Beyond causing frustration and unsettling mind, the uncertainties described in chapter 1 can also undermine the ability to act collectively. Uncertainty has different manifestations. At the individual level it can be seen in the form of human insecurity.
Why has it has proven difficult to act despite clear evidence of harm to come for people, societies and the planet? When current behavior and institutions prove inadequate in a novel context of uncertainty, processes of public deliberation and social choice provide a vital space for driving change. But these processes are coming under strain amid heightening political polarization. This chapter explores two intertwined developments that can contribute to polarization and thereby to our inability to decisively act on shared challenges. First, people’s unsettledness and human insecurity can foster polarization: this chapter presents evidence that people who feel insecure trust others less and are more prone to politically extreme positions. Second, our information ecosystems are undergoing rapid change and posing new pressures on processes of public deliberation. The chapter discusses how polarization might diminish the space for effective action then suggests how we might break the hold of uncertainty on collective action.
Uncertainty is not bound to lead to negative outcomes. Chapter 5 calls attention to the potential for expanding human development in uncertain times. Such expansion is possible precisely because uncertain times provide a context where individuals and society see fundamental changes as possible or required. This chapter considers some of the new possibilities emerging from sustained technological progress, as well as those arising during severe crises. It explores the example offered by technological innovation, arguing that the context of uncertainty opens space for steering technological progress in ways that advance human development. It then looks at how the Covid-19 pandemic has widened the horizon of what we can achieve, despite some considerable failures. Amid the greatest crisis since World War II, there are examples of new possibilities compared with the pre-Covid-19 context. Uncertainty does not need to be paralyzing—there is much we can do today to ensure human thriving and flourishing, even in times of crisis and turbulence.
Enhancing human development is an open-ended process, and when new challenges emerge, there is often room for new opportunities. No country has reached a very high Human Development Index value with low pressures on the planet—symbolizing that our societies need to devise new ways of pursuing development. Navigating the uncertainty complex demands transformational change. This requires enhancing social arrangements at the level of policies and institutional arrangements and shifting societies’ social norms, beliefs and values (introduced in chapter 3 as culture).
The Report proposes a two-tier framework to respond to a dual gap in our uncertain times: the mismatch of our current social arrangements (including behavioral patterns and institutions and policies) to deliver human security to tackle people’s unsettledness and the mismatch between prevalent beliefs and values and what might be needed to navigate through the uncertainty complex.
The first tier is about what to do, with a focus on concrete transformations on three fronts: investment, insurance and innovation (figure 4).
The second tier is about how to generate the broader social and contextual conditions for change to take hold, acknowledging the role of culture as described in chapter 3 in transformation (figure 5).