PRINCE Analysis


            In 1972, 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.


            A PRINCE 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.  


            So, consider the steps in order:


There are 3 steps to this phase of the process:

  1. 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). 
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 


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.”


There are thousands of possible calculations using the four tables of the PRINCE analysis, Coplin & O’Leary suggest 6 major ones (pp. 168-170):



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:


Coplin & O’Leary describe four strategies that you can employ (pp. 171-174):


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 carefully.




© 2000 A.J.Filipovitch
Revised 11 March 2005