Morphological Analysis

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Morphological Analysis was developed by Fritz Zwicky<ref>Zwicky, Fritz & Wilson A. (eds.) (1967), New Methods of Thought and Procedure: Contributions to the Symposium on Methodologies. Berlin: Springer. Reprint available at www.swemorph.com/ma.html</ref><ref>Zwicky, Fritz (1969), Discovery, Invention, Research - Through the Morphological Approach, Toronto: The Macmillian Company. </ref> (the Swiss astrophysicist and aerospace scientist based at the California Institute of Technology) in the 1940's and 50's as a method for systematically structuring and investigating the total set of relationships contained in multi-dimensional, usually non-quantifiable, problem complexes.

Morphological Analysis is an extension of Attribute Listing. Imagine you have a product that could be made of 3 types of material, in 6 possible shapes, and with 4 kinds of mechanism. Theoretically there are 72 (3x6x4) potential combinations of material, shape and mechanism. Some of these combinations may already exist; others may be impossible or impractical. Those left over may represent prospective new products. This method of can be extended to virtually any problem area that can be structured dimensionally.

Identifying Suitable Dimensions and Options

One possible approach is to use group techniques. Brainstorm issues, ideas, facts aspects, etc. associated with your problem, put each piece of information or suggestion on individual cards or Post-it, then group them and label the group (or arrange them using mind mapping). Iterate over and over again until you have condensed your information to a small quantity of labelled groups each of which constitutes an understandable element, and has only a small number of items inside it, each of which is a clear option, written on a card or Post-it.

Up to 7 dimensions of 7 values, gives up to nearly a million potential arrangements, making systematic examination out of the question without the use of computers to assist. However, devices are available to make it easier to study multiple re-combinations. An illustration of this taken from Allen’s Morphologiser a vertical strip is produced for each dimension, with the name of the dimension at the top, the options spaced one under the other below it (e.g. as Post-its stuck one under the other, edge to edge). Place the strips sis by side and slide them up and down to create different horizontal combinations.

Up to, say, 50-100 possible combinations, is a workable range with the aid of a computer to systematically go through every combination.

Upto, say, 3-400 combinations, various techniques/devices can narrow down this larger set of combinations. You could try eliminating less functional dimensions (or options) (e.g. a dimension such as ‘colour’ may well be of only minor significance). An alternative approach (see AIDA) is to recognize pairs of options that are clearly not of use, by eliminating a pair; exclusion is automatic for other combinations that involved that pair.

For still larger numbers, no systematic investigation is probable. Revert to Attribute Listing, using arbitrarily chosen permutations to stimulate ideas.

Computer Aided Morphological Analysis

Advanced Computer-Aided Morphological Analysis was developed in 1995-96 by Tom Ritchey, then at the Department of Technological Foresight and Assessment, at the Swedish National Defence Research Agency in Stockholm<ref>Ritchey, Tom (2002). General Morphological Analysis: A general method for non-quantified modelling. Available at http://www.swemorph.com/ma.html</ref>. MA/Casper is a dedicated software system which supports an extended form of Morphological Analysis. It serves as a development platform for creating scenario and strategy laboratories, and morphological inference models <ref>Ritchey, Tom (2003). MA/Casper: Advanced Computer Support for General Morphological Analysis. Available at http://www.swemorph.com/macasper.html</ref>. It is presently in its 4th programming version.

With dedicated computer support, far more than 7 variables, and many millions of configurations, can be treated quite rigorously. When a solution space is synthesized, the resultant morphological field becomes an inference model, in which any parameter (or multiple parameters) can be selected as "input", and any others as "output". Thus, with computer support, the morphological field can be turned into a laboratory with which one can designate initial conditions and examine alternative solutions.

References

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Further reading


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