Newseum Hosts Release of NIC’s “Global Trends” Report

On Jan. 9, 2017, the Newseum hosted the release of the U.S. National Intelligence Council’s (NIC) report, “Global Trends: Paradox of Progress.” The report, first published in 1997 and released every four years following a presidential election, offers a five- and 20-year world outlook based on developments, risks and opportunities as determined by the intelligence community.

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper called the report “a framework to facilitate thinking about the future,” adding “it’s not a prediction of the future.”

Clapper noted the report is not meant to be a critique or recommendation of policy, and that it has been made available to both the current and incoming presidential administrations. Unlike many of the briefings produced by the NIC, the Global Trends Report is unclassified and meant to spark discussion among a broader group of thinkers.

Pointing to a shrinking working-age population, shifts in the global economy, disruptions by technology, challenges to current models of governance, the threat of nationalism, the changing nature of conflict, and climate change, the report’s summary states that “these trends will converge at an unprecedented pace to make governing and cooperation harder and to change the nature of power — fundamentally altering the global landscape.”

Suzanne Fry, director of the NIC Strategic Futures Group, which led the research and development of the report, delivered a summary of its key findings. “In the next five years, we will see rising tensions in and between countries as they reckon with these trends and governance shortfall,” she said, warning that inter-state conflicts could soon reach the highest level since the end of the Cold War.

This future is not “cast in stone,” said Fry, explaining that pathways to more positive futures depend on investing in resilience, including infrastructure, information and relationship. The predictions are based on research conducted in 35 countries, though sources are not published.

The report also includes analysis on the long-term effects of the changing information landscape, a topic on which Newseum President and CEO Jeffrey Herbst has recently weighed in. The report reads:

Competing silos of information and perspectives of truth and fact among proliferating influential actors are poised to complicate governments’ ability to generate compromise. A combination of factors, including growing distrust of formal institutions and the proliferation and polarization of media outlets, are driving some academics and political observers to describe the current era as one of “post-truth” or “post-factual” politics. This results in part from the growing number of individuals and agencies providing information to consumers. Whether this atmosphere continues, or people or political groups adjust to growing flows of communication and trend back toward more-balanced perspectives, will be crucial in coming years.

In addition to a presentation of the Global Trends Report’s findings, the day-long event at the Newseum also featured three panel discussions on governance, geopolitics and security, and the environment composed of thought-leaders from the academic, policy and intelligence communities.

“We believe that this unclassified and public assessment fits well with the Newseum’s mission to foster informed public discourse on important issues,” said Herbst, expanding on the Newseum’s role as host for the event. “We think that research and analysis that contributes to public understanding, and discussion of critical trends, threats and opportunities facing the world is a good thing — and newsworthy.”

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