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Thread: Alternatives to SWOT

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
    Aug 2001
    The Cheese State

    Alternatives to SWOT

    "Oh god, here we go again."

    That's my thought every time I see those four letters: SWOT. Everybody has participated in them so many times that you can hear them groan (even if it is not audible) when you announce why they have come to the meeting. I try so hard to use other techniques, but smetimes it is specified by the client. don't get me wrong. A good SWOT can provide valuable insight that shapes the plan, but if the participants are not engaged ("Didn't we just do this two years ago?") then is it really paying off? So what are the alternatives you use to a SWOT analysis?
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
    May 2005
    New Town
    I also cringe when someone brings up SWOT. I think also many people associate it with business and corporate settings and they may feel this is not the right kind of tool to use in community planning. I think the process works, but it often gets people's hackles up when you use this term.

    I generally use the Current Conditions, Issues, Recommendations categories. I like it partly because the first one (cc) is just a scan of what is happening in the subject area and this can include observations of things that work well or that improved since the last time everyone got together to plan. That helps mark some sense of progress, which I think makes people feel things are moving forward and that they are not just reinventing the wheel or more plans that will never be implemented. It also helps you bring forth issues that were not addressed or fell by the wayside.

    Issues is just the things that need attention.

    Recommendations are how to address the issues. Probably one would do a SWOT analysis on these recommendations to see how viable each one is, but you can call it something else (pros and cons that lead to selecting those options that have the most pro elements).

    Also, if you link these three in adjacent columns, its very easy to follow the flow of logic the community used to arrive at their recommendations. Adjustments or further modifications are easy to make because you can easily understand the thinking that lead to a particular recommendation. If that recommendation is not viable, you can move backwards and seek an alternative solution. Also, residents that come into a process late can easily figure out how the community got to their current place int he process.

    You can also add an Actions column to morph the recommendations into some sort of action plan with concrete assignments for specific people, agencies or groups.

    Overall, I find the most challenging aspect of public process is maintaining a feeling of momentum. If people walk away from a meeting with no clear sense that they accomplished anything or that they have moved toward a goal, they will be less likely to attend again and may lose confidence in your ability to address problems in general. Visually tracking progress then becomes a useful tool in illustrating this momentum.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
    Apr 2006
    Promoting synergies...
    When the crowd groans add, relying on SWOT analysis for guidance in the opportunities...

    Other than calling something else or asking the question where you can get the information with using SWOT is the only other thing I have seen. When we did my town's redevelopment plan the consultant ask questions like " what is the downtowns greatest asset" and what are the barriers to redevelopment" "if you left the town and came back in 25 years what would you like to see?" From those answers they got their SWOT analysis.
    "You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it,..." -Bane

  4. #4
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
    Dec 2001
    West Valley, AZ
    Perhaps coupling the SWOT with some questions which are designed to gauge the community’s honest assessment of their goals. Often, as a stakeholder, it's hard to define your vision through a SWOT when you aren't sure how to express your vision as a SWOT item.

    Get a barometer reading on the willingness for the stakeholders to experience change or commit to a plan will help move the meeting along. Pose hypothetical about possible outcomes and the policies or lack thereof, that would be required to make those hypothetical a reality. Question why there is objection or approval of certain scenarios. I think this may generate discussion from which SWOTs can be picked from.

    The challenge with the above scenario is maintaining control of the discussion and preventing it from going far off the mark. Even then, there is a lot of context that can be learned from it.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  5. #5
    Nov 2006
    Washington DC
    I'm wondering if anyone here uses system dynamics as tool for analysis. Jay Forrester wrote a book called Urban Dynamics using the methodology to analyze urban systems. In fact, the author of the SimCity game was a student of his and used his research as the underlying engine of the game. For anyone interested in it, I'd recommend Introduction to Urban Dynamics which is much more readable than Forrester's original book.

    Also, Kim Warren wrote a book called Competitive Strategy Dynamics which uses system dynamics as an alternative to SWOT analysis.

  6. #6
    Dan Staley's avatar
    Dec 2007
    Front Range, CO
    Quote Originally posted by Tipton View post
    I'm wondering if anyone here uses system dynamics as tool for analysis.

    Also, Kim Warren wrote a book called Competitive Strategy Dynamics which uses system dynamics as an alternative to SWOT analysis.
    Yes - very useful for me. I used to be a Systems Analyst in a past life and we used system dynamics (SD) in the IT world as a tool, and I use it in this profession as well (hmmm...maybe this is why I'm seen as a nerd...). I'd say it short-shrifts interpersonal dynamics if you are one of those touchy-feely folks (I'm not). SD works very well for me when considering whether a recommendation will fly and for contextualizing proposals.

    George Mobus, a prof at UW, tries to get at SD from a different way - how we think - to answer the same questions, and this helps me a lot too, esp wrt the SWOT question.

    The structure of SWOT is fine, but as above, reordering or reframing is often necessary. But the framework is still relevant and necessary. Why? Folks have patterns of thinking, and SWOT addresses and works with these patterns. We really are not all that different than one another (we are not all unique) and so any framework that has proven itself and is still relevant - as I believe SWOT is - is useful. The issue comes from people who have not done a good job in the past and we are bored with it now.

  7. #7
    Sep 2005
    Tinkering in my imaginary garage


    Assets, Challenges, Opportunities, Threats, still a SWOT but slightly different. Assets feels more permanent than strengths and challenges feel like they can be overcome easier than weaknesses, which somehow seem more permanent than challenges. At least that's how I see it. Regardless it's still a SWOT and people recognized it as such. I used this framework to organize 15 people's commentary on a neighborhood business district. The SWOT was a good baseline for discussion about possible courses of future action and implementation.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian AnvilPartners's avatar
    Nov 2008
    Glendale, AZ
    Blog entries


    Is SWOT like SWAG?
    "Sometimes you have to get medieval with it...hammer, sparks, sweat, the whole nine yards...so don't forget your asbestos suit."
    Aphorisms on Public Hearings, Planning Guild Handbook (2001).

  9. #9
    May 2008
    North America
    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    So what are the alternatives you use to a SWOT analysis?
    Does this look familiar?

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