Concept of structural analysis (foresight)
In strategic foresight, structural analysis consists of a technique of systems analysis, which, by allowing the detection of “hidden” relationships and decomposing the system into subsystems, can help to recognize what was otherwise not perceptible.
Objectives of structural analysis
The objectives of the structural analysis are as follows:
- highlight the hidden effects and decompose the system into groups of variables and subsystems;
- detect key system variables;
- to help a team, usually heterogeneous in terms of interests and competencies, if not ideologically, to have a systemic and common vision of the problem under study;
- to control certain kind of spontaneous analyzes proposed by certain groups with a tendency to favour emblematic factors.
Structural analysis and scenario method
Structural analysis, even if used alone and not as one of the stages of the method of the scenarios, is very important to have a global and systemic view of a given reality; being one of the instruments most frequently used in prospects constitutes a “precious” element in the structuring of ideas and in the decomplexification of the reality under study.
Stages of structural analysis
The structural analysis consists of the following steps:
- survey/identification of all variables and key actors in the system, internal (endogenous) or external (exogenous);
- retrospective analysis (of its past evolution) and the current system, in order to identify the agents of change, that is, the factors bearing the future;
- review of the preliminary listing of variables and actors and begins the elaboration of a matrix of structural analysis, crossing the variables to identify the influence of each one on the others (in terms of their “motricity” and dependence) and identifying the key variables (explanatory, liaison, result or autonomous).
The identification of the components of the system in question, not only of the current variables but also of the potential ones (which are already emerging but whose effects are not yet possible to measure), allows not only an exhaustive description of the system, associated to the problematic in question , how to treat variables not only quantitative as qualitative, internal and external to the system.
In studies of planning, this step proved to be very important. Since this stage is an excellent tool in the structuring and organization of ideas, special attention must be given to team building: it involves a multidisciplinary team and the active participation of all its elements. When filling the matrix, all elements are questioned, in order to justify the relation (s) detected among the various components of the system.
In structural analysis, what matters is not so much the analysis itself but the whole process that sets it in motion, the appropriation by the work group, a whole process of learning.
Relationship between structural analysis, strategic stakeholder analysis and scenario method
It is possible to interconnect structural analysis, strategic analysis of actors and the method of the scenarios, both being methodologies, an integral part of the same reality – the prospective analysis.
It is possible to enrich the results of the structural analysis if we involve and appeal to the participation of the actors in the census of the variables of the system. It will not be reasonable for the social actors to complete the structural analysis matrix, since it would not be effective, however, to constitute a panel of actors and to call for their collaboration in identifying the variables that seem to be the most important, it may be a way for the team to confront and evaluate their census.
Later, not only the “structural analysis”, but also the methodology of analysis of the actors’ strategy, two of the stages of the Scenarios Method, as instruments that can contribute to a greater participation by the social actors and (or) as support to decision making.