LISD Convenes Colloquium on Crisis Cataloging, Evaluation, and Prioritization in Triesenberg

The Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at Princeton University convened a colloquium, “Crisis Cataloging, Evaluation and Prioritization (CCEP),” in Triesenberg, Principality of Liechtenstein, on August 22-24, 2017. The meeting brought together representatives of the OSCE, senior governmental officials, think tank representatives, academics, policy makers, diplomats and civil society representatives. The colloquium was hosted in the style of a Princeton seminar, whereby all participants were invited and encouraged to participate and speak throughout the meeting in order to define the meanings of “crisis,” to catalogue and evaluate crises as they are currently affecting the OSCE area and its neighborhood, and to identify mechanisms through which decision makers or global leaders can prioritize an emerging or current crisis. Prof. Wolfgang Danspeckgruber, LISD Founding Director, chaired the colloquium.

On the afternoon of August 22nd, participants began Working Session I, “What Constitutes a Crisis?” with a series of keynote addresses. The addresses laid the groundwork for an opening discussion on a conference briefing packet prepared by the LISD team, which offered a “symptom list” to help identify emerging and existing crises, cataloged global hotspots of conflict and crisis, summarized themes by which crises can be categorized, and provided brief summaries of crises to be considered in the cataloging and prioritizing phase of the conference.

The following morning, participants continued the discussion started in Working Session I and focused on developing a working definition of “crisis” unanimously acceptable to participants. Key issues of debate included whether a crisis needs to be a specific event or a trend, as some participants posited trends lack the sense of urgency that the word crisis itself embodies. Additionally, the group discussed the distinction between real and perceived challenges, and whether both should feed into a notion of crisis. A number of delegates noted that omitting the notion of perceived crises would hamper future discussions on the tactical manipulation of crisis sentiment by political leaders. Another point of contention was whether the likelihood of success in addressing or mitigating a challenge should be incorporated into the notion of crisis, with some delegates contending that unsolvable or unaddressable scenarios cannot be considered crises per se. The group ended up incorporating the notion of crisis response into the working definition by broaching the idea of policy-maker response, which, in the collective view of participants, requires a combination of capabilities including: intuition, political will, and institutional capacity. Ultimately, participants concluded that:

“A crisis represents a real or perceived challenge to the sustainability of the status quo, which demands, or is perceived to demand, an urgent decision. Over time, threats and challenges can develop into negative trends that, if not addressed, can erupt into crises. The prevention of, or solution to a crisis requires the instinct, will, and capacity to do so.”

With the working definition of a crisis established in Working Session I, the foundation was set for discussion in Working Session II, “Cataloging Crises and Issues,” during which participants began listing and cataloging emerging and frozen crises, ranging in concern and scope from financial, to political, military, economic, migration-based, health, environmental, leadership, etc. Through a series of interventions from all participants, the colloquia generated a list of issues currently affecting the OSCE’s 57 states and its neighborhood, initially with no hierarchical ranking, which reflected the wide spectrum of crises perceived by participants. The task of cataloging major issues continued into Working Session III.

In a penultimate session, Working Session IV, “Evaluation and Prioritization,” the discussion focused on specific methods for evaluating crises. Certain parameters for evaluation varied across quantifiable and qualitative dimensions and included “urgency vs. importance,” geographical impact within the OSCE realm, potential impact on global and regional dynamics, and the OSCE competency to respond. The conversation also concluded that while some developments may qualify as trends rather than crises, either because of the timeline of the conflict, or because the costs are not high enough to qualify the situation as a crisis. Thresholds are perhaps mutable and debatable, and multiple layers exist.

The session also featured an activity of crisis prioritization, in real time. Participants also consulted the previously generated catalog of issues to choose the three most critical crises facing the OSCE area over the next 12 months. A vote count yielded the following three issues: (a) violent extremism; (b) migration; and (c) dialogue between the United States, Russia and Europe. Using the same methods, participants choose the three most critical crises facing the OSCE area over the next 3 years and found the following to be the most critical: (a) climate change; (b) digitilization, automation and unemployment; (c) and migration.

The colloquium closed with a final summarizing session on the morning of August 24, during which participants reflected that a more systematic approach to trends before they develop into crises would also benefit from a more comprehensive “watch-list”-approach and the development of relevant mechanisms in this regard. One summarizing reflection also noted that the discussion on prioritization demonstrated the difficulty of participants to find a consensus on the urgency of issues that require immediate action.

A Chair’s Summary of this colloquium is forthcoming from the Institute.