Policy analysis techniques refer to a specific application of structured analysis

In our view, policy analysis represents a branch of strategic intelligence analysis. Policy analysis techniques are thus some of the same structured analytic techniques apllied to a distinctly specific purpose.

Since analysis involves the use of reasoning, it makes sense to try and keep your mind sharp and clear.

5 steps to clarify own thinking:

1. I think . . . (state your main point)

2. In other words . . . (elaborate your main point)

3. For example . . . (give an example of your main point)

4. To give you an analogy . . . (give an illustration of your main point)

5. Could I ask you to summarize your understanding of the key points of my explanation?

When your listener cannot summarize what you have said to your satisfaction, he/she hasn’t really understood what you said. Among other things it can mean that your explanation was vague or fuzzy suggesting that your understanding of the issue remained vague and fuzzy. Try it again. It will work.

3 steps to clarify other people’s thinking:

Other people’s thinking can be pretty hard to unravel. Oftentimes people give you only a vague or fuzzy explanation of their views because they have only a vague or fuzzy understanding of the issue they were trying to explain. But a few structured questions can gently nudge them in the right direction.

1. Can you restate your point in other words?

2. Can you give an example?

3. Let me tell you what I understand you to be saying. Did I understand you correctly?

This is the most effective technique of them all – to figure out the real meaning of what people are saying practice summarizing in your own words what they said. Then ask them if you understood them correctly.

When you cannot do this to their satisfaction, you don’t really understand what they said. Try again. It will work[i]

In our course we not only present some core structured analytic techniques or apply them to the discussion of policy issues or strategic threats. We also offer students some simple reasoning hacks that despite their apparent simplicity can have a big impact on their thinking. And besides, they are highly actionable.

We also use brain teasers, such as a Futures Wheel analysis of foreign policy issues and strategic threats that can arise as a consequence of the ice melting in the Arctic. We show students how to keep a session journal that records their progress through the different stages of un-knowing about an issue. It makes an essential tool for reconstructing their past mind frames during a latter application of post-mortem or analytic failure simulation techniques.

In an abridged presentation, such a journal may go along the following lines.

Trigger eventThe North Pole is free of ice
Problem restatement – Arctic ice is melting = So what?-kind of problem
Brainstorming + Clustering – What are the issues/questions?

Ice melting = sea level rising: by how much?

  • Tundra flooding is unlikely – coastline is mostly high enough
  • Reverse flow can provoke flooding in river deltas where major population and infrastructure is concentrated – no impact on foreign policies
  • Claims to extend territorial waters using sandbanks or rocky outcroppings exposed under the melted ice are made more complicated. Their elevation is often minimal and they can become submerged even with a minimal increase in the sea level
  • Effect on shipping – the kind of rise that can be expected won’t make any difference to shipping

Contested expansion of territorial claims over the Arctic Ocean seabed and resources underneath it.

  • Issue under jurisdiction of the UN Commission on the Limits of Continental Shelf
  • The separate issue of the Lomonossov Range
  • All current oil/gas extraction and prospecting activity is conducted within the undisputed areas
  • Arctic-hardened offshore drilling capability – Russians are the only ones who have it
  • Ice-free Arctic will allow Norwegians to use/sell their non-ice-hardened rig technology, which is up and running = competition to Russian expensive technology that will become obsolete
  • Norwegians will benefit most since they will be able to quickly and inexpensively expand their presence in the Barents basin and gas production
  • Technology for gas liquefying – the US?
  • How to get North Pole gas to consumers (China?)

Potential for shifts in international shipping lanes:

  • Russian Arctic coastal shipping lane (Northern Sea Route/Northeast Passage) can become a (largely) ice-free alternative to the Northwest Passage as a connection between Europe and South Korea, Japan and China
  • Northwest Passage ceases to be a national waterway/shipping lane
  • A completely new shortcut across the North Pole ceases to be impossible, which is a positive consequence for Western Europe and a negative one to both US and Russia (loss of revenue from issue of slots/licenses)
  • These routes even in 50 years won’t present a competition to the Suez Canal, unless:
    • A regional war in the Middle East leads to its closure (since its opening in 1869 the Canal was closed five times; the last time was the most serious one since it lasted for 8 years. The Canal was then reopened for navigation on the 5th of June 1975);
    • Islamic radicals in Yemen or Djibouti seize control over the Straight of Aden;
    • Piracy becomes rampant in the Indian Ocean, South China Sea or elsewhere along the route

CONCLUSION: The melting of the Arctic ice in the short- to medium-term does not realistically pose any foreign policy issues within this cluster of outcomes. Longer-term implications are too speculative and vague to analyse.

