Situational Assessments: An Introduction

The Consilience Project’s Situational Assessments focus on consequential current events occurring around the world, providing a clear overview of the topic alongside deep insight and analysis. They address discrete topics of significance, such as deurbanization in America, secularism in France, or China’s influence in East Africa. The ultimate goal of a Situational Assessment is to contribute meaningfully to the collective effort that underlies the public capacity to make sense of the world.

Each Situational Assessment identifies all of the relevant facts and perspectives, places them within the appropriate contexts, and outlines the theoretical models that explain why and how certain things happen or do not happen. Importantly, the focus is not to develop theory in itself, but to use predictive and replicable theory—described in linked Foundations pieces—to explain current and historical events. Through the explicit application of theory and epistemics, each Situational Assessment is a stand-alone lesson, in addition to the knowledge and insight provided on a specific topic. Each piece aims to give the reader enough raw information to be adequately informed on a topic; in addition, it seeks to provide a dynamic understanding of the factors involved, which can be applied independently to past, present, or future situations. Situational Assessments present a view of world events that generates a clear understanding of how the social theory explored in the Foundations series is manifesting in reality. In some cases, the assessments will shed light upon the fundamental nature of the current institutional decay and emerging catastrophic risks that we face. When a Situational Assessment addresses a topic that is publicly polarized, we will produce a MetaNews analysis to explain the motives and biases of those reporting on events and detail how the narrative fragmentation occurred.

The first and most important consideration of every Situational Assessment is to determine which topic should be assessed and why. While recency or popularity can sometimes provide a reason to investigate a topic, the most important aspects from a sensemaking perspective are frequently not those that are most prominent in popular consciousness. Topics for Situational Assessments are therefore selected on the basis that they will help to generate the most comprehensive understanding of the world—and not simply because they are happening now.

Every Situational Assessment identifies all the relevant facts and perspectives of a given topic and lays them out concisely for both specialist and non-specialist audiences, without sacrificing accuracy for simplicity. Much like topic selection, the selection of facts and perspectives is ultimately a holistic judgment, but it follows key heuristics. For example, two of the most important elements in outlining any situation are the individual human players and the institutional actors involved. In a Situational Assessment, the relevant backgrounds, demonstrated capabilities, and stated motivations of individuals are discussed and analyzed. While the actions and motivations of institutions can be harder to interpret, examining their founders and early histories can be the best way to explain an institution’s actual function. Even so, early achievements are about as reliable as official statements in predicting future actions; an attempt to objectively outline recent actions is often a much better way to predict future ones.

Facts are intellectually inert without appropriate context. As novel as many events may seem, we are all bound by history. Although specifically historical events are not covered by our Situational Assessments, we do address the specific historical context of each topic. This will include relevant cultural, economic, demographic, or other overarching factors that form the terrain in which individuals and institutions operate. These aspects are necessary to clarify the constraints that determine the possible outcomes of events, even as such events are ultimately driven by individual or institutional action.