William Coplin and Michael O’Leary published Everyman’s Prince: A Guide to Understanding Your
Political Problems. “Prince” was an
acronym for the four steps in the process:
“Probe, Interact, Calculate, Execute.” There was nothing earthshaking in their
analysis—most of the ideas had been developed earlier, and the authors
acknowledge their debt to Macchiavelli. Nor was the method particularly
complicated—the authors presented it in a fairly brief 25 pages followed by 6
case studies using the method. But what
they did do was to provide, in one
place, a technique for synthesizing all those ideas into a single analysis.
analysis is essentially a power analysis.
In Coplin & O’Leary’s words, it is used in
a situation “…in which you must get some other people to act or stop acting in
a certain way in order to achieve a goal important to you” (p. 4). This description is important, because PRINCE
analysis is only useful if two important conditions are met (p.9): First, the outcome that you desire must be
described in concrete terms. A PRINCE analysis is specific to the desired
outcomes; change the outcomes, and a different analysis will have to be
performed. Second, PRINCE analysis
focuses on changing the behavior of other individuals in order to accomplish
the desired outcomes. It does not
particularly useful when the problem is structural or systematic or due to
external constraints. It is aimed at
figuring out who needs to be moved and where there is leverage to move them.
consider the steps in order:
There are 3 steps to this phase of the process:
- Is this a political problem? Things don’t “just happen” (well, maybe
sometimes they do—but then doing a power analysis is not going to get you
anywhere). Sometimes the cause is
outside one’s range of influence—a broken leg will not be amenable to
persuasion (although maybe how you & your boss negotiate your work
duties could be)—and, again, a power analysis will not be useful. But often when something happens you
wish had not happened, or when something fails to happen that you wish
would have, it is because (as Coplin &
O’Leary put it) “you have lost a political battle” (p. 164).
- What is it worth to you? The whole point of PRINCE is to
develop a fairly close estimate of the costs of “winning,” but before you
undertake the exercise it is important to estimate the shape of the field
and where you are on it. If you set
your goals too high, you might also be setting the price too high; but if
you set them too low you might be settling for much less than you could
have gotten. And in some cases what
can be gained is not worth the “chips” it would take to get it. At this early stage, the point is to be
as clear and precise as possible about what you want and need to achieve.
- Who are the players and what are their
issues? Begin with the people
(or groups of people) who can most directly affect the issue with which
you are concerned. You also need to
identify their key issues,
because politics is a process of building a network of common
interests. In the process of
identifying their issues, you will discover other players who, while not
directly interested in your issue, do
have influence on issues that are important to those who have influence on
your issue. They, in turn, will have their own issues. And so the network of players will
expand further with each iteration. Eventually, prune your list back to ten
or so of the most influential people/groups, and all of their key issues.
From your probe of the issue, you have identified the key
players and their key issues. The next
step is to analyze their influence on
your issue. Influence is the combination
of position, salience, and power.
- Position is whether one favors or
opposes a particular solution to an issue.
As John Dewey pointed out years ago (Dewey, 1924), any issue
immediately divides everyone into one of three groups—those in favor,
those opposed, and those who are unaffected. And for any issue the neutral group is
usually the largest group, at least initially. Position is not “all or nothing.” Support or opposition may be anywhere on
a continuum from full-throated to lukewarm. Those positions which are closest to
neutral (whether for or against) are the ones that are more easily changed,
and bear close watching as your analysis develops.
- Salience is the “strength” of the
support or opposition. Often
salience and position are similar, but not always. One may be very interested in an issue
(high salience) but not have made up one’s mind (low position). In other cases, one might feel strongly
about an issue (high position), but not be willing to do much about it
(low salience). It is when salience
and position are far apart that there might be a
real opportunity to move an individual (for or against one’s own
- Power is the ability to make one’s
preference on an issue happen. You may have strong supporters who are
willing to work hard for your goals, but who are ineffective or who are
simply poorly connected to others on this particular issue. In other cases, the people who have the
authority to make the decision in your case may know very little about the
issue and thus have little inclination to act one way or the other.
addition to position, salience, and power, you should also gauge the
degree of affiliation
(friendship/hostility) between the players. Often people follow the principle, “The
enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
While affiliation is not a formal element of influence, it can
suggest where there is potential leverage for changing a player’s position
on the issue.
You will gather information about
position, salience, power and affiliation in any way you can. Sometimes you can find out where people stand
by talking to them directly. Some people
will have already taken a stand by writing or speaking publicly on the
issue. Still others, while not declaring
a position, will have discussed the issue with others or might allude to it
while speaking about other issues. And
in some cases it will be necessary to make an educated guess.
However you gathered your information, the next step is to
build a series of tables summarizing what you found. There is nothing magic about the numbers in
the tables—they are shorthand for your best judgment of where the players come
down on the issues. As your analysis of
the situation and your experience of the players
changes, you might go back and change some of the values in the tables. But the tables will allow you to summarize a
lot of information and think about it in a schematic way. All of the tables are collected into a single
spreadsheet Workbook here, each table having its own Worksheet within the
Workbook, which is called “PRINCE.”
- Position Matrix: List the key players down the side and
their significant issues across the top of the matrix. “Players” may be
individuals or groups of individuals.
Assign a numerical value (+/- to indicate “pro” or “con,”) and a
number (from 0-10) to indicate the strength of support/opposition for each
issue. Remember that it is possible
that a player has no position (either no position yet or a “firm” I don’t
care) on an issue. Those players
are assigned a “0” for that issue.
The sum of the actors positions on each
issue tells you how much overall support there is for each issue. Keep in mind that a strong opposition
and a strong proponent will have the same effect as two undecideds—the value of the sum may be less
informative than how it was constituted.
