For the last few months I’ve been doing some work for the UK Government Office for Science, and in particular their Foresight team. The Foresight team are charged with looking into the future to assess what issues will be important in the future. In recent years they’ve produced research into areas as diverse as food and farming and algorithmic trading.
The team are part of a rich heritage of crystal ball gazers in the UK. The country was until recently officially the most forward-looking country on the planet, according to research conducted by the University of Warwick. That all changed in their 2012 index however, when traditional arch rivals Germany knocked us from our perch.
The Future-Orientation Index is the work of Tobias Preis of the University of Warwick Business School and Helen Susannah Moat of University College London. Preis, Moat, and colleagues began the annual rankings in 2012 in Scientific Reports.
They determined the rankings by analysing Google searches during the year. Their method was a simple one. They were comparing the number of searches for next year compared to the previous one. So the 2012 index was calculated by determing the ratio of searches for 2013 compared to 2011.
The method may be a simple one, but it appears to have merit. For instance previous research has shown that countries where many search for forward thinking things, also tend to have higher per-capita GDP.
“In general we find a strong tendency for countries in which Google users enquire more about the future to exhibit a larger per capita GDP,” says Preis, associate professor of behavioral science and finance at Warwick Business School.
It’s perhaps not that surprising that we did well in last years index as no doubt many people were searching for the 2012 Olympics. Poland and Ukraine also enjoyed a similar effect because the two nations hosted the European Football Championships in 2012.
It’s possible therefore that Germany is top dog this year because of the level of interest in the elections being held this year.
If rankings are so reliant on temporary events, it does beg the question of just how reliable these rankings are in determining anything substantial about the forward looking nature of a particular country. After all, whilst searches for the Olympics are nice, I doubt they do much to add to the innovative behaviour exhibited across the nation.