|by James L.
[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published
in George T. Kurian and Graham Molitor (Eds)
Encyclopedia of the future. New York: Simon and Schuster, 814-816.
Scanning is a futures research tool that allows us to integrate our
understanding of various sectors of the external environment and their
relationships with systematically collected macroenvironmental information to
obtain early warning of change. Scanning
provides strategic intelligence useful in determining strategic options. In the context of strategic planning, scanning
is one analytic component. Analysis
consists of scanning environments to identify changing trends and potential
developments, monitoring them, forecasting their future patterns, and assessing
their impacts. Combined with an internal
analysis of an organization's vision, mission, strengths, and weaknesses,
external analysis assists in planning.
and Narayanan (1986) describe three environmental levels. The
task environment refers to a set of customers. The
industry environment comprises all enterprises within a particular industry. At the broadest level is the
macroenvironment, which includes the
Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, and Political (or STEEP)
sectors. Changes in one sector at any
level (local, national, or global) may lead to changes in another. A war in the Middle East may cause the price
of oil to increase, thus stimulating a recession, in turn resulting in budget
cuts. Technological developments in
California that enable the conversion of wind power to low-cost energy may be
introduced worldwide, thereby reducing the costs of fossil fuel energy, with
concomitant economic ramifications. Thus,
developments in the macroenvironment can affect developments in the task and
industrial environments. This point
underscores the necessity of scanning the macroenvironment, as well as the task
and industrial environments, to pick up the early signals of change that may
affect one's organization or activities.
Scanning can be conceptualized in a number of ways. Aguilar (1967) identified four collection
Undirected viewing consists of reading a variety of publications for no
specific purpose other than to be informed.
Conditioned viewing consists of
responding to this information in terms of assessing its relevance to the
Informal searching consists of
actively seeking specific information but in a relatively unstructured way.
Formal searching is a more actively
organized attempt to devise methodologies for obtaining information for specific
Morrison, Renfro, and Boucher (1984) describe two
modes: passive and active scanning. Passive scanning is what most people do
when they read journals and newspapers. For
serious news coverage, many read the same kinds of materials: a local newspaper,
perhaps a national newspaper like the New
York Times or Wall Street Journal, and an industry or trade newspaper. People are less inclined to read
narrow-interest periodicals when passively scanning. The organizational consequences of passive
scanning are that we do not systematically use the information as intelligence
to benefit the organization, and, furthermore, we may miss ideas signaling
changes in the macroenvironment that could affect the organization. Consequently, to broaden our perspectives and
to fight inherent myopia, a more active scanning is required. Such active scanning focuses attention on
information resources that span a broad area of concern, including the
technological, economic, social, and political sectors, at the local, regional,
national, and global level.
Fahey, King, and Narayanan (1981) have defined the
typology of active scanning.
Irregular scanning systems are used
on an ad hoc basis and are often initiated by specific crises. This approach is used when planners need
information for making assumptions, and is conducted for that purpose only. Periodic
systems are invoked when periodically required to update previous scans, perhaps
in preparation for a new planning cycle.
Continuous systems use the
active scanning mode of data collection to systematically inform users. This mode limits potentially relevant "data"
only in terms of one's conception of the relevant macroenvironment. Scanning data derived from a host of varied
sources is inherently scattered, vague, and imprecise. Because early signals often show up in
unexpected places, the scanning purview must be broad, ongoing, and sufficiently
comprehensive to cover the environments important to users or to an
important criterion for literature selection is diversity. Information can be
obtained from books, newspapers, magazines, journals, television and radio
programs, computer bulletin boards and other on-line services, and from
knowledgeable individuals. There is no
lack of available information resources. Future Survey Annual 1988-1989 lists
some 454 futures-relevant periodicals, including 46 publications in
international economics and development, 45 in environment/resources/energy, and
31 in health and human services (Marien, 1991, p. 86).
Existing environmental scans provide readymade surveys. United Way of America publishes
What Lies Ahead on a biennial basis. The World Future Society publishes
Future Survey, a monthly abstract of
books, articles, and reports containing forecasts, trends, and ideas about the
future. The Global Network publishes
John Naisbitt’s Trend Letter, and
Kiplinger Washington Editors publish the
Kiplinger Washington Letter.
general-interest sources are as follows:
Newspapers--New York Times, Washington
Post, Wall Street Journal, Miami Herald, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times,
Christian Science Monitor, and The
Times (of London).
