Analytical Approach

An analytical approach is the use of analysis to break a problem down into the elements necessary to solve it. It's the same as formal analysis.

Why this is important

The approach one takes to solving a problem determines the probability of solving it. Difficult social problems require an analytical approach because they do not yield to any other approach.

Application example

NASA took an analytical approach when it had to solve the problem of how to put a man on the moon in less than ten years. Below is an overview of their approach:

NASA diagram

Click on the image to see the full size diagram. Every item on the diagram is a smaller problem to solve. NASA broke the problem down into dozens of subproblems and then broke them down into further subproblems, and so on. The result was thousands of smaller problems, each of which was easy to solve.

The beauty of NASA's approach was it didn't just fit one program. It fits them all. This is a reusable process.

Earth and Space Shuttle

Which problem is more difficult: flying Spaceship Earth into the Age of Sustainability or flying a Space Shuttle from the earth, into orbit, and back?

Spaceship Earth contains seven billion people, while a Space Shuttle contains eleven people at the most.

Spaceship Earth carries a payload of 2 trillion tons of biomass alone, while a Shuttle carries a maximum payload of 50,000 pounds.

Spaceship Earth contains an estimated 7 to 100 million species, whose members run into the trillions. Each is a living part. A Shuttle contains a little over 2.5 million parts, only eleven at the most that are living.

Which problem is more complex and thus more difficult to solve?

Which problem requires the most sophisticated analytical approach?

How does the approach the typical environmental organization is using to solve the sustainability problem compare to NASA's approach?


The goal of is to to help solve the sustainability problem using the most efficient and effective tools available. Many such tools are presented on the site. When you put them all together, what you have is the right analytical approach.

The problem is use of these tools is limited to science and business, like the NASA example. These tools are seldom to be found in public interest activism. As a result, activists are limited in what problems they can solve, since without these tools they are forced to fall back on intuition. That is exactly where scientists were before they discovered their own analytical approach. This became known as the Scientific Method.

Thus the higher level goal of is to help activists switch from an intuitive to an analytical approach.

For much more see What Is an Analytical Approach?

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The Two Main Approaches

The two main approaches to solving problems are intuitive and analytical.

An intuitive approach requires no serious analysis. It thus goes much faster. It works fine on everyday problems, the sort we have encountered many times. But it fails spectacularly on difficult problems, because these are so different from what our intuition has been trained to handle.

The other side of the coin is an analytical approach. This uses analysis to look much deeper into the problem, find its root causes, and then find out how to resolve the root causes. This is so different from what most people are used to that it's a little hard to grasp at first.

Most activists believe they are already are taking an analytical approach. They analyze the problem, with things like climate change models and R&D for new forms of alternative energy. But this is a rather shallow analysis because it stops at the intermediate causes. An analytical approach would go all the way down to the root causes.