The organizational approach, alternatively known as the organizational model, the socio-organizational approach, the social movement approach, or the social network approach, challenges the rationalist assumptions of human behavior, by supporting the view that the actions of groups always depend greatly on the society they operate in. Thus, social interactions, and organizational structures and hierarchies influence group decisions. This approach argues that groups are more interested in maintaining their presence and existence, through outperforming other competitor groups and rivals, resolving internal conflicts that cause issues within the group, and maintaining a steady stream of new members.

If we are to understand group behavior and dynamics, then the environment a group is active in, cannot be ignored. The environment and interactions with other groups must be brought into the equation. This is where the organizational approach to analyzing terrorism focuses on, that the environment of conflict, or the ‘conflict environment’, is a dynamic system, instead of a simple, one-way path to influence and the domination for terrorist groups and organizations. 

There are similarities between the strategic approach and organizational approach in that terrorist organizations are different political actors that seek to maximize their profits and preferences. The influential actors in the strategic approach are the group, their opponent/s, and the public audience they target with their activities. In the organizational approach, the influential actors have slightly changed into the groups’ leaders, their followers, their rivals, and their potential supporters or sympathizers.

Assumptions of this Approach

Several assumptions are connected to the organizational approach. Firstly, it assumes that the political organizations prioritize their continued survival over other objectives so that the organization continues to exist. This is prioritized over their strategic success in conflicts. To achieve this, more resources are put towards gaining new recruits, donors, supporters, and media coverage, taking care of their internal conflicts and competition from other rivals.

Secondly, it assumes that organizations are not single, unitary actors, but have divisions and fragmentations within them. They have different individuals and smaller groups with different goals and interests. These interests can conflict, and cause rivalries within these organizations. The violent rivalry that caused the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) to separate from the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) in 1997 is an example (Harnden, 1999).

Thirdly, it assumes that organizations have to always consistently manage their internal conflicts, and external rivalries. This means that, while they have to calm their internal fragmentations and disagreements to maintain the organization’s survival, and also have to outmatch their competitors. The rivalry between the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al Qaeda (AQ) is an example (Pergher, 2018).

Fourthly, it assumes that organizations develop their own unique culture, subculture, and tactics, as seen how terrorist organizations utilizing jihadi movements often use suicide attacks consistently in different situations. This can lead to the group’s decline, or rise through innovation in tactics.

Implications of this Approach

Instead of addressing the obvious implications from the assumptions, the policy implication will be addressed here. Firstly, this suggests that suppressing terrorist attacks by the government rarely eliminates them, or even make significant improvements towards stopping terrorism. This is because the government is only one of many opponents and challenges these organizations have to tackle, and less important than other rival groups and their internal conflicts.

Thus, opposite from overpowering the terrorist groups with counterterrorism measures advocated by the strategic approach, the organizational approach supports the divide and conquer approach. This would entail fragmenting these organizations over time and focusing on weakening their attacks and reducing their casualties bit by bit.

Another implication would be that governments should manage all forms of disagreement against it, since these organizations can use any opportunity to get their leverage back. These can lead to governments suppressing non-violent movements with this excuse, and thus this aspect of counterterrorism should be approach with care.

Limitations of this Approach

The empirical support for this approach is limited, and this approach relies heavily on predictions. Terrorism does not always happen with groups, and this approach fails to account for the unpredictability that comes with human psychology and the lack of data in the field.

These highlight the various sides of the organizational approach to analyzing terrorism in brief.