Environmental Scanning at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education: A Progress Report1

by Edward G. Simpson, Jr., Donna L. McGinty and James L. Morrison

Simpson, Edward G. Jr., Donna L. McGinty, and James L. Morrison. (1987, Autumn) Environmental Scanning at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education: A Progress Report. Continuing higher education review, 1-20.

A technique has been developed in the corporate world to systematically gather and evaluate information from the external environment—the environmental scanning process (Thomas, 1980). Brown and Weiner (1985) define environmental scanning as “a kind of radar to scan the world systematically and signal the new, the unexpected, the major and the minor” (p. ix). Aguilar (1967) has defined scanning as the systematic collection of external information in order to (1) lessen the randomness of information flowing into the organization and (2) provide early warnings for managers of changing external conditions. More specifically, Coates (1985) has identified the objectives of an environmental scanning system as:

  • detecting scientific, technical, economic, social, and political interactions and other elements important to the organization

  • defining the potential threats, opportunities, or potential changes for the organization implied by those events

  • promoting a future orientation in management and staff

  • alerting management and staff to trends which are converging, diverging, speeding up, slowing down, or interacting (pp. 2-13, 14).

Recent literature in educational planning has encouraged college and university administrators to use this process as part of their strategic planning model (Callan, 1986; Cope, 1981; Keller, 1983; Morrison, Renfro, and Boucher, 1984; and Morrison, 1985, 1986-87). Several colleges and universities have begun to develop methods of formally incorporating environmental scanning information in planning for the future. Sometimes, as is the case at Cantonsville (Maryland) Community College or Georgia Southern College, this takes the form of one or two individuals in the planning or institutional research office doing a survey of the available literature (Morrison, 1986). Often this review is comprehensive and focuses on obtaining important historical data as well as forecasts in the social, technological, economic, and political sectors of the external environment. Periodically, the scan is updated.  Many times the scan is restricted to one or two sectors of the external environment. Jonsen (1986), for example, cites the scan of the California Postsecondary Education Commission as focusing on demographic and economic data. Other times the scan is confined to selecting key environmental issues, trends, and domains for monitoring. At the University of Minnesota, the Experimental Team on Environmental Assessment (ETEA) identified between 20 and 30 issues to track (Hearn and Heydinger, 1985). There are few reports in the literature describing these systems, irrespective of the form they are taking. A search of the literature found little in the way of illustrating how an educational organization has actually developed, implemented and used the process to provide information for the strategic direction of the organization.

The Georgia Center for Continuing Education has developed a comprehensive environmental scanning project that attempts to identify signals of change in all sectors of the external environment. That is, we have selected information resources from the social, technological, economic, and political aspects of the environment at the international, national, regional, and state levels, and have designed a process to ensure that these resources are systematically and regularly reviewed. This may be the most comprehensive scanning system yet operating in a university setting.

The purpose of this paper is to describe the environmental scanning project at the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education. It begins by describing the history, structure, and circumstances which led to the initiation of the project. What follows is a detailed account of how the structure was established and how the system operates to provide strategic direction in organizational and program planning. It concludes with an examination of the benefits, costs, problems and issues experienced in some 15 months of operating the system.

The Setting

The University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education is a comprehensive adult learning complex. It is organized into three divisions—instructional services, telecommunications and media services, and hotel and operating services. There are 250 full-time Center faculty and staff, as well as several hundred University professors who teach part-time in the Center's instructional program.

In August 1983, a new director charged the staff to develop a mission statement for the Center, and objectives for the operating units. The expectation was that discussions focused around strengths/weaknesses, the mission, and the future of the Center would facilitate organizational development and renewal, including team building across the three divisions. These activities began a formal strategic planning process.

Establishing the System

External consultants were employed to discuss the role of environmental scanning in strategic planning. In their seminars it was stressed that not only could environmental scanning serve as a major source of information for the strategic planning process, but it also had a number of ancillary consequences in line with the objectives of individual and organizational renewal. For example, individuals serving as scanners evaluating what they read, saw, and heard in terms of the implications for the organization, not only would become more knowledgeable about what was happening in the external environment, but also would become more future oriented.

Because the seminar participants demonstrated interest in environmental scanning, the management team commissioned an all day workshop on environmental scanning in June 1985. This workshop was viewed as a pivotal experience for Center leadership and staff. Would the initial enthusiasm prevail? Would the benefits of environmental scanning strategic planning seem worth the extra effort of signing-up as a scanner  Would there be enough volunteers to justify the time and expense of a pilot effort in environmental scanning?

