1 page of data

I was asked to attend the Berlin launch of the State of the Future Report 2010 on 7 July 2010: It contains 7.000 pages of global data. Here comes a summary of 1 page. Useful?

It is hard to predict the future. Prehistoric men probably tried to read in the wind and in the water what the next days were bringing, the Greeks went to see the oracle of Delphi, we collect data. Globally. For years and years and years. There are the World Bank Report, the Millennium Goals Reports of the UN or the outlooks on financial stability of the International Monetary Fund. We have global reports on climate change, on migration, on cultural diversity. On the one hand, it is absolutely great, that we possess all this data, that scientists work hand in hand with politicians, with activists, with civil society. On the other hand, who will read all this stuff – besides the experts? And what impact will it have, if at all, because it really is loads and loads of data? How can it be used practically?

Yesterday, I attended the German launch of yet another report, The State of the Future Report 2010. It is published every year by the think tank Millennium Project, a cooperation between 3.000 experts, futurists, governmental officials, NGOs and enterprises in 35 so called nodes (centres) all around the world. For 14 years now, they assemble data and analyse it, trying to grasp the future development of 15 topics, for example infant mortality, population growth, women in parliament or corruption. This years’ report is so big, that its 7.000 pages are only available on CD-Rom. And I now stand there, stunned, how to summarize this amount of information. Ok, chapter one of the report summary tackles all 15 global challenges in two-page overviews – only 30 pages to read. The executive summary by the directors of the Millennium Project Jerome Glenn, Theodore Gordon and Elizabeth Florescu is even shorter, only 10 pages. Shall I dare say, that you will know more about future trends when you have read this blog post of 1 page? Let’s try to wrap it up further:

- The world is winning in certain fields, according to the report: water resources have been improved, the literacy rate has mounted as well as school enrolment, poverty has been reduced (probably due to the efforts of the Millennium Development Goals of the UN), world population is growing a little less (9 billion people in 2050), life expectancy is at 68 years and the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments has risen from 13,8% in 2009 to 18,9% in 2010. 30% of the world population has access to the internet – in five years, half of the world population will be online.

- The world is losing in the following areas, says the report: CO2 emissions have not been reduced, we use to much fossil energy, unemployment is worsening globally, corruption tends to become more widespread, more and more people have to leave their countries and seek asylum in other parts of the world, more and more people were killed in terrorist attacks.

- Little change is seen in the fight against HIV. We still do not spend enough money on research and development. And people still kill people (homicide rate has not been reduced).

Have I kept my promise? Is this short enough? Well, if I’m honest, I think, it is too short.

And I ask myself, whether these trends really tell me something about the world? Or do they just make me depressive? I have the feeling that average data functions like a veil for evening out global differences. It enables simplification. And it doesn’t really give me a chance to understand interdependencies.

My proposition would be: Make global data local when and if you can. Compare one aspect in different countries in one continent, for example the HIV rate, the child mortality – and combine it with best practice examples. In your own every day life, use your eyes, look around. Collect your own data. And ask the futurist in you – where will the world be in 10 years, 50 years? Do you rather believe the optimist “God is Latin American” scenario where “Made in Latin America” becomes a symbol for quality and where the Latin American Union manages to decrease corruption, saves resources and lowers emissions? Or do you find the pessimist “Disintegration in Hell” scenario more probable where hyperinflation returns to Latin America, where forests will be destroyed and the gap between the poor and the rich even bigger? (2 scenarios from chapter “Latin America 2030″)

Cornelia Daheim, representative of the German node of the Millennium Project and presenting the study on 7 July at the Bertelsmann Foundation in Berlin, has not lost her optimism dealing with the global future: She is certain that the world possesses the means to tackle these challenges, given the more international cooperation, coordination and collective goals. One thing that we all can be certain of: There will be a next State of the Future Report. And: It will look at the same 15 challenges.

Crossposted from FutureChallenges.

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