Monday, November 2, 2015

Morphological Analysis (Rating 3.5 out of 5 Stars as a Method; 4.25 out of 5 stars as a Modifier)

Note: This post represents the synthesis of the thoughts, procedures and experiences of others as represented in the  articles read in advance (see previous posts) and the discussion among the students and instructor during the Advanced Analytic Techniques class at Mercyhurst University in November 2015 regarding Morphological Analysis as an Analytic Technique specifically. This technique was evaluated based on its overall validity, simplicity, flexibility and its ability to effectively use unstructured data.

Morphological Analysis (MA) can be used as either a methodology or a modifier. According to Fritz Zwicky, the developer of Morphological Analysis, this is a method for structuring and investigating the relationships between components and dimensions of a complex problem. This methodology allows an analyst to eliminate potential relationships due to inconsistencies between components. A less-structured version of MA can be used as a modifier through idea generation, mental modelling, or brainstorming (Refer to Structured Analytic Techniques for Analysis by Heuer and Pherson).

  • Helps identify low probability-high impact scenarios
  • Can weigh and consider many variables and scenarios
  • Identifies intelligence gaps and helps form the intelligence collection plan
  • Leaves an audit trail about how judgments are reached
  • Can be used for idea generation, mental modelling, or brainstorming
  • Can generate scenarios either intuitively or through quantifiable software
  • Highly flexible, can be used in a variety of fields
  • Can be updated and adjusted with new information
  • Reduces the chance events will play out in a way that the analysts has not previously imagined

  • It has potential for personal bias to affect the matrix
  • The structure could inhibit free thinking
  • When used as a method, there is a high difficulty in determining a definitive estimate
  • Can generate too many possibilities that may distract analyst
  • An exhaustive approach will quickly grow to involve a large number of scenarios, requiring computer assistance
  • When used as a modifier, there is not a large amount of support in the literature

  • Step 1: Determine the objective or situation that needs to be analyzed or defined
  • Step 2: Identify and properly define the dimensions of the problem – that is to say, the relevant issues involved.
    • List the things about the situation that can be varied or changed in some way. Select a subset of two to six variables to investigate further. These will normally be significant parts of the situation
  • Step 3: For each issue (parameter), a spectrum of “values” must be defined. These values represent possible, relevant states or conditions that each parameter can assume.
    • Reduce the total set of (formally) possible configurations in the problem space to a smaller set of internally consistent configurations representing a “solution space”.
    • Evaluate the solution space to assess relative probabilities of the remaining scenarios.
    • In an idea generation modifier of this technique, plotting the criteria and the corresponding situations is the primary step. Then, visually matching the corresponding scenarios can assist in discovering new ideas and assist in further analysis.

Personal Application of Technique:
For the in-class exercise, a less-structured version of MA was used as an idea generation technique. A PowerPoint presentation was produced defining Morphological Analysis, application, value and included instructions for the class exercise. For the class exercise, all students were paired up into groups of two and worked together on Google Docs. A matrix on Google Docs was constructed with predefined dimensions: Group, Type of Attack, Target, and Impact. The scenario the groups explored was: A Terrorist Attack in Erie. Each group filled out the matrix with criteria matching the dimensions. The second step involves generating scenarios, intelligence gaps and low-probability high-impact events based upon on the ideas generated within the matrix. Each category in the second step was separated to give room for the groups to type out their answers.

For Additional Information:
Ritchey, T. (1998). General Morphological Analysis. Swedish Morphological Society. Retrieved from:

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