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Analyze Your Forces

The SAT analysis, which comes from the field of peacebuilding, is a method for deconstructing the forces at play within a complex system. It helps you see the parts in relation to the whole more clearly.

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System: A set of interconnected and dynamic forces that have a collective function or purpose. Examples: transportation system, the ocean, education, a basketball team


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Forces: The individual elements with a system. They could be a pattern or trend, policy, attitude, power dynamic, or belief.



25 - 40 minutes

Materials + set-up


Sticky notes, sharpies, and your system map

Here's what you need to get started



Analyzing Your Forces


Setting the stage 

This theory of change argues that any effective response to a complex issue must exist across all three levels – structural, attitudinal, transactional – in order to be the most effective and sustainable. 

Structural forces are our natural or build environments, institutions, and infrastructure (things like the transportation

system, education, or water quality).


Attitudinal forces are the attitudes, worldview, assumptions, and beliefs that affect how people think and behave (for example, feelings of fear, pride, or a sense of security).

Transactional forces are the key interactions that take place between stakeholders in the system (like, a debate that took place, a community meeting, or someone being incarcerated).

Labeling SAT

Looking at your map, label the forces you’ve generated in line with the S-A-T model. Sometimes, forces will fall into multiple categories, so it’s useful to talk through how you’re thinking about each force and determine where it most strongly belongs.

For instance, “Incarceration” can fall into both Structural and Transactional, so it’s important to parse out what you’re talking about. Is it people going to prison? That would be transactional. Or is it mass incarceration or the prison industrial complex? That would be structural. 

Label each force with an S, A, or T. If you’re with a group, make sure there’s consensus about how they’re being labeled and make time for discussion and debate.

Debrief + discuss

This exercise can help organize some of the chaos that your team had mapped earlier, and can also help you dig deeper into your topic. Here are some questions to discuss as a group once you've labeled your forces:

  • What would a story or series look like that addresses information at all three levels?

  • Does your coverage often fall in just one category?

  • How can you use the SAT model to analyze existing responses to the issue?

  • What bright spots in the community or system can you point to that are already leveraging change against all three levels?


In your group, discuss these questions and document your answers.



Now what?

Once applied to the map, you may start to see your entire topic or beat through the SAT lens. Doing so can:

  • Help illuminate the various levels that are operating at once;

  • Surface how attitudes and structures can influence actions, and vice versa.

  • Allow for a more nuanced understanding of the forces contributing to your topic or beat.

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