Foresight Signals: Top Think Tanks ... Millennials' View of the Future ... and more

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Volume 2,
Number 5
March 8, 2016

Hot Topic: Top Think Tanks

The latest edition of the Global Go To Think Tank Index compiled by James G. McGann, senior lecturer in international studies and director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, outlines many of the pressures challenging the leading producers of policy analysis, including growing competition for attention (as well as for funding).

It is no surprise to consumers of such analysis who are already drowning in information overload that fewer long-form reports and white papers are being downloaded, let alone read or acted upon. Research reports in the form of PDF documents are disappearing just as their print counterparts have, McGann says, and even the World Bank confessed recently “that nearly one-third of their PDF reports had never been downloaded.”

Twitter, Instagram, TED talks, and Snapchat might not be the ideal methods to effect change, but social media outlets—today's and those of tomorrow—offer examples of ways to at least break into the news cycle. So McGann's annual index emphasizes innovation among the world's think tanks in areas such as use of the Internet and social media, as well as developing new paradigms for their research work.

One conclusion McGann draws about think tanks' future prospects might qualify as what journalists would call a “buried lead”: death by big data. He writes: “Big data, which involves the collection and analysis of massive amounts of information to pinpoint critical data points and trends, may render think tanks and their staffs superfluous. This new analytic capability enabled by supercomputers, maybe the think tank of the future.”

In Foresight Signals' report on the index last year, we observed the prominence of future-oriented think tanks in several categories, and the latest index similarly acknowledges futurists' work, including:

  • Brookings Institution retains the title of No. 1 think tank in the world.
  • Information Technology & Innovation Foundation is the top U.S. science and technology think tank, second globally to Germany's Max Planck Institute. ITIF was also ranked the 49th top think tank in the United States in 2015, as it was in 2014.
  • Hudson Institute moves from 31st to 30th top think tank in the United States.
  • The Millennium Project again places sixth for best new idea or paradigm; it also makes the list (42nd) for best quality assurance and integrity policies and procedures.
  • Pew Research Center is praised for its innovative Fact Tank program, “written by experts who combine the rigorous research and quality storytelling.”
  • RAND Corporation drops from seventh to eighth top think tank in the world and from sixth to seventh in the United States. Though RAND fell in most of the categories in which it is listed, it remains a multidisciplinary powerhouse.
  • Resources for the Future remains the 34th top U.S. think tank and moves up one place, to 17th, for best new idea or paradigm.
  • Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars surpasses RAND as the top think tank in transdisciplinary research and is listed as one of the “think tanks to watch.” Wilson rises from No. 10 to No. 9 worldwide, retaining the No. 5 spot among U.S. think tanks.
  • World Resources Institute retains its position from 2014 as the 15th top U.S. think tank, No. 1 in environmental policy, and No. 9 in transdisciplinary research.
  • Worldwatch Institute also retains its 2014 positions as No. 35 in the United States and No. 3 in environmental policy.

Source: 2015 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report by James G. McGann. Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, University of Pennsylvania. Note: a “Cheat Sheet” listing the top five think tanks in each ranked category is also available.

Signals: institutions, public policy, think tanks

Findings: How Youth View the Future

As each bright new generation of Americans stands poised to change the world, they seem to go through a phase in young adulthood of pessimism about the nation’s future. Now it’s the millennials who report the lowest levels of confidence—as did the Gen Xers and baby boomers in their late teens and early 20s, reports Pew Research Center.

In Pew’s November 2015 survey of Americans’ attitudes toward the government, just 37 percent of millennials said they had “a lot of confidence” in the U.S. future, compared with 45 percent of Gen Xers, 49 percent of boomers, and 56 percent of the silent generation; 20 years ago, Gen Xers were the pessimists, and 40 years ago, the boomers went through this crisis of confidence.

“This finding highlights one of the challenges of generational analysis, namely determining when differences among age cohorts are attributable to life stage rather than to a unique characteristic of a generation,” writes Pew research assistant Samantha Smith.

Reference: Beyond Distrust: How Americans View Their Government, Pew Research Center, November 15, 2015.

Signals: attitudes, demographics, generations, government, optimism, pessimism

Analysis: Preparing Tomorrow’s Workforce

When is a low unemployment rate bad news? When workers have given up for various reasons, including lacking skills to attain well-paying jobs, says workplace consultant Edward Gordon, principal of Imperial Consulting Corp.

In January, the U.S. unemployment rate was 4.9 percent, but, Gordon writes, “95 million Americans have given up looking for a job. Of these, 45 million are capable of being employed, including 6 million retirees who still want to work. Also there are 20 million people working part-time who are seeking full-time employment.”

As society and the economy have advanced technologically over the last decades, workers have not attained the high skills they need to stay employed satisfactorily, Gordon writes. And this talent gap is costly for employers with vacancies to fill. As Gordon quotes one CEO, “We're spending more money on finding good people than we ever have. What we used to do to find customers, we're now doing to find workers.”

Gordon advocates public-private partnerships that increase investment in local education and training, noting that the need for higher-level skills will only intensify in the future.

Source: “The Undereducated Workforce: Plenty of Jobs—Too Few Workers,” The Gordon Report, February 2016. Download PDF.

Signals: employment, skills, talent, training, workplace

Revival: h+ Magazine’s Future Day

Transhumanists and other fans of h+ (Humanity Plus) Magazine may have wondered at the brief suspension of publication at the end of 2015. The publishers announced on March 1 (Future Day) that h+ is in the process of reinvention as a weekly rather than daily digital journal. “Here in the early 21st century,” writes Peter Rothman, “the idea of what a magazine is or might be is a bit unclear. It seemed therefore to be time to reassess both the form and format of what we were doing and re-envision the future of h+ magazine or whatever it might become.” Details:Future Day 2016: The Return of h+ Magazine,” Humanity+ Media, March 1, 2016.

Future Day meetup in Bethesda, Maryland, with (from left): Lisa Mathias, Cindy Wagner, Sarah Warner, Jeff Cornish, Ed Cornish, and David Pearce Snyder.

Speaking of Future Day, a variety of events were held around the world on March 1 to celebrate, discuss, debate, and otherwise think ahead. Details: Future Day Events 2016.

In Memoriam: Richard Spady

Seattle futurist and business man Richard Spady, president of the Forum Foundation and founder of the Stuart C. Dodd Institute for Social Innovation, died January 10 at the age of 92.

Spady was “a social pioneer in civic communications and religious innovation,” said Jay Gary, president of the World Network of Religious Futurists, in which Spady was an active participant. “He will be remembered by his colleagues from WNRF as a committed lay leader of the United Methodist Church, the inventor of the Fast Forum(r) technique for civic education, and the patron of religious futures research undertaken by Dr. Richard Kirby, past chairman of the network.

Spady also was a longtime supporter of the World Future Society and its activities.

“Anyone who came into the orbit of Dick Spady never forgot his enthusiasm for symbolic dialogue and citizen skills,” said Gary. “WNRF is glad his work will continue by his family through the Forum Foundation and National Dialogue Network.”

Read: obituary Seattle Times, January 12, 2016.