Management Techniques: Force Field Analysis

January 2009

Force Field Analysis was developed by Kurt Lewin (1951) and is widely used to inform decision making, particularly in planning and implementing change management programmes in organisations. It is a powerful method of gaining a comprehensive overview of the different forces acting on a potential organisational change issue, and for assessing their source and strength.

 Detailed description of the process
Force field analysis is best carried out in small group of about six to eight people using flipchart paper or overhead transparencies so that everyone can see what is going on. The first step is to agree the area of change to be discussed. This might be written as a desired policy goal or objective. All the forces in support of the change are then listed in a column to the left (driving the change forward), whereas all forces working against the change are listed in a column to the right (holding it back). The driving and restraining forces should be sorted around common themes and then be scored according to their 'magnitude', ranging from one (weak) to five (strong). The score may well not balance on either side. The resulting table might look like the example above.

Force Field Analysis

Throughout the process, rich discussion, debate and dialogue should emerge. This is an important part of the exercise and key issues should be allowed time. Findings and ideas may well come up to do with concerns, problems, symptoms and solutions. It is useful to record these and review where there is consensus on an action or a way forward. In policy influencing, the aim is to find ways to reduce the restraining forces and to capitalise on the driving forces.

Example: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) adapted force field analysis, adding an extra element of the organisation's control over a situation. For example, in an attempt to improve success in afforestation and reforestation programmes, the agency in question might list all the driving forces and restraining forces. It then rates each force by its importance and by the degree of control it exerts over that force. The totals are then calculated and a table developed. This means that for each force, the higher the total of importance and control, the more impact the agency should have in trying to address that force. In addition, if the agency can find some forces that explain others, the effectiveness of its actions will be greater. For example, suppose that 'improved operational planning' can reduce 'losses to fires and grazing' as well as 'poor procedures for hiring and paying field workers'. Because it has these cross-impacts, in this example, the agency decided to give special attention to 'operational planning'.

This tool first appeared in the ODI Toolkit, Tools for Knowledge and Learning: A Guide for Development and Humanitarian Organisations.