Magazines--Vital Speeches of the Day,
Across the Board, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, Atlantic, The
Nation, Ms, The Futurist, and Whole
Adequate scanning of the macroenvironment requires identifying specific
information resources for each STEEP category. Some
information sources organized by category for the macroenvironment should
include the following:
American Demographics, Public Opinion
and data from periodic publications or statistics from the Census Bureau, other
federal, state, and local governmental agencies, and university sociology
departments or population study centers. The
Department of Labor and the National Technical and Information Services generate
specific types of demographic analyses.
The National Center for Health Statistics provides data on trends in areas such
as fertility and life expectancy. The
U.S. League of Savings Associations studies changes in home-buyer demographics,
and the American Council of Life Insurance's Social Research Services conducts
demographic studies. The UN and OECD
publish periodic reports detailing international developments in these areas.
Review, Datamation, Byte, Computer
World, Discover, Infoworld, Science, Scientific American, Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences, and
Issues in Science and Technology.
Economic literature—Business Week,
The Economist, Fortune, Forbes, Money, Inc., and
The Monthly Labor Review. Data may also be obtained from Department
of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis monthly reports as well as reports from
the Departments of Labor, Energy, and Treasury.
State and local governmental agencies provide regional economic data.
(Royal Society of Canada) and Environment. Several organizations publish
future-oriented reports on the environment—the Global Tomorrow Coalition, the
Worldwatch Institute, the World Resources Institute, the Audubon Society, and
the Sierra Club.
Republic, The National Review, The
Nation, The National Journal, In These Times, Mother Jones, Federal Register,
Congressional Quarterly, Weekly Report, and Digest of Public General Bills. Other sources include public opinion
leaders, social critics, futures-oriented research establishments (e.g., the
Hudson Institute, the Institute for the Future), public policy research centers
(e.g., Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute), governmental
documents (e.g., public hearings, congressional hearings), proposed bills to the
legislature, and statements or opinions by experts or activists.
State Legislatures (National Conference of State Legislatures) or provides a
periodic summary of pertinent legislation being considered in state legislatures
throughout the country.
Information resources for scanning the task
environment include local, state, and regional newspapers, local and state
government reports as well as experts in demography, sociology, and political
science departments in local colleges and universities. Perhaps one of the most useful information
resources consists of networks of friends and colleagues within the organization
and in the industry.
Electronic databases containing up-to-date
descriptions of articles (by title and, many times, by abstract) are available
by subscription. Abstracted Business
Information (ABI Inform) and Public Affairs Information Service (PAIS) are two
such databases. Two database services, Dialogue and BRS, contain hundreds more
databases specializing in many areas. Many libraries already subscribe to these
databases and database services.
In conclusion, most everyone does passive
scanning. However, active scanning is required to enhance abilities to
understand, anticipate, and respond to the threats and opportunities posed by
changes in the external environment. Active scanning is a part of any level of
scanning—irregular, periodic, or continuous.
Environmental scanning is only one component of
external analysis. However, it is the starting point for identifying critical
trends and potential events, monitoring them, and forecasting where they are
going. Comprehensive external analysis is not only an enriching development
experience; more importantly, it provides a basis for discerning the strategic
direction of your organization from which you may plan far more effectively.
DATA STORAGE; FORECASTING METHODS; ON-LINE SERVICES; PLANNING.
AGUILAR, FRANCIS. Scanning the Business
Environment. New York:
FAHEY, LIAM; KING, WILLIAM R.; and
NARAYANAN, V. K. "Environmental Scanning
and Forecasting in Strategic Planning: The
State of the Art." Long Range Planning
14 (1981): 32-39.
FAHEY, LIAM, and NARAYANAN, V. K.
Analysis for Strategic Management.
York: West Publishing Company, 1986.
MARIEN, MICHAEL. "Scanning: An
Imperfect Activity in an Era of Fragmentation and Uncertainty."
Research Quarterly 7 (1991): 82-90.
MORRISON, JAMES L.; RENFRO, WILLIAM
L.; and BOUCHER, WAYNE I. Futures
Research and the
Process. Washington, DC: Association
for the Study of Higher Education, 1984.