InterJournal Complex Systems, 1717
Status: Accepted
Manuscript Number: [1717]
Submission Date: 2006
Improving decision making in the area of national and international security – the future map methodology
Author(s): Donald Heathfield

Subject(s): CX.44



The capacity of organizations working in the national and international security area to make good decisions depends to a large degree on their ability to anticipate the behavior of complex social and political systems. Our far from perfect knowledge of these systems, the uncertainty and ambiguity associated with their future developments, and often conflicting perspectives of various decision makers further complicate this work. The lack of a real-time, systemic, synthetic view, a shared “big picture” of the complex security environment is one of the greatest hurdles for fast and efficient decision making. How can we help organizations build a holistic, systemic view of their anticipated future environment and make them continuously question their assumptions about the systems’ behavior, knowing that our understanding of complex social and political systems is likely to remain insufficient for confidently predicting outcomes? In order to improve decision making organizations need to: 1.) learn to better identify information that is critical for predicting systems’ behavior to improve their capacity to anticipate, and 2.) accelerate organizational learning process, in order to meet unanticipated challenges faster and more effectively. The organizations dealing with national and international security issues need to build a rigorous “future preparedness” process that drives their collective learning about the behavior of those complex systems. They need effective tools to build this process. Swedish neurobiologist David Ingvar in his 1985 article “The Memory of the Future” described the work the human brain deals with complex environment to ensure our “future preparedness” as individuals. According to Ingvar, a part of the human brain “is constantly occupied with making up action plans and programs for the future,” making “alternative time paths into the future,” and “storing these alternative time paths.” This “memory of the future” helps us to establish a “correspondence between incoming information and one of the stored alternative time paths,” perceiving its “meaning.” It also allows us to filter out irrelevant information that has no meaning for any of the “options for the future which we worked out” (quoted from Arie de Geus, “Strategy and Learning,” Reflections, Volume 1, Number 1, 1999, p.77.) By creating a similar process in organizations, we can help them visualize strategic paths into their future, identify and prioritize the critical changes in their security environment, develop and effectively execute strategies. The Future Map methodology is designed to create a collective learning process by constructing a continuously updated shared picture of the complex security environment and of the developments of its components. The Future Map methodology and its supporting software put in front of decision makers the field of anticipated events with which the organization will have to deal in the future. This Future Map is the product of our collective anticipation, our collective future “radar screen.” At the same time the Future Map creates a dynamic security scorecard by putting the organizations’ missions, strategic objectives and measuring milestones on the timeline and in the context of their security environment. The Future Map provides a tool for improving decision making in a complex security environment and for creating a focused strategic preparedness process that links strategy, intelligence and learning.

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