The Strategic Foresight Initiative (SFI) develops actionable foresight by identifying and assessing long-term, emerging global trends; connecting them to current challenges to inform policy and draw implications for strategy, and designing innovative strategies to reach desired future scenarios. The Initiative, which strives to forge greater collaboration on futures analysis among its main partners around the world, has rapidly become a hub for an expanding international community of global trends, foresight, technology experts, strategists, and planners.

The initiative’s key analytic areas include:

Global Trends: analyzing and tracking the key global trends and interconnected risks that will shape the next two decades, addressing issues such as the water-food-energy nexus, individual empowerment, the diffusion of power, and the rise of the global middle class;

The Future of Technology: evaluating disruptive technologies that will drive the global operating environment to develop strategy recommendations for governments and businesses to succeed amidst such changes;

Urbanization: discerning insights from key urbanization trends to develop near-term strategy recommendations to tackle the multiple security, political, economic, and social challenges cities and nations will face in the future.

Key Projects

Future of America's Technological Leadership

Global Risks Assessment Project with Zurich Insurance

The globalization of value chains, greater financial integration, rapid urbanization, and the pervasiveness of the Internet have accelerated worldwide economic growth in the last few decades. Unfortunately, these developments have also the potential to significantly increase the vulnerability of our societies to external shocks and global crises. An obvious example is the recent financial crisis, which resulted in the destruction of wealth and long-term growth prospects. Over 2015 and 2016, this project will address these unsustainable developments to better understand the relationship of risk to economic growth. In the first year, using quantitative and qualitative frameworks, the group is assessing the impact of accumulated downside cyber risks on upside opportunities for economic growth. In the second year, the team will evaluate the impacts of geopolitical and demographic risks. This project is a collaboration between the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security's Strategic Foresight Initiative and Cyber Statecraft Initiative and the University of Denver's Pardee Center on International Futures with generous support from Zurich Insurance.

A Transatlantic Partnership for the Global Future

The Transatlantic Partnership for the Global Future brings together experts from government, business, academia, and the science and technology communities to address critical global challenges and assess their effects on the future of transatlantic relations. The Partnership is a collaboration between the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security's Strategic Foresight Initiative and the Government of Sweden. Together, we seek to make foresight actionable by connecting long-term trends to current challenges to inform policy and strategy choices.

Big Data, Bad Actors

Big Data, Bad Actors” is a collaborative series between the Atlantic Council and Thomson Reuters that seeks to better understand how Big Data is disrupting existing national security strategies and foreign policy. This project will focus on important topics such as cross-border data flows, combating insider threats, how new technologies can empower bad actors, and how to address illicit financial flows. By investigating this disruption, the Atlantic Council and Thomson Reuters hope to discover innovative ways for reducing risk to governments and their citizens.

The Future of Authoritarianism

Determining an appropriate strategy for outsiders to follow in advancing human rights and assisting nonviolent civil resistance movements across the world is one of the most challenging policy dilemmas for the United States and other democracies. Through our work, we aim to assess the possibilities and modalities for influencing the development of nonviolent civil society in authoritarian political systems so as to hasten the nonviolent transformation of authoritarian regimes. This project is being led by Maria J. Stephan, senior fellow, United States Institute of Peace, and SFI Director Mathew Burrows.

Past Projects

Urban World 2030

By 2050, more than 6 billion people – 70% of the world's population – will live in cities. The urbanization of our species could have enormous benefits if the world's cities are made secure, economically productive, socially inclusive, and environmentally sustainable and resilient. But there are no guarantees. In order to shape an emerging global dialogue on urbanization, in 2012 the Atlantic Council launched a project focused on deepening engagement between the world's foreign and security policymakers and urban specialists. Titled Urban World 2030, this project brings together influential thought leaders, foreign and security policymakers, industry leaders, media representatives, urbanists, development experts, environmentalists, and scientists and technologists. The Council has built a working group composed of over 150 people representing all of these sectors. This group hosts workshops and events featuring senior officials from the US and foreign governments, the World Bank and regional development banks, the OECD, research and scientific institutions, major non-profit organizations, and advanced technology companies. This diverse set of actors and themes make the Urban World 2030 project a truly innovative effort in Washington, DC and elsewhere.

US-Russia 2035: Mapping a Global Future

The US-Russia 2035: Mapping the Global Future project seeks to assess the global trends and challenges that the United States and Russia will face in the next twenty years. International security and global prosperity will face a broad range of challenges, and while their nature cannot be predicted, identifying key global trends and potential strategic shocks provides a foundation for developing strategies to manage potential discontinuities and disruptive change. The US and Russia, though currently facing the worst crisis in their bilateral relations since the end of the Cold War, will still need to work together in the future to overcome these global challenges. This project is a collaboration between the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security's Strategic Foresight Initiative and the Institute for World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), Moscow's leading think tank.

Emerging Technologies and Society

The Emerging Technologies and Society project is a collaboration between Singapore's Risk Assessment Horizon Scanning Programme Office (RPO) in the National Security Coordination Secretariat (NSCS) and the Atlantic Council Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security's Strategic Foresight Initiative (SFI). Initiated by RPO, the project focuses on the political, economic, and societal impacts of significant innovations arising from the science and technology fields. Through a series of meetings with leading researchers and private enterprises in the Silicon Valley, the project explores topics ranging from ubiquitous robotics and its impact on human capital developments, to algorithmic risk, quantum computing, and their challenges to national security.

US-China Joint Assessment Project

Supported by the China-United States Exchange Foundation, the Atlantic Council's Strategic Foresight Initiative has partnered with the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) under the Chinese Foreign Ministry to engage in a joint assessment of long-term global trends and their implications for the China-United States relationship. This joint assessment was based on separate Chinese and US global trends assessments. The US side based its assessment on the US National Intelligence Council's Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report, which the Atlantic Council helped to prepare, and the Chinese side on a 2030 analysis initiated at Peking University. The two sides agreed on the key trends and their implications and looked at various scenarios of how these trends could play out over the next two decades. They concluded that any hopeful global scenario can only be realized if there is close cooperation between China and the United States. The joint report China-United States Cooperation: Key to Global Future was released in Washington September 2013 and in Beijing October 2013.