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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

We live in interesting times, but scenario planning can help us make sense of the uncertainty to come.

Why it matters: Accurately predicting the future is impossible — who do you think you are, Hari Seldon? — but scenario planning can help governments and businesses prepare for the different possibilities that could be coming our way.

How it works: Scenario planning is a forecasting method that involves not making predictions per se, but "making decisions in the face of uncertainty," says Peter Schwartz, senior vice president of strategic planning at Salesforce.

  • Instead of locking in on one possible future, scenario planners develop multiple different possibilities and try to tease out how decisions made in the present can make those scenarios more or less likely to come true.
  • "It gives me guidance for making my decisions in the face of really fundamental uncertainty," says Schwartz, who has worked in the field for nearly 50 years.

Context: In September, Schwartz worked with Accenture Research and economic, policy and health experts to develop scenarios for navigating what he calls "the pandemic era."

  • The top line scenario is "the uplift": a return to robust global economic growth, assuming COVID containment improves, inflation doesn't spiral out of control, no variant worse than Delta emerges, and geopolitical tensions don't tighten.
  • Schwartz views the uplift scenario as "quite plausible" — in part because of continued progress against the pandemic — though he worries about the X-factor of inflation.

The other side: Should inflation keep rising, it could lead to a global shakeout, and possibly a recession — though even here, Schwartz and his colleagues foresee an ultimate recovery.

  • The worst scenario would involve the emergence of a more dangerous and vaccine-resistant variant, which would further disrupt supply chains and lead to a fracturing of the world into different geopolitical blocs.

The bottom line: By juggling multiple possible futures, companies, governments and even individuals can ensure they're ready for what comes — come what may.

Go deeper

Dec 26, 2021 - Health

What to expect from America's third year of COVID

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

America's third year of dealing with the pandemic is likely to start as bleak as ever, with a devastating Omicron surge for the first couple of months.

Yes, but: Experts are hopeful that once the wave of cases, hospitalizations and deaths caused by the Omicron variant ebbs, life will finally be able to more closely resemble normal.

2 hours ago - World

U.S. and NATO answer Putin in writing while bracing for Ukraine invasion

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Photo: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty

The U.S. and NATO provided Russia with written proposals on Wednesday to advance a "diplomatic path forward," even as they warned that Russia could invade Ukraine within days.

Why it matters: This is a delicate diplomatic balancing act. The U.S. and NATO want to show they're serious about diplomacy but unwilling to compromise on "core principles" — all without providing Vladimir Putin with an additional pretext for escalation.

The political leanings of the Supreme Court justices

Data: Martin-Quinn scores; Chart: Axios Visuals

The Supreme Court will continue to have a solid conservative majority even with Justice Stephen Breyer's retirement.

How to read the chart: An analysis by political scientists Andrew Martin and Kevin Quinn, known as the Martin-Quinn Score, places judges on an ideological spectrum. A lower score indicates a more liberal justice, whereas a higher score indicates a more conservative justice.

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