, 1959, p. 12-14, 20, 54, , reproduit dans Phénoménologie du temps et prospective, p. 271, Paris, PuF, 1964.

[23] Kurt LEWIN, Frontiers in Group Dynamics, dans Human Relations, 1947, n° 1, p. 2-38. – K. LEWIN, Psychologie dynamique, Les relations humaines, coll. Bibliothèque scientifique internationale, p. 244sv., Paris, PuF, 1964. – Bernard BURNES, Kurt Lewin and the Planned Approach to change: A Re-appraisal, Journal of Management Studies, septembre 2004, p. 977-1002. – Voir aussi Karl E. WEICK and Robert E. QUINN, Organizational Change and Development, Annual Review of Psychology, 1999, p. 361-386.

[24] Didier ANZIEU et Jacques-Yves MARTIN, La dynamique des groupes restreints, p. 86, Paris, PuF, 2007.

[25] Ronald LIPPITT, Jeanne WATSON & Bruce WESTLEY, The Dynamics of Planned Change, A Comparative Study of Principles and Techniques, New York, Harcourt, Brace & Cie, 1958.

[26] Chris ARGYRIS & Donald A. SCHON, Organizational Learning, A Theory of Action Perspective, Reading, Mass. Addison Wesley, 1978. – Gregory BATESON, Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Antropology, Psychiatry, Evolution and Epistemology, University of Chicago Press, 1972. – Notamment La double contrainte (1969), dans G. BATESON, Vers une écologie de l’esprit, Paris, Seuil, 1980. – Jean-Philippe BOOTZ, Prospective et apprentissage organisationnel, coll. Travaux et recherches de prospective, Paris, Futuribles international, LIPSOR, Datar, Commissariat général du Plan, 2001. – Richard A. SLAUGHTER, The Transformative Cycle : a Tool for Illuminating Change, in Richard A. SLAUGHTER, Luke NAISMITH and Neil HOUGHTON, The Transformative Cycle, p. 5-19, Australian Foresight Institute, Swinburne University, 2004.

[27] Peter C. BISHOP and Andy HINES, Teaching about the Future, p. 225, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.