Analytical Frameworks

In a previous post I mentioned the value of analytical frameworks in game design. I came across the concept in grad school while studying national security policy and it’s become an invaluable tool for me in a bunch of other areas as well. An analytical framework is really just a check list or recipee for picking apart some “system” and figuring out what to do to place that “system” in the optimum state. Huh? My favorite analogies are a structured programming algorithm and jeweler’s glasses. Structured programming is built on the idea of taking specific steps to reach a desired data state. You could write a structured program to bake a loaf of bread. The jeweler’s glasses, also called jeweler’s loupes can be easily swapped to provide different levels of magnification. Put them together and you get the idea of structured viewing (magnification).

This all probably seems pretty obvious. Basically what I’m advocating is the use of an organized, systematic and logical approach to solving a problem. If you are tasked with coming up with a policy (strategy) you would think that having such a method that let’s you ask the right questions and find the best solutions would be a no brainer. In my experience most people, including many professionals who formulate strategy/policy for a living on a daily basis, lack this explicit concept of an analytical framework. The approach is often haphazard. Policy makers/strategists latch on to some aspect of the problem and then tend to “wing it” from there. Sometimes the desired outcomes aren’t even fully articulated. That’s not to say that good decision making isn’t possible without using an analytical framework….it’s just much harder in my opinion.

So let’s take a look at the framework:

Values
Interests
Threats
Objectives
Execution
Feedback & Analysis

The analytical framework above is used by the “agent” and exists outside of the “system” that it is supposed to examine. The ultimate goal of the framework is to generate policy prescriptions for action. Some of the framework is explicit deriving its value from the agent. Other parts of the framework derive their value from the state of the system. Much of the data is often open to interpretation.

Values: These are also know as core beliefs, principles and desires. These fundamental imperatives drive the analysis down the framework ladder. In the national security arena such values would be things like economic prosperity, freedom, self determination and territorial integrity. They can also be ideological like the desire to spread democracy, the inevitable supremecy of the worker’s revolution or the acknowledgement by all humanity that there is no god but god and Muhammed is his prophet. Being fundamental these things don’t change….at least not very quickly.

Interests: These are derived from projection of the “conceptual” values into the “physical” world of the system. If a nation values economic prosperity and it has a large industrial base that depends on the free flow of precious natural resources then ensuring the security of those resources would be a “national interest.” If the resource was relatively scarce and not located in sufficient amounts domestically then it might even be a “vital national interest” to secure those resources. Not all interests are created equally. There is a heirarchy of interests ranging from the vital to the important to the trivial. Generally the ranking corresponds to the severity of damage if an interest is lost or compromised. Losing a vital interest is catastrophic, perhaps unrecoverable….losing a trivial interest… “not so much.”

Threats: Threats stick out like a sore thumb on the ladder. They are wedged in between interests and objectives and break up the aesthetic flow i.e. values generate interests which in turn generate objectives (goals). That’s not a bad thing however. Threats are obviously agents and system events that endanger interests. A hegemon in Eurasia is one of the classics. Sister Miriam’s territorial demands might be another. Threats can range in severity depending on the interests that they affect. It gets a bit tricky semantically sometimes but generally threats do not drive objectives although it may seem that way. Threats must be recognized, analyzed and addressed in objectives but the grounding of objectives is firmly in the interests they are designed to protect or safeguard.

Objectives: I’ve touched on this above a little. Objectives are where a lot of the hard work is done. They are often hierarchical in structure. A primary objective contains sub-objectives and so on. Objectives serve the interests. If your interest is to secure the free and safe distribution of oil from the Persian Gulf then one objective might be to station an aircraft carrier battle group to keep the straights of Hormuz open. If your interest is to deter a nuclear first strike against the homeland than one objective might be to create and deploy a SSBN force. You get the idea.

Execution: This is where the rubber hits the road or the boots hit the ground. Objectives need blood, treasure and often political capital to be realized. This is a complex world in and of itself. Your interest is the realization of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The threat is the US Navy. The objective is to destroy the US fleet at Pearl Harbor. The Execution is Climb Mount Nitaka and Tora Tora Tora.

Feedback & Analysis: This is the bottom rung on the ladder but very important nevertheless. Chances are the decision space is not a one shot deal. Here you take stock of your threats, objectives and execution and adjust accordingly. Interests aren’t likely to change but you might reappraise their importance.

There you have it down and dirty. It’s beauty is that you can apply it to almost any situation where you have a system, agents, and the desire to achieve certain preferable outcomes. In a future entry I’ll give some examples on how I used it to create the AI for Armageddon Empires.

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