Friday, October 30, 2015

Nuclear Facilities and Sabotage: Using Morphological Analysis as a Scenario and Strategy Development Laboratory

By Tom Ritchey (Swedish National Defense Research Agency)


The study defines morphological analysis as “Morphological analysis (MA), pioneered by Fritz Zwicky in the 1930s and 40s, is a method for investigating the totality of relationships contained in multi-dimensional, non-quantifiable problem complexes”. Author argues that modelling complex socio-technical systems and developing threat scenarios comes with different methodological challenges such as the unquantifiable nature of factors, inherent irreducible uncertainties, and not enabling nature for tracing iteration of study (complex situations which is hard to reproduce the same process or results). The study suggests that MA may overcome these challenges by structuring and analyzing multi-dimensional technical, social and political problem complexes, which do not lend themselves to quantification. It can be used for developing scenarios, for defining and analyzing complex policy spaces and for assessing the relationship between ends and means in strategic planning.
MA goes through cycles of analysis and synthesis in a number of iterative steps. The iterative steps are:
Analysis phase: Define the problem complex in terms of variables and variable conditions.
Step 1: Identify the dimensions, parameters or variables, which best define the essential nature of the problem complex or scenario.
Step 2: For each variable, define a range of relevant, discrete values or conditions, which the variable can express.
The variable and variable-condition matrix is the morphological field -- an n-dimensional configuration space, which implicitly contains an outcome space for the problem complex thus defined. This outcome (or solution) space must then be defined.
Synthesis phase: Link variables and synthesize an outcome space.
Step 3: Assess the internal consistency of all pairs of variable conditions, identifying all inconsistent or contradictory pairs.
Step 4: Synthesize an internally consistent outcome space.
Step 5: Iterate the process if necessary.
In order to show these steps in application the author presents an example that assesses a nuclear plot scenario in Sweden. The author suggests that it is advantageous to develop two complementary morphological fields or laboratories: e.g. one which systematically maps out ranges of possible scenarios, based on factors which cannot be directly controlled and which put demands on the organization in question (i.e. an "external world" field); and one in which they map out alternative strategies, depending on variables which can, more or less, be controlled by the organization (i.e. an "internal world" or strategy field).
Figure 1: Segment of the “demand-field” linked to a “dirty bomb” scenario. The configuration cluster shown here is for the first time-step in the scenario: “Theft of radioactive material reported”. 

Figure 2: Scenarios linked to preparedness resource field. 


The method enables the analyst to take into consideration many variables at one time. They have already computerized it in Sweden as you see in the pictures. What the author did in this study is to lay out possible scenarios and counter-actions,and  internal demands to deal with that danger. I don't have any issue with that. However, complex phases and individual mistakes/biases while generating options or counter-measures to thriving events may compromise the success at the end. Therefore, I think, it requires some expertise to some extent to be able to conduct MA.



  1. I like that you posted the computerized charts to help visualize the process. You mentioned that, in your opinion, it would be advantageous to use experts in MA. Did this particular study use experts?

    1. Yes Katie, this study was created by experts as author said "This work was carried out in 8 workshops held in Stockholm during a six month period in 2002-2003. SKI (Swedish Nuclear Power Inspectorate) participated in the workshops with 6-7 subject specialists, who developed the laboratories with the help of two senior morphologists from FOI (The Swedish Defence Research Agency).

  2. I really liked the way you simplified the article, and the source you found your article on. I explored in depth, as our team is responsible for the exercise this week, and I most definitely agree with your critique that a facilitator is necessary to run MA. Likewise, I would add that some kind of software is necessary as well. MA is extremely complex and for entry and mid-level analysts, quadrant crunching or multiple scenarios generation is a better tool to use due to the simplicity of the two methods.

    1. I agree with you Oleg and Osman, it seems that this technique may not be a tool that resides in your tool box and you may want to use it as you want. This is something that may require you to devote your whole professional life to apply it professionally and correctly; at least until someone demonstrates the most basic and still highly useful application of it.

  3. I agree with the idea that it expertise is necessary to conduct this technique. Furthermore, from my point of view, practice also necessary to better conduct this technique because it is not quite intuitive.