Methodological Note

As with every Global Trends, the National Intelligence Council (NIC) seeks to innovate its approach, employ rigorous foresight methods, learn from ever more diverse perspectives, and maximize its policy relevance. We built on this tradition for the current and sixth Global Trends report by introducing several new elements to our analytic process.

    • We examined regional trends first and aggregated those assessments up to identify broader global dynamics.
    • We assessed emerging trends and their implications in two timeframes: a nearterm, five-year look that focused on issues confronting the next US administration and a long-term, 20-year projection to support US strategic planning. This is why we have dropped the year from the title.
    • We developed a new concept for thinking about geopolitical “power,” moving away from past methods that overemphasized state-based material power, such as Gross Domestic Product and military spending, to consider also nonmaterial aspects of power, such as ideas and relationships, and the rise of consequential corporations, social movements, and individuals.
    • We made extensive use of analytic simulations—employing teams of experts to represent key international actors— to explore the future trajectories for regions of the world, the international order, the security environment, and the global economy.
    • We considered the potential for discontinuities in all regions and topic areas, developing an appreciation for the types of discontinuities likely to represent fundamental shifts from the status quo. These are highlighted in the text as fictional news articles from the future.

Early on, we reviewed enduring, bipartisan US planning assumptions since 1945 to identify those most and least likely to be in tension with the emerging strategic context. These exercises helped us prioritize issues, countries, and people to visit, and manage the scope of research. Ultimately, our two-year exploration of the key trends and uncertainties took us to more than 35 countries and meetings with more than 2,500 individuals—helping us understand the trends and uncertainties as they are lived today and the likely choices elites and non-elites will make in the face of such conditions in the future. Visits with senior officials and strategists worldwide informed our understanding of the evolving strategic intent and national interests of major powers. We met and corresponded with hundreds of natural and social scientists, thought leaders, religious figures, business and industry representatives, diplomats, development experts, and women, youth, and civil society organizations around the world. We supplemented this research by soliciting feedback on our preliminary analysis through social media, at events like the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, and through traditional workshops and individual reviews of drafts.

Like previous Global Trends reports, we developed multiple scenarios to describe how the key uncertainties and emerging trends might combine to produce alternative futures. The scenarios also explore the key choices, which governments, organizations, and individuals might make in response to emerging trends that might realign current trajectories leading to opportunities to shape better futures.

Ultimately, we offer “Global Trends: Paradox of Progress” as a framework for understanding the world’s complexity and its potential for sharp, imminent discontinuities. The project reflects our own assessment of the trends and implications as professional analysts who do our best to “call them as we see them.” The judgments do not represent official US Government policy, or the coordinated position of the US intelligence community. We offer them humbly, fully recognizing the audacity of the task and that we will have made errors—all of which are ours alone. We believe, however, that sharing with the world our assessment of the near and more distant futures provides a starting point for a shared understanding of the risks and opportunities to come.