A memorandum from the director to the staff billed the workshop as a voluntary activity, one last opportunity to explore environmental scanning before being asked to commit oneself to becoming an official scanner. Forty-three persons, including the director, associate directors, assistant directors, members of the professional staff, and several secretaries, participated in the workshop. The purpose of the workshop was to learn about environmental scanning and its relationship to strategic planning.  Participants were urged to come to the workshop with a list of trend and emerging issues that they felt would affect the future of the Georgia Center.

As anticipated, the workshop experience succeeded in building enthusiasm to establish and participate in the system. For some, this was an opportunity for ideas generated by readings to make a potential contribution to planning for the Center's future. Also, environmental scanning promised to provide a rich pool of programming ideas tied to trends and emerging issues. For others, environmental scanning indicated a change in management style in the direction of participatory management. For the Center's management team, staff endorsement of environmental scanning meant that a full-blown strategic planning model could be used to supplement more traditional assessments. The familiar discussions of organizational strengths and weaknesses would now be flavored with considerations of external threats and opportunities.

Project Structure

The environmental scanning activity of the Georgia Center is organized as a project of the director's office. (See Figure 1). The Center director serves as project director, and the assistant to the director serves as the project manager.  There are two review committees: the Environmental Scanning Evaluation Committee (ESEC), consisting of volunteer scanners from each of the three divisions; and the Strategic Planning Executive Committee (SPEC). SPEC consists of the director, associate directors, assistant directors, the marketing and communications officer, a telecommunications representative, a facilities representative, and the assistant to the director, who, as project manager, serves as liaison between the two committees.

Scanning Taxonomy

The major purpose of taxonomy is to be able to classify abstracts produced in environmental scanning, thereby facilitating retrieval of the abstracts. The Center chose to modify the taxonomy developed by United Way of America. A widely ranging taxonomy resulted, which reflects the broad scope of adult and continuing education within the context of a comprehensive land grant university. Taxonomy modifications reflected the Center's specific needs: for example, hotel and food service management; conference/seminar development and management; the "training" phenomenon spawned by government, business and industry as well as professional associations; program development advances in areas in which the Center can utilize UGA faculty expertise; and technology advances in instructional delivery systems. Eventually, the system was to be computerized; therefore, it was important to have a carefully defined retrieval system.

Assignment of Information Resources

Assigning scanners specific materials for regular review and analysis provided a measure of confidence that many "blips" on the radar screen would be spotted. A list of continuing information resources to be scanned was identified, including journals, magazines, newspapers, and newsletters. The project manager matched reading preferences of scanners with resources on the list. (See Figure 2). In addition, scanners were encouraged to do "wild card" scanning (i.e., to be alert for any information from other than their assigned sources, which would have implications for the Center). Therefore, scanners periodically turned in abstracts of cartoons, radio and TV programs, sessions at professional conferences, and even recent books.

Figure 2
Continuing Resources Being Scanned by Volunteer Scanners
Georgia Center for Continuing Education

Adult and Continuing Education Today

Journal of Home Economics  
Advertising Age   Journal of Human Resources  
Alternative Higher Education   Lifelong Learning Forum  
American Banker   Meeting News
American Educator   Modern Maturity
American Health   Naisbitt Trend Report  
Athens Banner Herald   National Review  
Athens Observer   New Republic  

Atlanta Constitution

New York Review of Books  
Business Atlanta New York Times (Sun.)  
Business Week   New Yorker  
CAEL News  

New Woman  

Change Newsweek  
Changing Times Office Administration/Automation  
Chronicle of Higher Education Office Professional  
Communications Age   Omni  
Continuum   Practicum


Psychology Today  
Education Review   Public Administration Review  
Education USA   Public Management  
Educational Technology   Public Opinion  
Executive Woman   Review of Higher Education  
Forbes   Savvy  
Fortune   Science News  
Foundation News  

Secretary (The)  

Futurist (The)   Smithsonian  
Georgia Business & Economic Conditions Social Forces  

Georgia Trend

Gerontologist   Technology Review  
"Green Sheet" (NASULGC)   Time  
Harper's   Training  
Harvard Business Review Training & Development Journal  
Harvard Educational Review   Urban Georgia  
Hotel Management   USA Today  
Journal of Continuing Education  

