Like its sister the SWOT Analysis, the Force Field Analysis is a familiar tool to organise information to extract its insights.
The original model was developed in the 1960s by German psychologist Kurt Lewin to visualise the opposing forces inherent in any issue or situation. The analysis of these forces – both the driving forces (those promoting change) and the restraining forces (those resisting change) – helps determine an appropriate plan of action. Lewin’s original model and its methodology can be seen here. (You will need to sign-up for free access.)
It’s strictly a personal preference, but I find the Force Field Analysis is more useful than a SWOT Analysis because the situational columns help define the existing, preferred and worst mindsets or perceptions of important audiences. In turn, this helps identify the key business or communications opportunities to leverage and the business/communications issues to address. It’s also an excellent resource to develop a message house, and of course, a terrific way to start a brainstorm.
I use a variation of the Force Field Analysis model from my days at MasterCard. It re-arranges the columns to allow a team to separate and articulate the drivers and opportunities from the barriers and issues.
Notice the columns are not sequential from left to right or vice versa. The tool starts with the first column (in yellow, right) which outlines the current situation today, both good and bad and neutral. Then, the tool shifts to the far right column (in red) to outline the best realistic perception or situation, and then the far left column (in blue) to outline the worst realistic perception or situation. The operative word is realistic. It’s important not to romanticise or exaggerate both the best and worst perceptions. Simply outline the situation as objectively as possible.
Once the end and middle columns are completed, the real exercise begins. If the current situation is yellow and the worse potential situation is blue, what drivers or opportunities (green column) will prevent the worst situation from happening, if not help promote change or inspire action. If the current situation is yellow) and the best potential situation is red, what barriers or issues will prevent the best situation from happening. The final step is then sorting, organising and prioritising the barriers/issues and drivers/opportunities so the appropriate action can be taken.
Instructions, Part 1: Completing the Model
- Hang five flipchart pages on a wall, or create five columns on a large page of paper in front of you. See either graphic to check order of columns.
- Using the conclusions of your research or information gathering, begin adding data to each column.
- Use bullet points as you add information to each column. You’ll find it easier to analyse each individual point when moving between columns.
- Choose one audience or one issue. Or, use a different FFA for each issue or audience.
- Complete the Current Perception column (#1) by describing the existing environment, either from a market analysis or situation point-of-view, or from the perspective of a single target audience. The statements of fact may be good, neutral or bad perceptions, held by the target audience or believed by a majority of the audiences.
- Complete the Best Perception column (#2). What is the best perception that the target audience might think, feel or believe about the specific topic?
- Complete the Worst Perception column (#3). What is the worst perception that the target audience might think, feel or believe about the specific topic?
- Complete the Drivers/Opportunities column (#4). What “forces” (the drivers, opportunities, assets, or general good news) will prevent the target audience from shifting from the current situation to the worst perception?
- Complete the Barriers/Issues column (#5). What “forces” (the barriers, issues, challenges, liabilities, or problems) will prevent the target audience from shifting from the current situation to the best perception? Phrase each statement as an issue. For example, “Compliance” is a vague statement. “Patients are not compliant” is an issue.
For the next set of instructions, I’ve created a Force Field Analysis on Aries Pty Ltd, an imaginary company. Some of the points below will reference this chart specifically.
Instructions, Part 2: Analysing the Results
- Check to see if any element in the Drivers/Opportunities column (#4) counter any element in the Barriers/Issues column (#5). Do they cancel each other out? If so, draw a line through both elements in both columns. In the example, you might chose to cancel out 5F (Loss of Key People) with 4A (New CEO).
- In the Barriers/Issues column (#5), remove any specific element which communications cannot change by itself. General examples include: “Poor economy” or “Strong competition.” Or, re-word the statement as a true communications issue. “Strong competition” might become “Our product has no differentiation from competitor’s products. In the example, you might strike out 5C (Two unflattering lawsuits) as it’s past history, and little can be done about it now.
- Flag any individual element in the Barriers/Issues column (#5) which the organization needs to address independently or concurrently. In the example, the problem with IT and servers needs to addressed, but it’s not an external communications problem at the moment. It’s often helpful to put due dates for each so you can check-up later on.
- Prioritize all elements in the Drivers/Opportunities column (#4). These often turn out to be the core of future key messages, and if so, what is the critical order to deliver more tailored messages during the campaign? Also, identify which individual element in the Drivers/Opportunities column (#4) might be used to address or impact another element in the Barriers/Issues column (#5).
- Prioritize all elements in the Barriers/Issues column (#5), and flag the top three to five issues or challenges that must be addressed in your campaign. In the example, I’ve highlighted the top three issues that communications needs to address in red bold.
- Draft communications strategies for each of the three to five issues in the Barriers/Issues column (#5).
- You can now use the completed Force Field Analysis to start a brainstorm. What ideas can (help to) address, alleviate or neutralise the three to five issues in column #5? What ideas can leverage any of the opportunities in column #4?
A Final Tip: If doing this as a group exercise, find a room with a large blank wall to hang the flip-chart paper, and involve a neutral facilitator to write out the group’s comments and opinions. This will allow all team members to engage, focus and analyse the group’s conversation.
Any comments or suggestions? Any other tool you’ve used to help organise and decipher information? Please add your thoughts below.