The STEaPP Working Paper series publishes emerging analysis and thought with the aim of improving links between research and policy.
The series will make available a diversity of outputs in different formats including pre-published versions of journal articles, drafts of longer academic or policy outputs, multi-media content and policy reports. We accept submissions from STEaPP and UCL staff, students, honorary fellows and relevant from other academic and policy colleagues.
- Thinking systems: how the systems we depend on can be helped to think and to serve us better - Profesor Sir Geoff Mulgan, UCL STEaPP
This draft paper describes methods for understanding how vital everyday systems work, and how they could work better, through improved shared cognition – observation, memory, creativity and judgement – organised as commons.
Much of our life we depend on systems: interconnected webs of activity that link many organisations, technologies and people. These bring us food and clothing; energy for warmth and light; mobility including rail, cars and global air travel; care, welfare and handling of waste. Arguably the biggest difference between the modern world and the world of a few centuries ago is the thickness and complexity of these systems. These have brought huge gains.
But one of their downsides is that they have made the world around us harder to understand or shape. A good example is the Internet: essential to much of daily life but largely obscure and opaque to its users. Its physical infrastructures, management, protocols and flows are almost unknown except to specialists, as are its governance structures and processes (if you are in any doubt, just ask a random sample of otherwise well-informed people). Other vital systems like those for food, energy or care are also hardly visible to those within them as well as those dependent on them. This makes it much harder to hold them to account, or to ensure they take account of more voices and needs. We often feel that the world is much more accessible thanks to powerful search engines and ubiquitous data. But try to get a picture of the systems around you and you quickly discover just how much is opaque and obscure.
If you think seriously about these systems it’s also hard not to be struck by another feature. Our systems generally use much more data and knowledge than their equivalents in the past. But this progress also highlights what’s missing in the data they use (often including the most important wants and needs). Moreover, huge amounts of potentially relevant data is lost immediately or never captured and how much that is captured is then neither organised nor shared. The result is a strangely lop-sided world: vast quantities of data are gathered and organised at great expense for some purposes (notably defense or click-through advertising) but very little for others.
- The Imaginary Crisis (and how we might quicken social and public imagination) - Professor Sir Geoff Mulgan, UCL STEaPP and Demos Helsinki
We are in the midst of a very urgent, real, global and deadly crisis. But as that crisis hopefully comes slowly under control, some at least will need to attend to a very different kind of crisis, and one which is scarcely visible.
This ‘imaginary crisis’ is the result of a deficit of social imagination. We find it easy to imagine apocalypse and disaster; or to imagine new generations of technology. But we find it much harder than in the past to imagine a better society a generation or more into the future.
There are many possible reasons for this decline; loss of confidence in progress and grand narratives; declining imaginative capacity; slowing down of innovation. Key institutions – universities, political parties and think tanks – have for different reasons vacated this space. The decline of imagination matters because societies need a wide range of ideas and options to help them adjust, particularly to big challenges like climate change and ageing.
Social imagination has a long and fascinating history, from utopias to political programmes, model communities to generative ideas and fictions which fuelled our ability to understand and then shape human progress.
There are many methods available which can be used to stimulate imagination – sparking creativity or cultivating estrangement from dominant beliefs. The most interesting social imagination is often dialectical in that it simultaneously goes with, and against, the grain of historical trends.
Looking to the future we can map out some of the possibility spaces for the next few decades: possible futures for care and health, democracy and property, and we can also map cross-cutting conceptual ideas that may have a wide influence (from circularity to platforms, empowered nature to algorithmic decision-making). The most valuable ideas are ones that are sufficiently defined that they can be interrogated and improved – and drawn on for action.
We also need better theories of social imagination, and, for example, its relationship to evolving forms of consciousness (since progress has to involve some qualitative evolution of how we think and feel), or how ideas get ‘thickened out’ and mobilise implementers.
To fuel social imagination we need to engage the many institutions that could be supporting it, but don’t now: research funders; foundations; universities and governments.
And we need to remember the promise of reviving shared social imagination: that communities can once again become heroes in their own history rather than only observers.
- COVID-19: Health Systems Policies and Key Lessons from Successful States - Arda Ozcubukcu and Katrina Barker, UCL STEaPP
Pandemic preparedness is a concept that has demanded the world’s attention in the wake of COVID-19, an outbreak that has clearly indicated that no health system is fully prepared to face a pandemic. The novelty of this virus has ignited a range of responses in countries across the world, sparking debate around those that have proved to be the most effective in mitigating the outbreak.
This work aims to identify these responses, focusing on health systems policies, by analyzing the actions of eight countries deemed as having performed highly effectively within their respective continents. The analysis incorporates available data from Oxford University’s COVID-19 Government Response Tracker with relevant literature review. The findings indicate that swift, decisive action was taken by these states to implement comprehensive contact tracing, testing of symptomatic patients, public information campaigns and strict public health guidelines including mandatory mask wearing.
Despite certain contextspecific variations, it was found that the overarching commonality across all nations has been transparency and public informationsharing, which is likely to have increased compliance with public health guidelines. The authors hope that these findings contribute to the global conversation about aspects of health systems that should be strengthened in preparation for future – inevitable – pandemics.
- A Systematic Literature Review of the Use of Foresight Methodologies Within Technology Policy Between 2015 and 2020 - Chris Neels, UCL STEaPP
This paper presents a systematic literature review (SLR) of 37 academic papers to identify how foresight methodologies are being used to address technology-related policy questions around the globe. These papers illustrate that policymakers are employing a diverse range of foresight methods to devise future-oriented policies impacted by or directed towards a panoply of technologies.
The results of the SLR highlighted a number of methodological tensions that could impact the efficacy of foresight studies. For instance, the desire for actors to plan for a wider array of potential futures may be impeded by a tendency for actors within studies to produce futures resembling the present. Additionally, policymakers face a quandary with the dualuse nature of foresight, which can either stimulate technology-driven growth or constrain technological development to mitigate negative consequences. Finally, papers were divided on where the sources of foresight knowledge should reside. The sample suggested a European affinity to participatory techniques and an Asiatic orientation towards conferring with experts.
Overall, the SLR suggested that futures studies, as a relatively young discipline, has found an audience with policymakers looking to subdue uncertainties around technology. The issues surfaced in this SLR offer potential discussion points to reframe how foresight methodologies might best be applied to inform far-sighted policy making.
- 5G Technology – A Demonstration of How Innovation is Political - Charles McIvor, Shintaro Ikeda and Okky Oktaviani, UCL STEaPP
Government funding for science and innovation has fundamental political and economic repercussions. To demonstrate this point, this paper looks at how the UK can achieve its mission of becoming a world leader in 5G. It begins by exploring the history of previous generations of telecommunications, and how leaders of this industry have emerged with government support.
It then identifies what problems the UK might face in achieving its goal of becoming a world leader in 5G, and uses the cases of China and the United States to provide a more detailed exploration of how they have developed or lost their leadership.
Finally, it uses these cases to formulate a series of recommendations that the UK should consider in response to the problems we identify.