HelpInterpretive Structural Modeling


By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

1. Identify and describe the use of Interpretive Structural Modeling as a technology assessment technique.

Interpretive Structural Modeling (ISM)

Interpretive Structural Modeling is a “directed graphic representation of a particular relationship among all pairs of elements in a set to aid in structuring a complex issue area” (Porter, et al., 1980.)

Step 1. ISM Begins with an issue or problem.

Global Warming
Step 2. The elements that comprise the issue context are listed.
  • Desertification
  • Industrialization
  • Population (human)
  • Natural global climatic changes
Step 3. Pairs of elements are compared graphically or in a matrix, using an arrow to indicate "This element contributes more than that element." Draw a graphic representation.
For example, let's say we believe that Industrialization (I) is felt to contribute more to global warming than Desertification (D) or Natural global changes (N), and D were believed to contribute more than N. But Population (P) were believed to contribute more than any of the other three. The diagram would look like this:

According to Porter, et al., (1980), ISM is useful in:
  • problem definition and bounding
  • impact evaluation
  • identifying relationships among policy sectors
but its weaknesses include:
  • It identifies static relationships (i.e., structural rather than dynamic relationships).
  • It is qualitative, not quantitative.
  • It is simplistic, and not very powerful.

I wonder, would the inventor of ISM would agree with these criticisms? John Warfield has written extensively on ISM; he invented it during 1970 - 1973. He distributes free DOS software to facilitate its use at the following site (optional):
This software is not very user friendly, and only those looking for a challenge should attempt to use it.

The course electronic reserve from Porter, et al., (1980) discusses ISM on pages 71 to 73 (optional): 

However, the above procedure is rather simplistic. For a more detailed discussion, see David Malone's (1975) chapter on "An introduction to the application of interpretive structural modeling" at


References Cited

Malone, D. (1975). An introduction to the application of Interpretive Structural Modeling”, Chapter 14 in Baldwin, Ed., Portraits of Complexity. Columbus, OH: Batelle Memorial Institute Monograph No. 9. Retrieved from

Porter, A. L., Rossinni, F., Carpenter, S. R, Roper, A. T., Larson, R. W., and Tiller, J. S. (1980).A guidebook for technology assessment and impact analysis. New York: North Holland.

"Interpretive Structural Modeling"
All information is subject to change without notification.
© Jim Flowers
Department of Technology, Ball State University