Approach and Methods

In this section, we present the overall ECIR approach and its characteristic features. Here we focus is on the overarching methodology rather than on the details of a particular method or technique. This is dictated by the diversity of techniques utilized as well as those that have been developed in the course of the investigations.

Basic Assumptions

The ECIR research program is built upon three basic assumptions: (1) the interdependence of technology and policy, (2) the conjunction of uncertainty and regularity in human interactions, and (3) salience of technological change.

Multi-Disciplinary and Multi-Methods

ECIR adopts a multidisciplinary approach that draws on theories, methods and insights from different fields. These include, but are not limited to Political Science, Economics, Business and Management, Engineering, Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence, and Law and Government. Our approach is based on the view that diversity of perspectives, theories, data and modes of inquiry is essential for our purposes.

The research design is modular as it focuses on a set of substantive and methodological issues that are significant in their own right. It is also interconnected because the individual pieces are linked to an overarching “whole”. The research is organized around core themes, defined as distinct investigations. In some cases, the research itself resulted in new methods and tools necessary for navigating through these new complex arenas.

We present the overarching research challenge or core themes (operational goals) of the ECIR research initiative, then we introduce the cross-cutting issues, that is, those that bear on all of the core themes. Then we elaborate on each of the core themes and identify the specific individual projects – the inquiries and products – with completed reports or nearing completion within each theme.

Core Research Challenges: Focus and Topics

The first research challenge is to construct the framework to explore the interconnections between cyberspace and international relations, based on the intersection principle and its application. The results include not only the interconnections between the cyber and the international domains but also the construction of an overarching joint cyber- IR system. All aspects of the research program are derived from, and connected to, the overall framework – the foundation for theory.

The second challenges pertains to the nature of cyber power, cybersecurity and cyber conflicts, broadly defined. Among the key questions examined are: Who controls cyberspace? What are the dominant threats to security and stability, for the nation and for the international community? What are the drivers of potential cyber-based conflicts and contentions in international relations? Addressing these questions serves to illustrate the emergent cyberpolitics and to consider, for example, how technological innovations associated with expansion of social media affect and external distribution of power and influence, and the political issues that result.

The third is on cyber governance, how behavior is disciplined, existing regulatory and institutional frameworks as well as those that might be emerging. It also considers different mechanisms to facilitate decisions under various conditions and constraints.

The fourth is to explore alternative futures for cyberspace and international relations, with special attention to the future of to cyberpolitics in international relations.

The fifth and final research challenge consists of three crosscutting issues:

  • Foundations for 21st International Relations theory: Systems of Interaction.
  • Key features of 21st International Relations theory: Elements New Model.
  • Connecting Cyberspace and International Relations: Levels and Layers.

Basic Features of the Research Program

All of the research activities – for all of the research challenges, core themes and cross cutting themes – involve:

  • Development of a theoretical approach for integration of cyberspace and international relations. 

  • Extensive use of data and/or data generation techniques, for example, for empirical investigation, or modeling and dynamic simulation, or ontology construction. 

  • Investigation with different forms of policy analysis, simulation and modeling.
  • Relevance for DoD – the focus is on ensuring the relevance of ECIR research and its products for U.S. Department of Defense concerns and priorities, as currently expressed in the Minerva Program statements.


By necessity, we draw upon a diverse set of methods, theories, and tools—from social sciences, international studies, policy and risk analysis, communication studies, economics, management, computer science, and law—to explore utility of existing methods and to develop new techniques. These include:

  • Domain Representation – Integrating empirically Cyberspace and International Relations.
  • Data Development and Empirical Analysis: Focusing on and analyze actors, actions and impacts.
  • Dynamic Modeling, Simulation, and Policy Analysis: Providing tools for analysis and policy.
  • Cross-School Participation: Involving MIT and Harvard faculty, research fellows and affiliates.
  • New cyber system and cyber policy courseware, case studies, scripting, and delivery.