This is part 5 in the Doing Environmental Scanning series. We've identified the strategic questions, set up a team, started scanning and have been recording hits and seeing patterns among them. At this stage, you have started to identify trends and you can see some interdependencies among those trends. What does it all mean? When you ask that question, it's time to move to analysis.

Environmental scanning provides input into the strategic thinking stage of strategy development. The aim of this stage is to expand your perceptions of the strategic options available to your organisation by broadening the range and depth of information you consider as you develop those options. It's at this stage where strategic analysis of your scanning hits takes place.

Strategic analysis is about the future, not today. This is a space which is long term and big picture rather than operational. It's about breaking down what you have found in your scanning into manageable ‘chunks’ to determine what is relevant for you, and the areas in which you might need to do more research to inform your strategic thinking.

This space is about possibilities, about what might happen in the future as the result of the evolution of the trends you have identified, not about what is here and present today. If you approach strategy with the mindset that the future is a linear extrapolation of today, then you are likely to have a 'this is rubbish' response to analysing scanning output.  You will be looking for confirming trends that confirm your view of the world today, rather than 'disconfirming' trends that will open up possibilities not seen or previously ignored.

So, approach the analysis stage with an open mind.

How do you analyse your scanning output?

  • Confirm relevant trends emerging from your scanning – this is about determining the importance of what you are finding for your strategic question.  Not everything you find will be relevant for that question, or for your current strategy cycle. Keep an eye on the trends you regard as less relevant, however, as they could start to increase or wane in strength over time.
  • Explore how the relevant trends might evolve over time, and resulting possible impacts of those trends on your organisation into the future.
  • Identify the strategic issues you need to address or explore further to be able to respond to challenges that might emerge.

There are many tools you can use in this stage of the strategy process. You can assess trend relevance using the Trend Relevance Assessment worksheet. The Futures Wheel is a simple tool that helps you identify the implications of a trend continuing to develop over time and how it connects to other trends. Scenario planning or scenario thinking is a tool that allows you to explore risk and opportunity in a range of plausible future contexts and to identify strategic options for today. Systems maps connect trends and drivers of change, so you can see  cause/effect and influence attributes, and see clearly that no trend exists in isolation. Causal Layered Analysis helps to address any deeply held organisational assumptions about the future that may be constraining change.

This stage of the scanning process is often the most difficult, because it involves challenging our deeply held assumptions about how the future will evolve. It also involves recognising that there are no future facts, and that trends have multiple possible outcomes. This is the stage of the strategy process where the complexity and uncertainty of what's possible becomes apparent. It's the stage where you have to move beyond business-as-usual thinking to be able to identify strategic options that will help you develop sustainable strategy for your organisation.

Part 6 of the series is about reporting your scanning outcomes.

Download scanning resources at:  http://thinkingfutures.net/services/scanning/