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13 January 2022

Measuring – and forecasting – the health of the planet

An invitation to join a Millennium Project Delphi Study on the State of the Future

Assessments of individual health have been on my mind a lot recently, as I’ve observed my own physical body display less resilience in the face of stress than was the case when I was younger. (See my previous two blog posts, here and here, for the gory details.)

But alongside questions about the health of individuals, a larger set of questions loom. How is the health of global society as a whole? Are we headed toward major reversals, which could knock us collectively off course, akin to how diseases such as Covid-19 have intruded, often horribly, on individual lives?

Indeed, in any such assessment of the overall health of global society, what should we be measuring? Which factors are “symptoms” and which are closer to being “root causes”?

The Millennium Project has been addressing that subject on a regular basis since its formation in 1996. It regularly publishes updates on what it calls “The 15 global challenges” and, in a wider survey, “The State of the Future”.

What distinguishes the Millennium Project analysis from various other broadly similar enquiries is the “Delphi” method it uses to reach its conclusions. This involves an iterative online interaction between members of an extended community, who are asked their opinions on a number of questions, with the option for participants to revise their opinions if they read input from other respondents that brings new considerations to their mind.

The reason I’m mentioning this now is that a new Delphi survey is now starting, and there’s scope for a number of my acquaintances to take part. (Dear Reader: That includes you.)

This survey is being structured differently from previous years, and is using a new tool. Participants will be asked to offer estimates on 29 metrics for the year 2030 – including the best and worst potential value the indicator might have in 2030. You’ll also be asked which of the metrics are the most important (and which are the least).

To help you provide answers, the system already contains data points stretching several decades into the past.

The metrics include:

  • Income inequality (income share held by highest 10%)
  • Unemployment (% of total labour force)
  • Life expectancy at birth (years)
  • Physicians (per 1,000 people)
  • Literacy rate, adult total (% of people ages 15 and above)
  • People using safely managed drinking water services (% of population)
  • CO2-equivalent concentration in the atmosphere (ppm)
  • Energy efficiency (GDP per unit of energy use)
  • Electricity production from renewable sources (% of total)
  • Individuals using the Internet (% of population)
  • Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments (% of members)
  • Number of conflicts between different states
  • Refugee population

You won’t have to answer all the questions. Instead, you can direct your attention to the questions where you feel you have some particular insight. You can browse the other questions at a later time. And, as mentioned, you can revisit some of your earlier answers once you see comments made by other participants. Indeed, it is in the interaction between different comments where the greatest insight is likely to arise.

If you think you’d like to take part, please get in touch with me. Note that the Millennium Project will give priority to people with the following roles: professional futurists, scientists (including social scientists as well as natural scientists), policymakers, science and technology experts, advisors to government or business, members of NGOs, UN liaison, and professional consultants.

The Delphi questionnaire will remain open until 31 January, 2022. The findings of the questionnaire will feature in a London Futurists event later in the year.

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