Strategic Futurists; Value Systems Specialists


The role of Environmental Scanning in planning departments

Thursday 14 April 2011

Environmental Scanning (ES) is the process of paying attention to the world in which you operate in order to identify and gain a sense of potential signals of change in how your world is developing. When discussing the idea of 'change' we need to be clear - a potential signal of change is likely to be one that alerts you to a possible difference between where you thought you were going, and where you now might be required to go. In other words, ES is about managing the difference between your assumptions and your expectations, and the emerging reality of what is taking shape. For any department that has a planning function (and there are in fact surprisingly few that do not) effective ES provides a key element - time. Effective ES acts as an alert function for staff and management teams so that they can prepare their business to take alternative or additional action. There's some core elements to an effective ES:

First you'll need a recognition and acceptance that ES signals can be both formal and informal

Second you'll need to recognise and accept that effective ES is a distributed function - everyone has the ability to pay attention to the things they feel, see and hear and that they might be picking up valuable clues for the organisation

Third - ES works best when you have a system or framework for both gathering the assorted signals and then analysing them for potential relevance to your workplace.  The framework provides a means to sort the useful from the mere noise of day to day operations.  We want our ES initiatives to generate useful insights

I developed VSTEEP (Values, Societal, Technology; Economic; Environmental and Political) which is a step beyond the more commonly used STEEP and more functionally useful than PESTLE (where the 'L' stands for Legal.  I see Legal issues as emanating from the Political process).  Whatever model you use, someone has to gather the data and turn it into information.  There's lots of ways to do that and it is not quite as complex or as daunting as it seems and although there's a few other things I'd recommend, just by following the three steps suggested here, you'll be well on the way to providing your planning capability with more time to get your future right.  And that is after all, what most of us want to achieve

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