In times of uncertainty and political fluidity the need for stability is paramount. The public is concerned over the future in degrees higher than usual. The political authorities fail usually in these cases to provide the reassurance necessary to cope with the unknown tomorrow. It is exactly in circumstances such as these that the necessity of trustworthy forecasting emerges. What, however, is accurate forecasting?
Predicting the future at tumultuous times is not unique among civilized societies. The practice existed almost at the advent of man. The difference is that the role of magicians, soothsayers and shamans is today played by communication experts, strategists and computer scientists. It is necessary for some kind of forecast to be enacted before decisions are made and initiatives for different kinds of campaigns are launched.
The issue is how accurate these predictions are and how their reliability can be assessed. Very seldom political and even economic predictions suffer the test of verification. Predictions are usually made and afterwards they are forgotten. The point is that in many cases these forecasts influence decisions that may cause economic disasters, lead people to suffer financial catastrophes, lead to wars and even be the source of social upheavals, racial genocide, human misery or produce military coups and revolutions.
It is very often the case that predictions are phrased in such a manner that their meaning is vague, multifaceted or non-committing. Expressions like “most probably,” “by most accounts,” “it is estimated,” “appears plausible” usually dominate most analyses related to events expected to unfold. However, these kind of practices undermine the seriousness of most efforts to display forecast as an endeavour able to play a major, possibly scientific, role in human affairs. In the same way, albeit, that medical diagnosis in the past was not very reliable but became so by means of scientific progress the same can be expected to happen in the future with forecast, political or otherwise.
It is not merely strong preparation (meticulous collection of data, deep knowledge of the issues, detailed analysis of events, personalities, social trends and historical precedence) that can attribute to forecast reliability and overall acceptance. Verification and control are among the first things that need to be established. There are, however, personalities around the world that earn vast amounts of money as analysts or consultants by making financial, business or political predictions although very often their words are proven wrong. Nevertheless, these people retain their reputations by demonstrating their knowledgeability. They also impress their peers and their audiences positively with their thorough and sound arguments and their comprehensive narratives. It follows that reliable predictions are not based solely on measurement and verification. They depend mainly on reputation and good standing. It follows that successful forecasting is not a scientific calling. It is much closer to an art. It relies to a major extent, apart from thorough grasp of the issues and an understanding of the facts, to a peculiar “feeling,” an intuition and foresight of what, how and when it may happen. In short, reliable political forecast relies on character, integrity and detailed knowledge.
How then qualitative political prediction can be described? It must have, in broad terms, the following characteristics:
1. It has to accept the inevitability of uncertainty. 100% full proof predictions can only be wrong.
2. The forecaster must overcome biases and work against personal stereotypes and partisan worldviews.
3. Meticulous analysis of data and expand knowledge of relevant issues.
4. Effort to view items “externally,” i.e. adding probability to make outcome more feasible. Use of Larry Summers technique to cope with “planning fallacies”: consider official commitments by doubling suggested probability and then move to a different time scale (i.e., suggestion 2 days, move to 4 days and project to 4 weeks).
5. Consider close certainty that no prediction can be valid beyond a 10-year time span. Alliances, war coalitions, technological advances, socio-political environments change rapidly within this chronological space (Britain, France, Germany, USA, communism, Islam, democracy, populism, Internet, IT, et al).
6. The forecaster should always test for alternative hypotheses and also examine contrary evidence.
7. If possible, useful to combine judgements of a group of people to calculate the “wisdom of the crowd.”
8. Decompose the problem into parts known and unknown. Tackle what is not known and expose difficulty and ignorance. Don’t deceive, explain obstacles.
9. Discern pros and cons of each policy recommendation. Don’t overlook what might contradict your core beliefs.
10. Display prudence as well as decisiveness in the way of projecting results and possible outcomes. There should be caution and moderation on the one hand as well as self-confidence and assertiveness on the other. The first builds sympathy and reliability while the second displays authority along with trust.
11. Finally, it is necessary that sudden occurrences must be taken under consideration. The Black Swan effect, albeit rare, cannot be overlooked. A Black Swan event is not simply a random unexpected happening. It is something of paramount importance with devastating effects upon the course of history. In the words of Nassim Taleb, who coined the term, a Black Swan is “a highly improbable consequential event” influencing in the long run almost everything else.