This is the final in a series about doing environmental scanning. In the previous five posts, we've discussed focusing your scanning, setting up your scanning team, how to start scanning, recording what you are finding and analysing your scanning output. This sixth post is about reporting your scanning findings within your organisation.

This is a critical stage in terms of ensuring your scanning findings are 'used' within your organisation's strategic processes. It's very easy to read a scanning report, say something like "that's interesting", put it down and go back to work. The aim with futures focused scanning reports is to trigger thinking about new ways to address strategic challenges, to move thinking about possibilities beyond the status-quo.

A scanning report is an opportunity to change the way people think in your organisation, so they need to be prepared with care, particularly in terms of tailoring the report for your audience(s).  There are different types of scanning reports:

  • a snapshot report of the external environment, covering the status of a selected number of trends at a given point in time,
  • a background paper for the strategic planning cycle,
  • regular trend reports on single trends that you are watching (including other trends influencing the trends on your watch list),
  • more detailed quarterly reports on implications of trends and drivers, and
  • Quick snippets about what you are finding, circulated at regular intervals across your organisation.

The type of report you prepare will depend not only on your audience, but also how embedded scanning is in your strategy processes. If you are just starting out, the aim will be to ensure your first reports as accepted as valuable additions to your organisation's strategy processes.

There are also many formats for reports, some more detailed than others. Explore options for presenting beyond paper as well - presentations, videos and other technological formats can be useful.  My advice, particularly for a first report, is to keep it simple and very clear. Focus on relevance for your strategy, credible sources and a range of strategic options that connect your scanning to today's challenges. Focus on the quality rather than quantity in your report.

In all cases, you should include trigger questions that help generate some strategic conversation about what these trends mean for your organisation. Trigger questions for specific trends can take the forms of answers to the following questions:

  • What impact might it have on your industry today and in the future?
  • What might be the implications for your organisation?
  • How could you respond?
  • How, and in what ways, could this information be relevant to my organisation?

The only way you will build an organisational conversation about your report is if you have worked out ahead of time where scanning 'fits' into your existing planning/strategy process. If you don't do this, people will see no value in the conversation and won't contribute - because the relationship between scanning and strategic decision making is not clear. They will find your scanning reports interesting, but not useful, and nothing will change.

If you have time and the capacity, test your report with a trusted group of people inside the organisation who can give you feedback - this will allow you to adjust the content and/or presentation to ensure it is received positively.

A Final Comment

Scanning is a continual process. For it to be of any value in strategy development, it needs to be done on an ongoing basis. It needs to be someone’s job.  Adapt the processes described in this guide to suit your organisation.

You are aiming to build your understanding of the external environment in ways that are broader and deeper and more meaningful to your organisation’s strategy development processes.

The aim of scanning and of futures work in general is to enable organisations to be ready to respond to the challenges of the external environment, and to adjust strategy accordingly. What you are trying to avoid is the ‘head in the sand’ syndrome where you believe that you don’t need to keep an eye on what might be coming because the future will be just like today.  Expect surprises with this approach, and expect to stay reactive!

You will find that your focus on what really matters sharpens over time. You will still be under the influence of the busyness syndrome on a daily basis, but you will have clearer signposts about where to focus your energies – both as an individual and as an organisation. Your biggest challenge is likely to be finding the time to scan and to think about what you are seeing – but you must make the time.  You will change the way you think, and you will be able to contribute to the development of a longer term view of your organisation’s future.

More information on scanning is available at http://thinkingfutures.net/resources/scanning-resources-2/.  And, if you have any questions, get in touch with me for a chat.