A Review of Barrier Analysis With Examples

A Review of Barrier Analysis With Examples
Page content

How It Works

Barrier analysis defines the hazards, targets, and the pathways through which hazards affect targets, and identifies barriers and controls that would block the pathway, and maintain the target within the specified range or set of conditions.

The target is a person, equipment, a set of data, or anything else that exists under a specified range or set of conditions. Hazard is any adverse effect on the target, or anything that moves the target outside the required range or set of conditions. A barrier is a passive construct between a hazard and a target, used by an active control mechanism to cut off a pathway between hazard and target. A review of barrier analysis examples reveals that such barriers and controls often manifest themselves as systems, or planned activities, to ensure specific behavior or actions.

A simple illustration of the concept is possible through an analogy of a computer network susceptible to virus, malware, and other vulnerabilities. The target is the PC, the hazard is malware or virus, and the pathway is the network or the Internet connection through which the malware or virus infects the PC. A firewall to filter data and a system to scan all incoming mail for viruses serve as controls.

Barrier analysis is, however, much more complex than such straightforward targets, hazards, barriers and controls. The complexity of designs and plans, and the presence of hidden hazards and unrecognized pathways, through which the hazard travels in real life situations, can make the analysis ineffective. Success requires a thorough evaluation of both conforming and non-confirming targets, and identification of all unprotected pathways and ineffective controls.


Barrier analysis finds use in any project, including, but not limited to, physical manufacturing, management science, computing, healthcare, social welfare, and other disciplines. It is conceptually simple, easy to grasp, and an easy to use method of identifying obstacles that hinder any project, and require minimal resources.

A common application of this technique is in health and community development programs, where cultural barriers hinder local communities from adopting healthy behaviors. The analysis identifies such behavioral determinants and helps in developing effective behavioral change interventions. The results identify whether the target group behaves in a desired way, the reasons for behaving in a non-desirable way, if any, and reveal effective barriers to block non-desirable behaviors.


One real life barrier analysis example is International Child Care’s child survival project in the Dominican Republic. The project found high incidence of diarrhea in sugar cane camps, and low levels of water purification the apparent cause. The actual barriers to providing clean water however, remained much complex than simply providing water purifying mechanisms.

The project team applied barrier analysis to identify the underlying reasons why very few families purified their water. A focus task group prepared questions to examine each determinant. This group talked with mothers of young children and other people in the community, and asked several questions related to

  • perceived susceptibility, or whether the community members believed they could get diarrhea
  • perceived severity, or the extent to which community members considered the matter serious enough
  • perceived action efficacy, or whether the community members believed the methods such as purification of water by boiling, using bleach, and using iodine works
  • perceived social acceptability, of how the friends and neighbors considered the practice of purifying water
  • perceived self –efficacy, or whether the community members found it easy to purify water

The findings identified the underlying cause for people not purifying water, and thereby succumbing to diarrhea was their inability to remember how to purify their water. Some people received complex and contrasting instructions on how to purify water. Some people received rumors of some serious side-effects when purifying water using bleach. Some people did not like the taste of bleached water, and did not know of alternate methods such as boiling, or using iodine to purify water, and others were simply too lazy to boil water.

The focus group prepared a tabular sheet listing each question and asking the question “To what degree is this barrier?” They then examined the current messages and interventions that could address the barriers, and identified the required modifications and additions to make such interventions effective. Such findings found use to make changes to the project design and make the task of providing purified water more effective.

The results of barrier analysis translate naturally into corrective action recommendations. Such simplicity and resiliency notwithstanding, this method promotes linear thinking at times, and can be subjective in nature.


Image Credit: geograph.ie/Ross