- Power Matrix: The second worksheet records the
power, or ability of each actor to influence the outcome on each issue,
again using a scale from 0-10. Note
that the power of any single actor is likely to be different on each of the
issues. Also note that there is no
“negative” power (even if it feels that way sometimes). It is possible to assign “0” on an
issue, but if you find that happening a lot it may mean that you do not
have the right combination of players and issues (remember, the matrix is
supposed to include the key players and their most important issues).
- Power x Position Matrix: The combined weight of a player’s
position on an issue and a player’s ability to affect that outcome gives a
clearer picture of the likely outcome. This matrix multiplies the value of the
power and the position scores to produce a snapshot of what could happen. There is no need to enter any data into
this worksheet, it takes the information it needs from the previous
- Salience Matrix: Not all players are equally concerned
about all issues. Human energy is a
finite (some would say scarce) resource.
Some players might be passionately concerned about a few issues, others might divide their attention more evenly
across a number of issues. The
rates the players’ willingness to engage in any given issue
(again, on a scale from 0-10).
- Influence Matrix: The Influence Matrix calculates the likely outcomes, given the salience
of the issues and each player’s power and position on those issues. The sum of the support for any issue is
a measure of the likelihood of achieving the desired outcome. The art of politics lies in increasing
the position, power, or salience of those who support your issue, and
decreasing those factors in those who oppose you.
- Affiliation Matrix: The last matrix does not directly affect
the “bottom line,” but it can provide some insight into the stability of
the coalition which will be supporting or opposing your issue. It will also suggest where you might
find potential allies (or opponents).
The scoring here is +/- (to indicate friendship or hostility) and
0-10 (to indicate the strength of the feeling). The scoring need not be symmetrical
(because A is strongly positive to B does not mean B feels the same about A).
You would want to see positive scores not only from your supporters
to you, but also from your supporters to each other. Friendships between your supporters and
your opponents indicate areas where a shift is possible (in either
direction, be advised).
There are thousands of possible calculations using the four
tables of the PRINCE analysis, Coplin & O’Leary
suggest 6 major ones (pp. 168-170):
- Likelihood of Occurrence: The sum of the columns
in the Influence Matrix provide a measure of the likelihood of an
outcome occurring. The higher the
positive number, the more likely the outcome; the higher the negative
number, the less likely the outcome.
- Likelihood of Support: The sum of the rows in the Influence
Matrix provides a measure of which players are likely to support your
issues (again, the higher the number the more likely the occurrence, +/-
indicating whether it will go for you or against you).
- Relative Importance: Examine separately the Position, Power,
and Salience matrices to find instances where the Influence Matrix was
influenced by “off pattern” scores (e.g., low power with high position and
salience, or high salience with low position and power). These indicate areas of potential
instability in the analysis, which may be an opportunity or a threat for
- Pressure Points: Players who consistently express more
friendship than is reciprocated by the other players are susceptible to
pressure from the other players. If
the sum of a player’s row (how that player feels about the other players)
in the Affiliation Matrix is significantly greater than the sum of a
player’s column (how the other players feel about that player), that
player is at risk of political pressure from the other players.
- Temperature Check: Most networks have a mixture of both
friendships and hostility. The
higher the value of all the scores in the Affiliation Matrix, the more
friendly (or hostile) the network.
- Polarization: Rank all pairs of players from most
friendly to most hostile. In a
completely depolarized network, there will be players who provide a
friendly link to both sides of each hostile pair. To the extent that there are hostile
pairs with no players to provide friendly links, there is the possibility
of polarized divisions forming.
Finally, having analyzed the power in the network, the last
step is to formulate and execute a strategy.
On the assumption that the outcome is not a “sure thing” (because if it
were you would not have bothered to do a formal analysis), there are only four
tools at your disposal to increase the likelihood of the outcome you desire:
the position of one or more players on your issue
the salience of your issue for those players who side with you, or
decrease it for those who oppose you.
the power of those players who side with you, or weaken the power of those
who oppose you.
friends and win over your enemies.
Coplin & O’Leary describe four
strategies that you can employ (pp. 171-174):
- Consensus: Easiest and most efficient. Find compromises and agreements that
can accomplish your goals within existing power, position, and
salience. This carries the least
cost, because it involves the least change. But it does require luck (as well as
- Limited Conflict: This is a strategy of “focused
pressure.” Attempt to change the
power, position, and/or salience of a limited number of players and push
for a decision before the entire network becomes thoroughly involved.
- Change the Power Distribution: If you cannot achieve your goals by
applying discrete pressure at a few points, you might be able to achieve
them by changing the power distribution of the network. This is always costly and always
time-consuming and never easy, and few players have the patience and the
strength to see it through. But it
is better than the last alternative:
- Unlimited Conflict: Raise the salience of every issue in
the system. This will create
possible opportunities for bargaining.
It will also probably lead to stagnation because raising the
salience of issues will highlight the differences among the players and
make cooperation on anything more difficult. This strategy is rarely successful
(although the threat of this
strategy can be effective) and is highly unpredictable. Because it destabilizes the affiliation
matrix and the position matrix, it can also transform the power matrix in
ways that would not have been predicted.
Of course, most of the time you will not sit down and do a
full-scale PRINCE analysis (just as you won’t always do a full-scale
Benefit/Cost analysis). The point is to
develop the discipline of thinking in terms of position, power, salience, and
affiliation, and the trade-offs between them.
And, in important cases where the outcome is in doubt, it can’t hurt to sit down and think it through very
© 2000 A.J.Filipovitch
Revised 11 March 2005