Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Summary of Findings: Free Association (1.5 Stars Out of 5)

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 September 2017 regarding Free Association as an Analytic Technique Modifier specifically. This technique was evaluated based on its overall validity, simplicity, flexibility and its ability to effectively use unstructured data.

Free association is a technique used in psychoanalytic therapy to help patients learn more about what they are thinking and feeling. Within intelligence analysis, it is limited to idea generation activities where it can be a stand alone modifier or used in conjunction with other idea generation techniques such as Nominal Group Technique. While it likely is successful in helping generate more ideas, there is limited evidence to suggest that the ideas are better or improve forecasting accuracy. The technique also has application when attempting to map out lexical knowledge regarding a number of words that can be used to visually map out word associations.

  • Useful as a divergent thinking technique when solving for ill-structured problems
  • Powerful as a lateral thinking tool to create new avenues for analysis
  • It has applicability to a large number of fields
  • Can be helpful for brainstorming and Nominal Group Technique
  • Can visually map out associations of common words in a region or culture
  • Provides a mental model that helps streamline undiscovered nodes
  • Does not show the strength of the relationship between two words, only the presence of a relationship
  • At times the questions asked from the analyst can lead to answers the analyst desires
  • Does not produce an estimate, it is more of a modifier
  • Is mainly a divergent thinking technique; does not use convergent thinking which is needed for an accurate analysis
  • Limited quantitative evidence of technique quality or validity
  • It depends on the participant’s willingness to be fully vested in the process
  • Interpretation can be constrained by tact, timing, or ambiguity of the process

  1. Decide on the generic, ill-defined problem or concept for the participant(s) to discuss.
  2. Gather participants and design how participants will respond and the manner in which results will be interpreted
  3. Arrange results into a data set displaying the number of times each response was associated to the initial word or words
  4. Utilize the data to visually display the relationship between the initial words and the participant’s responses, although a visual map is not required

Application of Technique:
The class received handouts with three questions after being divided into two groups. The first group (Control group) was asked to think as a 9 to 14 year old. The second group (experiment group) was instructed to think according to their actual ages. The first question was to think of a positive adjective that began with the first letter of our first names and what event or act was associated with that adjective. The second question was to think of a negative adjective also beginning with the first letter of our first names with an event or act associated with it. After writing down the answers, members of Group 1 exchanged answers with members of Group 2 and discussed their answers. Group 2’s words were interpreted by Group 1 to expand upon Group 2’s initial thought process.

For Further Information:

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