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Communicating Across the Warning-Response-Gap: How Persuasion about Preventive Policy Works Paper presented at the US Institute for Peace, 19/2/2009, Washington.

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Presentation on theme: "Communicating Across the Warning-Response-Gap: How Persuasion about Preventive Policy Works Paper presented at the US Institute for Peace, 19/2/2009, Washington."— Presentation transcript:

1 Communicating Across the Warning-Response-Gap: How Persuasion about Preventive Policy Works Paper presented at the US Institute for Peace, 19/2/2009, Washington Christoph O Meyer Kings College London, Department of War Studies FORESIGHT

2 2 Knowledge and Preventive Action It is difficult to get money for medicine but easy to get it for the coffin (Chinese proverb) Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? (T.S. Eliot)

3 3 Early Warning and Preventive Policy – The Puzzle Underlying Assumptions: 1.accurate and timely warning is possible 2.preventive action is always better than crisis & consequence management But: Missed Opportunities and Warning- Response Gap: Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur What is causing the gap? Failure of warning, failure of political will or something in- between?

4 Blaming the Message: Causes of Inaccurate & Late Warning - Epistemological problems Lack of Indicators (unknown knowns) Uncertainty (known unknowns), eg secrecy/deception Unpredictability (unknown unknowns) Lack of Reliable Theory - Indicator–Action Problem: Optimal point for warning is not just defined by indicators, but also by lead time for policy options – late rather than early warnings? - Disincentives to rigorous academic forecasting in the social sciences – Bias towards science of discovery (rather than integration and application), reputational costs and political instrumentalisation

5 Blaming the Politicians: Lack of Political Will to Prevent Asymmetric incentives to preventive policy: known costs of action, but unknown consequences of inaction Too high receptivity causes resource depletion and ultimately paralysis How to define and justify acceptable residual risks Short-term prevention vis-a-vis resolution of underlying causes through crisis (let small rather than big bubbles burst)

6 6 What about the In-Between? The Warning Response Gap (George & Holl, 1997) the low stakes of international policy-makers regarding many risks the uncertainty and ambiguity of predicting when a crisis will escalate the lack of good theories and indicators to forecast accurately the impact of over-prediction (cry wolf-syndrome) Informational overload of organisations/deciders political incentives for decision-maker to wait until violence has escalated (corpses on the ground)

7 7 Critique of George & Holl (1997) -Theoretical micro-foundations and assumptions remain unclear – functionalist learning model? - No systematic empirical test across cases, risk of hindsight bias by focusing only on failure - Leaves out potentially important explanations from other literatures - One-way, rather than discoursive understanding of warning-response process: relationship between warners-deciders, feed-back and direction - Need to differentiate between cognitive and policy impact of warnings

8 8 Source Factors - Trustworthiness - Independence - Expertise - Status Situational & Context Factors Strategic culture – Current & previous similar case - Policy fluid or fixed – Agenda competition – Proximity of Elections Message Factors - Type & level of risk - Evidential ambiguity - Argument/Appeal - Usability/timeliness of recommendations Audience Factors Individuals - Causal & political beliefs - Costs of action/inaction - Cognitive styles & biases - Expertise & self-esteem Governmental Organisations - Reputational implications - Resource implications - Organisational culture - Coordination structures Media organisations - News values, esp. relevance & proximity - Editorial culture & professional routines - Political affiliation & proprietor bias Cognitive Processing Allocating Attention Comprehensio n of risk causes, intensity & consequences Rationalising Acceptance vs Rejection Steps Towards Prevention? Changed perception of risk Prioritisation of risk prevention & mitigation Behavioural change towards prevention Feedback & Reaction Positive vs negative feed-back Extended or restricted scope and depth of risk analysis Addition or withdrawal of resources for risk analysis Figure 1: Model of the Warning–Response Discourse WARNINGINDICATORSWARNINGINDICATORS Discourse Factors - De-/ Politicisation - Frame compatibility - Voice asymmetries - Mode of discourse

9 9 Early Warning and Political Response: Key Hypotheses (1) A response to warning is more likely when: 1) Warnings originate from a trustworthy source from the perspective of decision-makers. Trustworthiness is mostly a function of being seen as unbiased or more likely compatibly biased and reinforced by high status, indicators of expertise and good past track-record in forecasting. 2) Warnings are unambiguous, salient and consistent across different types of sources (governmental and private) and when they include recommendations for feasible/low risk preventive/mitigating options compared to the risks of inaction.

10 10 Early Warning and Political Response: Key Hypotheses (2) 3) Warnings are communicated in situations when policy is not deeply ingrained financially or politically, when they are supported by lessons learnt from similar cases available in recent history and when there is little distracting noise and agenda competition. 4) Producers and consumers of warning engage with each other at an early stage in non-politicised discourse, using similar frames of reference, offering each other near-equal voice opportunities and interacting face-to-face. 5) Warnings resonate positively with the beliefs and interests of the audience. Most importantly from the perspective of individuals is the ideational fit, from the perspective of organisations the established policy-fit, and from the perspective of the media, the audience/commercial-fit.

11 Comparative and Longitudinal Research Design Comparision across cases, actors and time Selection of 12 cases based on 1) High variation on dependent variable (responding to warnings, from success to failure) 2) Moderate/high degree of European interests in country and/or involvement in preventive action 3) Spread of cases between 1990-2008 4) Three cases each from recent Enlargement round, Balkans, post-Soviet Space, and African Great Lakes region Warning-Response Discourse studied through process tracing enriched by quantitative/quantitative discourse analysis

12 Potential Recommendations For Producers of Warnings - how to establish trustworthiness in terms of expertise/track record in the eyes of different audiences - how to present ambiguity/risk/options for policy (role-taking) for different audiences For NGO / Advocates - when to go public, rather than approach decision-makers directly - how to overcome news media thresholds in order to influence For Organisations - procedures for fast-tracking and processing urgent warnings - organisational culture that encourages uncomfortable truths For Decision-makers - higher awareness of impact of own beliefs and cognitive biases - higher awareness of lower risk opportunities for preventive action

13 13 Key Questions - Identifying and measuring relatively successful cases in terms of awareness and acceptance -How good is early warning in terms of accuracy in timeliness? Can we assume quality risk forecasts? - How do scientists, think-tankers and NGOs cooperate? Is there a collaborative or competitive warning community? -What is the scope for influencing humanitarian and conventional state and organisational interests? -Has receptivity to warning increased since 1989 due to normative and technological changes and if so what impact does this have on preventive policy? - Impact of financial crisis and security concerns on warning- response discourse?

14 14 Thank you for your attention! More about Foresight at: Questions?

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