Militarization to protect:

  • Coastline/territory
  • Major oil and gas fields
  • Infrastructure
    • Major oil and gas pipelines and processing infrastructure
    • Seaports
    • Railway terminals
    • Installed oil and gas drilling/pumping capacity, particularly offshore platforms
    • Shipping lane rights and traffic – potentially a source of large revenue that can compensate for the loss in revenue from oil and gas

Protect against whom?

  • Russia and the USA do not have proxies in the Arctic that would permit a military engagement by proxy
  • Russian military build-up does not affect or alter the strategic military balance:
  • No purpose in basing tactical nukes that can target only Alaska
  • No way to establish strategic bomber bases due to weather conditions that make operations unreliable
  • While establishing a submarine base on the Arctic coast is a possibility, a submerged missile launch will remain feasible only during a few months in any given year and at unpredictable locations = not reliable enough as a means of attack or as a deterrent to one.

CONCLUSION: The melting of the Arctic ice in the short- to medium-term does not create any strategic military threats.

Russian military build-up at present appears to be of a tactical nature and aimed at reassertion of State presence in and sovereignty of remote regions = meeting internal propaganda objectives/ signalling to the US.

It is further aimed at increasing general robustness in response to unpredictable future threats = aims to address any threat, conceivable or not.

It is not triggered/influenced by the melting of the Arctic ice = not relevant to our specific tasking.

One possible exception is rise of separatism leading to the threat of secession of gas-producing regions. Ice-free Arctic can allow exports by means of LPG vessels as an alternative to gas pipelines. The State monopoly on gas transportation channels will be upset. Profits from direct exports may be huge, tempting producers based in the Russian Arctic regions to seek political independence for areas under their economic control.

How real/serious is the threat = probability of:

  • Attack to establish control over areas of the seabed rich in energy resources
  • Disruption of infrastructure
    • disruption of revenue flows to producers
    • disruption of supply guarantee to consumers
  • Disruption of shipping
    • disruption of revenue flows to owners
    • losses due to traffic disruptions/insecurity to users
    • disruption of global commerce = new crisis?

Assess the probability of an armed conflict in the Arctic given that the parties to the issue are Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Russia and the USA.

Assess the probability that the remoteness of the potentially contested areas could lower the threshold for use of tactical nuclear weapons.

The above reasoning leads to the identification of four first-tier consequences, eight second-tier ones, and 16 third-tier alternative futures.

Recommended follow-up steps:

  • Conduct Force Field Analysis to identify the Most Probable Path;
  • Conduct High Impact/Low Probability Analysis on the future at the end of the Most Probable Path.

This is what happens at the shallow end of our syllabus. At the deep end, our course ventures into the blue abyss of Social Network Analysis (SNA).

Analysts use SNA use for understanding the
organizational dynamics
of hostile networks.

This knowledge can help identify network vulnerabilities and in consequence suggest how best to exploit them for network penetration or disruption.

One key SNA objective involves determining the relative strength of network associations and impact of each actor on the functioning of the network. Other mission-specific SNA objectives can include:

  • Study of network objectives, assessment of the threat posed by it, harm analysis;
  • Identification of key network actors to inform and guide collection activities;
  • Informing preparations for insertion of undercover operatives;
  • Identifying targets among network actors for recruitment as covert human intelligence sources;
  • Informing actions aimed at network disruption, weakening or destruction;
  • Evaluative analysis – monitoring of network operations;
  • Futures work – forecasting network evolution.

A major function of Social Network Analysis
is to support identification of priorities.

The requirement for prioritization of problems/targets is dictated by the scarcity of financial and human resources. Oftentimes, prioritization is done using intuition, guesswork or partisan interests. It is, indeed, a fairly rare case when prioritization is done using some kind of method.

Social Network Analysis —

  • Allows analysts to map the details of a networked organisation;
  • Shows how a networked organization operates and how its specific connectivity facilitates its operations;
  • Allows to assess network design, limits of operational autonomy of its members, specific member roles, as well as hierarchy of the leadership;
  • Focuses on the interpersonal relations within the network;
  • Provides a set of benchmarks that allow to gauge the effectiveness of actions aimed at network disruption as well as network’s ability to recover from these and adapt to pressure.

Used in parallel with pattern analysis, SNA allows linking of the WHO to the WHERE and WHEN to build a picture of HOW they are involved and WHAT their part is in the network.

The seven roles[ii] found in
most hostile networks typically include:

The notion of Network Capital in SNA is used to
quantify aggregate network strength or capability.

