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Trends and Future of Sustainable Development The significance of wild cards and weak signals for sustainability – case of water services Ossi Heino & Annina.

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Presentation on theme: "Trends and Future of Sustainable Development The significance of wild cards and weak signals for sustainability – case of water services Ossi Heino & Annina."— Presentation transcript:

1 Trends and Future of Sustainable Development The significance of wild cards and weak signals for sustainability – case of water services Ossi Heino & Annina Takala Tampere University of Technology, Finland 9.-10.6.2011

2 Sustainable development  Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs  Future oriented: how can development be sustained in the future  How to anticipate future risks, prevent them and adapt to them?  Complex and dynamic paradigm  Futures research methodologies can be used to scan the environment

3 Water services  Water supply and sanitation  30 000 people every day die because the lack of adequate drinking water and/or sanitation  Significant consequences if something goes wrong  6000 people were taken ill during Nokia water crisis 2007  Thus, decisions made on water services must be considered carefully

4 Water services  Conservative: no significant changes after adaptation of centralised water distribution and water based sanitation -> slow to embrace new technological innovations  Conservative: not very agile reacting to changes  Life cycle of infrastructure is remarkable long -> pressure to sustainability of decisions  Thus, need for long-term strategic thinking and planning  Scanning for weak signals and wild cards may be needed

5 Method: Weak signals  Igor Ansoff: warnings that are too incomplete to permit an accurate estimation of their impact, and/or to determine a complete response  Not quite obvious what weak signals are -> few different determinations:  some use terms ”emerging issues”, ”seeds of change”, ”wild cards”  weak signal itself is a changing phenomenon that will strenghten in future (Moijanen)  weak signal is a cause of a new phenomenon or change  weak signal is a symptom or sign that indicate change in future

6 Weak signals objectivity vs. subjectivity  Objective view: exist as such  Objective view: weak signals are independent of interpreter  Subjective view: always need a recipient who interprets the signal  Subjective view: interpretation depends on the context

7 Method: Wild cards  Rapid, surprising events with huge disastrous, destructive, catastrophic or anomalous consequences  Planned management processes cannot respond to it  make organisations highly vulnerable  It is now more relevant than ever to study wild cards (Petersen & Steinmüller)  prepare for, prevent or provoke them  they can also be benefical events  Sometimes defined as synonyms for weak signals – depends on definitions  if weak signals can be both events and signs of events -> interchangeables  if weak signals are not events themselves -> cannot be synonyms  Sometimes confused with gradual change (Hiltunen)  significant impacts but not so rapid that it is possible to adapt to it

8 Nokia water crisis  An example of wild card could be Nokia water crisis, 2007  Wild card  relatively rapid  very surprising  disastrous consequences  Weak signals  notifications from customers on weird appearance, smell, taste and foaming of drinking water  signals were not taken seriously  after two days people got stomach problems -> issue was taken seriously  Lessons have been learned -> prevention of such wild cards

9 Used method  Most of methods have been created for organisations  anticipating future  scenario processes  Strategies  We were not looking them for scenarios or strategies  methodology was quite loose, data-driven  started by discussing the possible problems and issues

10 Used materials  Water sector is rather conservative  not beneficial to use writings of water sector  is it even possible to find any WEAK signal from ”inside the box”?  we chose Finnish newspapers and magazines that were not directly related to our sector  other, accidentally found sources e.g. internet blogs  We covered a time span of 1 year (March 2010 – March 2011)  Newspapers  Lapin Kansa  Aamulehti  Magazines  Image  Kuluttaja

11 Result examples  Customers’ changing expecatation  we should focus more multiple purpose of service and think what customer really want  younger generations want to make individual choises and take their personal values and needs into consideration  Apprehension about chemicals  people expect more information about chemicals of different products  information should be persented in understandable way  Political decision making  people are bored with toothless political decision-making  politicians do not want to make hard decisions, discuss values of carry their responsibility  Improved political decision making  civil servants participated in open coffee meeting to discuss about puzzling issues with citizens  utilizing Internet and Social media in public services

12 Assessment of results  Actual value or worth of weak signals can only be judged hindsight (Hiltunen)  we cannot know if our interpretations are correct / useful or not  Weak signals can be divided into primary & secondary exosignals (Hiltunen)  primary: directly connected to emerging issue, e.g. visual observations  secondary: when primary signals are interpreted and presented e.g. in newspapers  we used mainly newspapers and magazines -> scanning secondary signals  Objectivity vs. subjectivity  majority of our findings were somehow related to problems discussed earlier  they are not descriptions itself but interpretations -> strenghten our previous understanding  Interpretation  Mainly based on assessing the relevance of signals in water services sector  It is tempting idea that we could scan our environment without conceptions

13 Assessment of results  Including more people in the process could have improved results  Too loose approach?  requires systematic search -> distinguish signals from backround noise (Moijanen)  Signals / Trends  results presented in combination with interpretations and clustered together  number of weak signals can tell something about emerging trends (Hiltunen)

14 Conclusions  It is debatable if any of the weak signals were weak by scientific definition  Similarly, we were no able to identify wild cards  However, this was not useless  Can help one to step out of comfort zone  Can help one to think also about inconvenient issues  Even if they would not materialize in the future, it is useful to challenge oneself to think differently  The potential of weak signals and wild cards approach lies in the practical application, not in scientific strict methodology and rigid interpretations of what weak signals and wild cards are

15 References  Hiltunen, Elina (2006) Was it a Wild Card or Just Our Blindness to Gradual Change? Journal of Future Studies, Vol. 11(2), 61-74.  Hiltunen, Elina (2008a) The future sign and its three dimensions. Futures, Vol. 40(3), 247– 260.  Hiltunen, Elina (2008b) Good Sources of Weak Signals: A Global Study of Where Futurists Look For Weak Signals. Journal of Futures Studies, Vol. 12(4), 21-44.  Hiltunen, Elina (2010) Weak Signals in Organizational Futures Learning. Doctoral Dissertation, Helsinki School of Economics A-365.  Moijanen, Maisa (2003) Heikot signaalit tulevaisuudentutkimuksessa. Futura 4/03, 43-60.  Petersen, John L. – Steinmüller, Karlheinz (2009) Wild Cards. In Glenn, Jerome C. – Gordon, Theodore J. (Eds.) Futures Research Methodology Version 3.0. Electronic resource. The Millennium Project, Washington DC.


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