A note from ERI Executive Leadership
Looking Forward after Another Year of Uncertainty
Every September, since we began putting together a Strategic Intelligence Estimate (SIE) ahead of the new year, we have debated internally whether it is worth the effort. And this year was different only in that we had to take a very hard look at what our internal capacity would allow, as we grappled with rapid growth and training a large cadre of new staff. Ultimately, we have always decided there is great value in building this compendium of work for our clients – and for our analysts. It is both a prospective and retrospective piece of work, with much thought given to just how much the echoes of the previous year – and years – will affect the coming months, as well as a chance to question what new challenges and opportunities the world will face. As analysts, this helps us build a strategic mindset about the coming year. And as a business, it helps us plan for what is on the horizon. We hope it serves the same dual purpose for our clients.
This year we look at “The Sputtering Global Recovery” largely from a thematic perspective, rather than zeroing in on specific countries or regions in individual pieces. This allows us to thread together recurrent themes globally – and most importantly – outline their interdependency and integration with other problems – and solutions.
Recognizing the Role of Companies in Change and Uncertainty
The focus of the annual SIE is nearly always about how external global events will impact the company, government or organization it is written for in the coming years. While this is an important point of view, this limited perspective focuses too much on that entity as a passive player in global events, when it is anything but. In fact, our clients, companies and multilateral organizations, have broad influence on global events. Their actions, products, technologies and growth contribute to global challenges, as well as being a major part of solutions to these problems. Consider the race to find a vaccine for COVID-19. This, and the speed at which it was accomplished, was an impossible feat without private sector involvement, offering a shining example of what can be accomplished when interdependent groups – public and private – collaborate. Then, look at the roles traditional and social media have played in fomenting global change, both their positive contributions and downsides. This year, we encouraged our analysts to think about the role of business and business decision-makers in global events. While we have still taken in how the world is changing and how it will affect business, we have also focused on the impact of business on the world around it. At the heart of this is a look at global complexity and the power of global business to affect outcomes, both good and bad, and what is at stake in an era of rapid global change and near constant uncertainty.
Diversity of Thought
This year, we have also integrated several outside voices into the product to diversify the perspectives we offer. Within these pages, you’ll see not only the thoughts of our analysts and leaders, but also those of White House Correspondent and author Paul Brandus, who gives us his perspective on Washington DC’s orientation to the world this year; disinformation expert and technology CEO Doowan Lee, with a look ahead at where disinformation will affect us most; an outlook on cyber-regulation from Foreign Policy contributor Jill Kastner; and thoughts on how different ways of thinking could improve intelligence outcomes from author, analyst and former Deputy Director for Analysis at CIA Carmen Medina and neuroscientist Julia Mossbridge, thoughts on new ways of thinking about intelligence questions. Not all these experts’ assessments and ideas will necessarily line up with our own; however, we believe that the importance of bringing in new perspectives and ideas from a range of backgrounds, generations, nationalities and professions is far more valuable than an assessment that suggests that there is only one way to look at the world.
More Upheaval on the Horizon
Very few things in life have a straight upward trajectory, be it careers, political developments or economic growth and recovery. Many of our topics this year consider the coming year amidst hope for recovery – but with a tacit understanding that, where this pandemic is concerned, few things can be bet on with real certainty. However, we feel confident in saying that, even though the recovery is long, and its trajectory is at times uncertain, the world is learning from the past two years. Companies are adapting to changing circumstances quicker, contingency plans are more defined, and changes in operational tempo are slowly but surely seeing quicker and more agile adaptation. Similarly, despite inflationary concerns, the economy is likely to continue its upward trajectory, if with a few bumps along the way. Some things we’ll be keeping an eye out for include the end to most pandemic support programs in the US and abroad, calls for political change in places where pandemic measures have led to deep division or exacerbated existing ones, and emergence of additional variants that could cause further disruption.
Upheavals from other problems, some an outgrowth of the pandemic, are more likely in the coming year, however. Deepening political cleavages in the US amid redistricting, new voting laws, and a lopsided Supreme Court could bring serious political change – and accompanying unrest as the mid-term elections near. Important contests in India, the Philippines, Brazil, Hungary and France, as well as the US, are set to be accompanied by an avalanche of disinformation. Climate related disinformation will also be a concern, as the US and others expect to act to enact at least some climate commitments this coming year – to the detriment of some industries and entrenched stakeholders. Labor strains will continue to plague companies – both in the form of shortages and major strike actions – aimed at increasing wages and support for workers in essential roles. Globally, tensions will remain strained between China and the West, with geopolitical pain points like Taiwan and Hong Kong fueling persisting tension, underpinned by a global technology race and increasing competition for human and natural resources. This will fuel diplomatic and physical conflict in other parts of the world, from the South China Sea to Africa and Latin America. Meanwhile, our data, supply chains and our awareness, or lack thereof, of how data and technology transform our understanding of the world will present new challenges, risks and opportunities for growth as technology continues to develop at breakneck speed.
Making Opportunity out of Chaos
As risk intelligence professionals – always focused on challenges with the intent of helping our organizations address them – one of our frequent thought bubbles when it comes to our SIE process is that it is largely an exercise in negative thinking. Yet we know that all that happens next year will not be negative. We hope that as you page through this assessment, you’ll also be able to identify where seismic shifts in our world the last several years might yet create opportunities for positive change as you consider how to advise your own audience over the coming weeks and months.
Our SIE for 2022
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be releasing our SIE articles one-by-one. Our subscribers will receive each article by email, and they will also be accessible inside our portal, the Emergent Risk Situation Room™. If you are not a subscriber to ERI, you can also access these articles on our website. A full compendium of the SIE will be available for download at the end of January and will be mailed to our clients. Here is what we have in store, with our first article, The View from Washington: A White House Correspondent’s Perspective, to be released this week.