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.