It can also help to identify high-value individuals – those most important for the functioning of a network. Besides that the notion of Network Capital can be used for a large variety of benchmarking, flagging and monitoring purposes including:

  • Determining how isolate/webbed a network is – True (Actual) NC/Total Potential NC;
  • Measuring the response of a network to disruptive measures (reduction of the above ratio):
  • Obtaining a measure of comparative Actors centrality (individual NC)
  • Tracing indirect links with a maximum score = most efficient ones (particularly useful in large networks)

These and other SNA techniques assist in judging the operational modalities of an organization.

Such analysis allows to produce an assessment of the threat it poses and estimate its capability to cause harm.

It can be applied to all functional components of a network including operational support, information operations, political connections, violent activities, as well as logistics and resupply operations.

In particular, analysts can apply SNA to the study of criminal enterprises involved in the functioning of a legit network.

It is not unusual that a legally operating politically engaged network is funded through criminal activities or relies on criminals for covert missions or operation of its logistics chain. A starting point for analysis could be setting up a roster of individuals who perform as go-betweens linking lawful organisational and command structures with the criminal ones.

Infiltration of criminal networks is a complex undertaking fraught with significant risks. Instead, homing on go-betweens can provide a safer opportunity for collecting sensitive information. Analytic exploration of go-betweens can typically involve figuring out and documenting their responsibilities, personalities, background, assets and emotional connections. A purpose of such analysis would be to suggest courses of action aimed at acquiring access to go-betweens and to information handled by them.

Common types of social networks include elite networks, ex-professionals’ networks (law enforcement, intelligence agencies), prison networks, worldwide ethnic and religious communities, crime syndicates and neighbourhood networks.

An important purpose of certain networks can be to advance hidden agendas or secret group objectives, including in the political or foreign affairs theatre. SNA offers techniques that can help to discover, monitor and, ultimately, influence the functioning of such networks.

SNA can also pursue more positive objectives.

One is to provide recommendations for forming strategic alliances with some of the above mentioned and a score of other network types. Or, on a more modest scale, enlisting support of their key members to pursuing specific friendly policy objectives.

The purpose of this primer is to offer some basic information on the subject of SNA, condensed from a variety of sources.

It only skims the surface of the waters that are, as is the case with most other structured analytic techniques, ocean-deep.

As an example, have a brief look at some of the concepts developed by Steve Borgatti, Professor and Endowed Chair of the Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky[iii]. Some of the novel Borgatti centrality-related measures include:

  • Degree of Network Fragmentation calculates the number of actual connections between pairs of actors modified by distance between actors forming a pair.

It provides a numerical value that can be used for creating a typology of networks between isolate and webbed.

  • Degree of Actor Reach calculates actual connections between a selected Actor or several Actors to all other network Actors, modified by distance.

The resultant value can be used for ranking Actors between isolate and webbed.

Other contribution by Borgatti is a body of work on the concept of weights.

  • Attribute Weights can be used to measure actors. A broad range of attributes can be created depending on the purpose, e.g. assets, prison history, extra-network links, history of using violence.
  • Link Weights can be used to measure the strength of relationships between Actors. These can be too tailored to the requirement, e.g. give/receive/two-way, length of time a relationship exists, nature of relationship, frequency of contacts/transactions.

If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed, there is no need to be feeling down. Remember, this is the deep end. Well, actually, it’s the shallow slide to the deep end.

But there exist also much simpler techniques that can be amazingly effective, too. Read here how skilled use of highlighters can make you a better analyst.

These and other concepts linked to the subjects of FUTURES WHEEL, FORCE FIELD ANALYSIS AND SOCIAL NETWORK ANALYSIS are discussed in some greater length in our course. Besides, its core added value lies in practical case studies that provide participants with relevant templates and experience in their use.

[i] Condensed from Paul, Richard, Elder, Linda “Critical Thinking: Learn the Tools the Best Thinkers Use” (2005)

[ii] Abridged from WILLIAMS, P. “Transnational Criminal Networks” in J. Arquilla and D. Ronfeldt (eds), “Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime and Militancy”. Santa Monica: Rand Corporation (2001)

[iii] Stephen P Borgatti,‎ Martin G. Everett,‎ Jeffrey C. Johnson “Analyzing Social Networks”, SAGE Publications, 2013

Our instructor’s CV is available on request


Name *
Fill out this field
Email *
Fill out this field
Message *
Fill out this field
Just to prove you are a human, please solve the equation: 29 + 6 = ?
Enter the equation result to proceed