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How to use cross impact analysis

Sometimes a blunt-force tool is best for grinding through the analysis and exploration of ideas.

Cross impact analysis* is just that. It forces you to test out the interactions among a set of forces, trends, or decisions.

The image at the right shows the basic concept, but let’s look a little closer at how to make this tool simple and useful.

In the basic grid you would relate, e.g. Item A to Item B, and Item B to Item A. But working the crosses two ways is hard. To do it more simply, just assume each pair interacts. Also, you don’t cross a thing with itself.

Thus in the stair-step cross impact diagram at the right, we work only in the unshaded cells. With this tool, you can explore emerging change to discover possible future outcomes.

Below is a filled-out example about the future consumer marketplace:

Where to use cross impacts

Cross impact is a back-shop or group-process tool. It is for exploration. Most of the time, nobody will want to see the gory details of your cross impact effort, though it is possible to tidy up and streamline the results for sharing with others.

What can you cross impact?

  • Trends/change forces
  • Proposed actions, strategies, or decisions
  • Different stakeholders, vis-a-vis an issue

Cross impact analysis resource page

For more on cross impact analysis, see: LINK


No matter the format used, the cross impact tool insists we acknowledge that nothing happens in a vacuum. That’s its real payoff. And the process of doing the analysis is its strongest benefit. Give it a try. Below is a link for a PDF of a template and instructions. 

Cross impact template and instructions


*This post gives a view of one of multiple approaches to cross impact analysis. The original form, invented by Ted Gordon and Olaf Helmer [LINK] is a quantitative method for assessing probabilities and/or the magnitude of impacts between different factors or decisions. My use is qualitative and is focused on discovery of potential future outcomes. 

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Joyce September 11, 2018, 12:06 pm

    Can you give examples where cross impact analysis is used in safety risk assessment

  • John Mahaffie September 12, 2018, 8:46 am

    Joyce, Thanks, that’s a great question. I have not used the tool in that realm myself, and I am not sure of any good examples. Since the science of risk assessment is so well developed, I’d look closely at the techniques used there, and consider if there are areas where cross impacting might contribute. Sorry to be less than helpful.

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