How They Do It: Lessons Learned From Our Top Forecasters

Leah Schroeder
Mar 18, 2024 04:17PM UTC

From the thousands of forecasters globally who contributed nearly 50,000 forecasts last season–how did some of INFER’s ‘most accurate’ forecasters achieve this difficult feat?

We spoke to some of the forecasters who ranked in the top 20% of the 2023 leaderboard about how they approached the process, and what techniques they believe made their performance stand out during the season.

Exposure to Diverse Perspectives

Each of the top forecasters had one key strategy in common: getting exposure to a variety of perspectives. Being aware of other perspectives outside of their own, allowed them to practice open mindedness, a quality that tends to make people better at forecasting (Wharton).

INFER Pro Forecaster @ScottEastman, a geopolitical consultant from the US based in Romania, said that meeting and working with people from different backgrounds, with varying levels of education, and in different locations, has informed his forecasting.

“It gives me more of a view of how a completely different background changes the way people think, really for the rest of their lives,” he said.

While other top forecasters credited a diverse circle of colleagues or friends for helping to shape their perspective, fellow forecasters seemed to have the most direct influence on honing forecasting skill on INFER.

INFER Pro Forecaster @Sebawi, a Research Analyst for Strategy& in Germany said that other forecasters on the site provide helpful sources, ideas, and opinions. “In the end, it's collaboration. We help each other present good information and good rationales. I know if [the people I follow] come up with new information that they deem important, then I really have to consider if that’s crucial.”

Executive Officer of Effective Altruism Finland @Sanyero, who leads one of the most accurate teams of non-pro forecasters on INFER, also recognized the importance of collaboration and how forecasting as a team can improve collective ability. He and his fellow team members have a group chat where they regularly share theories, news, and information.

Confronting Biases

Practicing open mindedness goes hand in hand with strengthening one’s ability to identify and discern bias.  Top forecasters noted it’s critical to look out for and confront personal and source biases that can creep up in forecasting.

Top forecaster @DippySkippy, who works in high-value philanthropy investing in London, has a technique he refers to as the “ultimate de-biasing test.” He forecasts on what he doesn’t want to have happen by betting on his favorite soccer team to lose. “A key thing with forecasting is understanding that your personal beliefs count for absolutely nothing,” he said.

@ScottEastman agreed: “My view doesn't count and all that matters is what is going to happen, so I generally start a question looking at it and identifying my bias and then trying to mitigate it,” such as by seeking out alternative sources that oppose his own beliefs, or looking at others’ differing perspectives.

“Over the years, I'm exposed to so many top level forecasters both in INFER and other forecasting efforts at the professional level. Even if I have a bias, if I have misinformation, or information that is skewed, there's probably going to be somebody attacking it from another side. That's really helpful to keep us more grounded,” @ScottEastman said.

Forecasting for an Impact

The top forecasters were all united in their desire to make an impact through forecasting. While this sole desire may not necessarily have contributed to better forecasting, it served as an incentive to continue to practice and improve the craft.

@Sanyero and his team of forecasters went so far as to contribute rewards they earned through INFER to charitable organizations associated with effective altruism (EA), a movement which many forecasters on INFER are a part of that seeks to solve the world’s most pressing problems.

Among the global challenges that forecasters like @Sebawi seek to address is fake news. @Sebawi sees crowd forecasting as a vehicle for combating the dangers of misinformation by supporting truthful information and rational discussion.

It’s for a similar reason that @DippySkippy would like to see forecasting grow from “niche to mainstream.” Ideally, having a larger, more diverse forecasting community can serve as an objective source of information for policymakers: “I want to show that regular people can forecast accurately and, therefore, be of great value to stakeholders. Part of this involves the forecasting community becoming more attractive to more people. For example, you do not need a PhD or an MA/BA to mix original thought with data.”

The motivation to help policymakers make better decisions is one popular reason that forecasters participate on INFER, but it’s an even higher priority for many of the top forecasters. Living in the neighboring country of Romania, @ScottEastman has been closely following the war between Russia and Ukraine, and his dedication to forecasting has less to do with the score, and more with what’s at stake.

“One of the areas that has inspired me with INFER is that I know that our forecast and our analysis does make it up to people that make decisions,” he said. “I want to be able to impact policy decisions in areas that I think are critical to hopefully avoiding war, ending wars more quickly, or improv[ing] people's lives.”

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