Morphological Analysis :: Overview :: The Quality Portal
Morphological Analysis :: Overview Click here to go to the homepage
What is it?
Developed by Fritz Zwicky of the California Institute of Technology in the late 1940s, morphological analysis (MA) is a method for structuring and investigating the total set of relationships contained in multi-dimensional, non-quantifiable, problem complexes. The method was given its first advance computer support in 1995 by Tom Ritchey, of the Swedish Defence Research Agency in Stockholm.
Why is it important?
MA makes it possible to give structure - in the form of an ordered parameter space - to highly complex problem areas which contain many disparate variables. These can involve technical, social, political and ethical issues which must be treated together in order to gain a proper perspective on the policy issues.

It is especially useful in group work and for scientific communication. It encourages the investigation of boundary conditions and it virtually compels practitioners to examine numbers of contrasting configurations and policy solutions. It can also be used as a starting point for other modeling methods such as AHP and Bayesian Network modeling.

When to use it?
When there is a need to structure and analyze complex social-technical and organizational planning issues, sometimes referred to as "wicked problems" and "social messes".
How to use it?
MA goes through cycles of analysis and synthesis, the basic method for developing scientific models. The analysis phase begins by identifying and defining the most important dimensions of the problem complex to be investigated. Each of these dimensions is then given a range of relevant values or conditions. Together, these make up the variables or parameters of the problem to be structured. A morphological field is constructed by setting the parameters against each other, in parallel columns, representing an n-dimensional configuration space. A particular constructed "field configuration" (morphotype) is designated by selecting a single value from each of the variables. This marks out a particular state or (formal) solution within the problem complex.

The next step in the analysis-synthesis process is to reduce the total set of (formally) possible configurations in the morphological field to a smaller set of internally consistent configurations representing a "solution space". This is achieved by a process of cross-consistency assessment (CCA). All of the parameter values in the morphological field are compared with one another, pair-wise, in the manner of a cross-impact matrix. As each pair of conditions is examined, a judgment is made as to whether - or to what extent - the pair can coexist, i.e. represent a consistent relationship. Note that there is no reference here to direction or causality, but only to mutual consistency. Using this technique, a typical morphological field can be reduced by up to 90 or even 99%, depending on the problem structure.

There are two principal types of inconsistencies involved: purely logical contradictions (i.e. those based on the nature of the concepts involved); and empirical constraints (i.e. relationships judged be highly improbable or implausible on empirical grounds). Normative constraints can also be applied, although these must be used with great care, and clearly designated as such.

When this solution (or outcome) space is synthesized, the resultant morphological field becomes an inference model, in which any parameter (or multiple parameters) can be selected as "input", and any others as "output". Thus, with computer support, the field can be turned into a laboratory with which one can designate initial conditions and examine alternative solutions.

Food for Thought !
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