Morphological analysis aims to explore possible futures
Morphological analysis aims to explore possible futures in a systematic way by studying all the combinations resulting from the breakdown of a system.
The aim of morphological analysis is to highlight new procedures or products in both technological forecasting and scenario building.
Description of the method
Morphological analysis is the oldest of the techniques presented in this toolbox.
In fact, it was first developed by the American researcher F. Zwicky during the Second World War. Morphological analysis is implemented by MORPHOL software and comprises two phases :
• Phase 1 : Building a morphological space
In this first phase, the system or function under examination is broken down into subsystems or components. In this breakdown of the system, the choice of components is critical and requires considerable thought which can be based on results of the structural analysis. Initially, the components must be as independent as possible. They must also represent the whole system.
Too many components prevent a clear analysis ; conversely, too few make for an oversimplified analysis. Obviously workable compromise must be found. Each component can take on several configurations. In the example of global scenarios for which the morphological analysis grid is presented opposite, a given scenario is characterised by the choice of a specific configuration for each of the components.
There are as many possible scenarios as there are combinations of configurations. All these combinations represent the field of possibles, still called the morphological space. The morphological space presented, composed of 7 components ; each having between three and four configurations, enables one to identify a large number of possible combinations, 2,916 to be exact, that is the product of the number of configurations (3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 4). Morphological space tends to expand very quickly, a relatively common occurrence in exploratory prospective, so there is a risk of being swamped by the sheer number of combinations.
• Phase 2 : Reduction of morphological space
However, certain combinations and even certain families of combinations are unfeasible, e.g., incompatibility between configurations. The second phase, therefore, consists in reducing the initial morphological space to a useful subspace, by introducing exclusion factors or selection of criteria economic, technical..., from which the relevant combinations can be examined.
Usefulness and limitations
The areas of application of morphological analysis are many : exploratory scenario building and all areas of innovation and search for new ideas.
Although the method has been used primarily in technological forecasting, it lends itself well to the construction of scenarios, in which the demographic, economic, technical and social dimensions (components) can be characterized by a certain number of possible states (hypotheses or configurations). A scenario thus becomes nothing more than a route, a combination bringing together a configuration for each component.
Morphological analysis stimulates the imagination and enables one to scan the field of possibilities systematically.
To avoid being swamped by the combinations, one must learn to navigate through morphological space using the selection criteria provided by MORPHOL software.
The first limitation of morphological analysis stems from the choice of components. By leaving out a component or simply a configuration that is essential for the future, one runs the risk of leaving out one complete facet from the range of possibles - a range which is not restricted but evolves through time.
The second limitation, of course, stems from the sheer bulk of combinations which can rapidly submerge the user. One of the solutions, as we have seen, is to introduce selection criteria, constraints such as exclusion or preference factors, and to exploit the useful morphological subspace.
Morphological analysis is a fairly simple method to implement but the scale of possible combinations can give rise to a degree of apprehension. This fear explains why morphological analysis is not in widespread use.
Yet, the simplicity of the method and the availability of MORPHOL software have encouraged its use for some years now. There is a good chance that interest in the method will grow in the years to come, especially in global scenario building where morphological analysis provides a pretty exhaustive scanning process for possible scenarios.
To know more about the method MORPHOL :