Common Core Analysis Techniques Part 1


A good analyst must command a strong working knowledge of numerous analysis techniques, including their respective strengths, weaknesses and appropriate application. While some analysis techniques are more commonly utilized than others, it is important for a good analyst to properly understand common core techniques and their applications.

Richard J. Heuer Jr. and Randolph H. Pherson identify seven common core techniques every analyst should master and utilize in their book, ‘Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis’. The seven techniques identified by Heuer and Pherson are Structured Brainstorming, Cross-Impact Matrix, Key Assumptions Check, Indicators, Analysis of Competing Hypotheses, Premortem Analysis and Structured Self-Critique and ‘What If Analysis’. In this blog post we will explore Structured Brainstorming, Cross-Impact Matrix, Key Assumption Check and Indicators.

A good analyst must command a strong working knowledge of numerous analysis techniques, including their respective strengths, weaknesses and appropriate application. While some analysis techniques are more commonly utilized than others, it is important for a good analyst to properly understand common core techniques and their applications.

Richard J. Heuer Jr. and Randolph H. Pherson identify seven common core techniques every analyst should master and utilize in their book, ‘Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis’. The seven techniques identified by Heuer and Pherson are Structured Brainstorming, Cross-Impact Matrix, Key Assumptions Check, Indicators, Analysis of Competing Hypotheses, Premortem Analysis and Structured Self-Critique and ‘What If Analysis’. In this blog post we will explore Structured Brainstorming, Cross-Impact Matrix, Key Assumption Check and Indicators.

Structured Brainstorming is a simple and common technique, often applied at the beginning of an analytic process to determine known relevant information amongst a group of analysts. During this process, analysts identify a list of relevant variables, driving forces, a spectrum of hypotheses, stakeholders and potential sources of additional information. A similar alternative to Structured Brainstorming is Nominal Group Techniques, which may be more applicable if Structured Brainstorming sessions become dominated by senior officials or one individual in particular.

A Cross-Impact Matrix is created once the lists of relevant variables, driving forces and stakeholders have been identified. A Cross-Impact Matrix can be used as an aid to help analysts visualize and analyze these components and their respective relationships, which are often times complex and evolving in nature. This exercise also helps analysts determine and establish a common set of facts and information.

Key Assumption Check is another commonly applied technique, which requires analyst to list all of the current working assumptions, and then thoroughly analyze each accordingly. Often times analysts must work with incomplete, incorrect, missing or purposely deceptive information and evidence, and thus must exercise a certain degree of interpretation. In order to fill in these missing gaps of information yet simultaneously exercise prudence and caution, analysts must identify and thoroughly question each interpretation and assumption.

Another common core technique is Indicators. Indicators are actions or events that can be monitored to detect or evaluate positive or negative change which occurs over a period of time. Common examples of change that warrants evaluation include, political instability, humanitarian crisis, terrorist activity and democratic reform. In order to detect and monitor change, analysts must develop an effective thorough and relevant body of indicators. Creating and developing a body of indicators is often a difficult and labor intensive process. A strong body of indicators can aid an astute analyst to prepare for likely occurring situations accordingly.

Structure Brainstorming, Cross-Impact Matrix, Key Assumption Check and Indicators are just four of the seven common core techniques, identified by Heuer and Pherson, that every analyst should master. If utilized and applied properly, these common core techniques can help analyst perform their job rationally and methodically, and ideally with greater levels of assurance and accuracy.

Pennington & Associates ltd. provides analysis support nationwide.
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