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Scanning

Scanning Process Graphic

Scanning Process Graphic

Here's a graphic that summarises the basic steps in the process of environmental scanning. Different people and organisations and groups will have their own version of this but ultimately when you scan you need to know four things.

Download my free scanning guide here to find out more about scanning and how to do it in practice.

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Doing Environmental Scanning Part 4: Recording Your Hits

Okay, you have your focus (Part 1), the scanning team is in place (Part 2), your keywords are decided, and you've started to scan (Part 3).  How do you keep track of what you are finding?

Where to Store Your Hits

database word cloudAt its simplest, you can use your computer's folder system to store copies of documents, and a social bookmarking site like kippt or diigo or a curation site like Pearltrees and Scoop.it to record website links.  If you make sure you use the same tags and keywords in both places, this will work - if you are not dealing with huge amounts of information. Even if you start off small, over time you will amass a lot of information, and the biggest challenge then becomes searching and retrieving that information when you need it - and doing something with it.

I use Shaping Tomorrow for my scanning database. And here is a disclaimer: I now do some work in partnership with Shaping Tomorrow. I started using their database in 2005, as a paying customer and I'm still a paying customer. Before then, I think I tried almost every solution I could think of - the folder system I described above, developing my own database, word documents, excel spreadsheets, websites...you get the idea. I'm not going to provide any more of a free plug for Shaping Tomorrow; however, head over to their site to see the value of what they provide for yourself. I use the site to store my scanning hits, and to write up trend alerts and curate reports (see the How I Scan page for more info on how I scan and what I do with what I find).

I also use Evernote to store webpages that I don't classify as a scanning hit, but which I want to keep track of. Sometimes this is a quote or a section from a paper I've written, and I think the data or concepts being discussed will come in handy in the future for a presentation or a workshop. I do use the same tags and keywords in both Shaping Tomorrow and Evernote.

Sharing What You are Finding

People Social NetworkingThe key to recording your scanning hits is to do so in a way that is accessible not only to you and the scanning team, but also to staff in your organisation to use in their day-to-day work.

If you do this, you are offering a resource to your staff that they didn't have before and over time, you could invite them to start contributing to the scanning database (remember that most of us already scan the environment every day, even if we don't call it that).

Finding the Patterns

Network 3d diagramOnce you have been scanning regularly for a couple of months, you will start to see similarities and patterns across individual hits - when this happens, you are starting to identify a trend. Scan in more depth around that area, and see if it is indeed a trend - a cluster of similar events that all seem to be moving in a similar direction. If it is, and it's relevant to your focus, then this is something you could write up as a trend report - but don't do that just yet.

Many companies do trend reports and many people put out their lists of 'the most important trends to watch for this year/this decade, usually at the beginning of each year. The former variety will usually cost you money, the latter is usually freely shared.

Few, however, do this kind of work in context - that is, they treat a trend or two as if they existed in isolation and never connected or collided with another trend. In reality, no trend exists in isolation and it is the trend ecosystem relevant to your focus that you are trying to build through your scanning.

So you need to be alert as you scan for connections and dependencies among the trends you are finding, and record your thinking about these connections as you go. When you are ready, a systems map of your trend ecosystem or a Three Horizons map is a useful exercise, and can be done  when you come to the stage when you want to more formally analyse the output from your scanning to use in your strategy development.

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Doing Environmental Scanning Part 3: Starting to Scan

The first two posts in the Doing Environmental Scanning series were on focusing your scanning and who should be on the scanning team. This post is about starting to scan – taking those first steps to explore what’s ‘out there’. Remember that you are probably already scanning the environment in an undirected sense, particularly around your industry and your professional work. Environmental scanning in a strategic sense is similar but requires a broader and focused perspective, both in terms of where you look and what you look for. Set up your classification system

A preliminary step is to consider the categories you will use to classify and record what you are finding. You can use a STEEP framework – social, technological, economic, environmental, political – or a variation such as PESTLE or VERGE, plus some sub-categories.  Setting up a system means that there will be some consistency across the scanning team that will help similar hits be connected. When you are starting out though, it’s probably best not to worry too much about getting the categories right, as you will usually quickly work out the best system and tags/keywords to use.  The point of doing this is to enable you to retrieve your scanning hits easily in the future.

You should also have some sort of idea of what sort of outcome you want from your scanning – will you be doing a report for the Board, a snapshot report on some major trends, a monthly newsletter to staff?  There are different types of ‘products’ you can develop from your scanning, with varying levels of detail. Again, as you are starting out, don’t worry too much about this, as you will begin to work out how you can use your scanning hits to enhance your organisation’s strategy and planning processes.

So…you’ve got your focus, and an idea of what you need to look for. Your scanning team is in place and has been trained. How to take that first step?  Yes, go to google and search on some keywords and see what you get.  Thiswill be fun, but can quickly be overwhelming as you will have lots of information to deal with. You may also feel unsure about what is relevant and what is not, and feel just a tad overwhelmed.  This is normal, so keep going. You will start to see connections between the individual hits you are finding, and the relevance of what you are finding will become clearer.  Remember to use your focus as your anchor in all of this – if you are unsure of whether something is relevant, think about how it might help you better understand the issues you have identified.  If it’s not directly relevant, but you think it’s interesting, trust your instinct and record it anyway.  It’s the collision of  seemingly disparate data that often generates new strategic insights.

Where to Look?

Using google is one way to explore what’s ‘out there’, and the sites of futures consultants and futurists sometimes have trend reports. Meta scanning sites like Shaping Tomorrow use a crowdsourcing approach to gather scanning hits and make them available for free. Subscribe to RSS feeds of sites you find useful, and ones you find a bit weird or way out. The latter are often the home of the next big trend that you will need to deal with.  Do searches on Twitter as the quality of information being shared there is quite extraordinary.  You need to avoid, of course, the ‘what I ate for breakfast’ types posts and instead look for the tweets of people in the futures community and beyond who are sharing what they are finding in their scanning.  You can follow me on Twitter too, and check out my Paper.li scanning update.

Your Biggest Challenge?

Your biggest challenge will be finding the time to scan on a regular basis. Scanning all too quickly falls down the priority list in the face of busy days and overloaded email inboxes. I do my scanning first thing in the morning when I read overnight emails and feeds. After you have been scanning for a while, you’ll have become very proficient at identifying what’s important and pretty fast at entering the details on whatever scanning database/system you are using. Whatever schedule you set up to scan, make sure it’s regular, and make sure it’s time you treat as non-negotiable.

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