The BBC reported this morning that economists are not the only people having trouble forecasting the future. Apparently we can forget the ‘barbecue summer’ we were promised earlier in the year, and look forward to ‘unsettled weather’ through much of August. According to this morning’s report, “this news will raise questions about the Met Office’s ability to make reliable seasonal forecasts.”
Of course, the Met Office have got it wrong before (most notably before the 1987 hurricane), but lets give them a break this time. The reason why so many of us are holidaying at home this year is because cash is tight – not because we were all convinced that the UK will resemble the Costa del Sol during the next 4 weeks.
My tenuous link to a wider political issue is about the rights and wrongs of prediction. We are ourselves engaged in a degree of forward thinking about the challenges and opportunities that will shape public services ten years from now. Some things we are fairly sure about – that we will be a more diverse, sophisticated and demanding citizenry, for example. But in scoping the fiscal landscape, or reflecting on how new technology might reshape public service delivery, we can be far less certain.
There is little we can do about this. We can (and we do) ask the experts – but the experts largely failed to predict the global financial crisis, and the experts didn’t see the rain coming this summer. So perhaps the answer is to go back to the source.
We want public services and a political system that reflects the needs of our citizens, and that enables them to become resilient, capable, productive and social people (amongst other things). So we need to think about how to service these aims, but arguably more important are the means through which citizens themselves can hold their public services and their political representatives to account. Less prescription; more responsiveness, consultation and accountability.
Through our wet and windy August I will be reflecting on these aims, and the wise words of Gazza – “I never predict anything, and I never will do.”