U.S. News & World Report  

Journal of Extension   Wall Street Journal  
Journal of Higher Education   Wilson Quarterly  

Training Scanners

In August 1985, two training sessions were held for those employees who volunteered to be scanners. Scanners learned that their primary task was to identify objective descriptions of the current external environment and to identify signals of potential change. The concepts used in scanning (i.e., trend, event, and emerging issue) have been defined as follows (Morrison, 1987):  

  • A trend is a series of social, technological, economic or political characteristics that can usually be estimated and/or measured over time. It is a statement of the general direction of change, usually gradual long term change, reflecting the forces shaping the region, nation, or society in general. Trend information may be used to describe the future, identify emerging issues, or project future events. For example, in 1970, 35% of married women were in the labor force; by 1980 this percentage had risen to 49%.
  • An event is a discrete, confirmable occurrence that makes the future different from the past. An event would be, "Federal funding for student financial aid is reduced by 50%."
  • An emerging issue is a potential controversy that arises out of a trend or event that may require some form of response. For example, "Litigation as measured by the number of law suits per year in American society is increasing." An immediate consequence of this trend is substantially higher liability insurance for colleges and universities.  An emerging consequence arises from a tendency of state legislatures to protect the public by requiring licensure of an increasing number of occupations, including periodic "updating" of credentials. This consequence implies an enhanced opportunity for the expansion of programming in continuing professional/occupational education.

Scanners were informed that they were scanning to anticipate political, economic, technological and social changes, in order to facilitate the Georgia Center's planning process and policy formulation. Their responsibilities included writing abstracts. Management recognized that scanners might be reluctant to spend the time required to write abstracts. However, requiring scanners to write abstracts themselves had the advantage of having individuals who read the articles also developing the impact assessments and implications which lay behind their identifying the articles in the first place. Furthermore, it is particularly important for senior level people to submit impact assessments of the scanning information they send to the director's office.

Scanners were informed that the lead sentence of an abstract should be a response to these questions: "If I had only a few minutes to describe this article to a colleague, what would I say?" "What is the most important idea or event that indicates change?" Responses to these questions were followed by a one-paragraph explanation. Whenever possible, statistical data were included. The summary was limited to no more than one-half page of single-spaced, typewritten copy, since the scanning evaluation committee must deal with some 60 to 120 information items per quarter. This review is made easier when abstracts are contained on a single page. The implications section is the last section of the abstract. Here scanners were asked to respond to the question, "How will the information in this article affect the Georgia Center's programs or management?"

The System in Operation

The previous section describes the essential components of an environmental scanning project and the way in which they were developed by the Georgia Center for its purposes. At this point, it is possible to visualize parts of the whole-as a model for any organization. There is a project director to oversee the entire process. There are scanners who are scanning, reading, and abstracting articles from assigned publications. There is a project manager, receiving, reading, and coding abstracts. There are two committees, both responsible for analyzing the data (abstracts) in terms of implications for strategic planning. 

This section describes the procedures by which these components are coordinated once each quarter to obtain organizational consensus as to the most pressing threats and opportunities. We will illustrate this process, paying particular attention to the trends, issues, and events that have surfaced thus far and illustrating the way they were used in the Georgia Center's strategic planning process.

The Schedule                                           

In the last three weeks of the system's quarterly operating cycle, a tightly coordinated series of events, activities, and committee meetings focus on information collected during the quarter. In the first week, all abstracts submitted since the last quarterly review cycle are reviewed by the project manager, who then synthesizes them into a coherent reference called a “Strategic Planning Worksheet.” (See Figure 3). In essence, this preliminary analysis categorizes the abstracts under general statements related to trends, issues, or events. These statements, referred to as "strategic thinking stimulators," are paired with thumbnail summaries of all pertinent abstracts.2

The Evaluation Committee Meeting

In the second week, the project manager chairs a meeting of the Environmental Scanning Evaluation Committee (ESEC). All Georgia Center scanners who do not serve on the Strategic Planning Executive Committee (SPEC) form the pool from which ESEC members are solicited each quarter. The purpose of making membership voluntary is to encourage participation of all staff members in the Georgia Center's strategic planning process. The number of staff members participating in this committee has ranged from 14 to 25 over the first year.

The ESEC meeting begins with committee members independently reviewing a copy of the "'Strategic Planning Worksheet" and identifying their six or seven priorities for discussion. Members are instructed to identify on a tally sheet seven or eight strategic thinking stimulators (approximately one-third of the number produced each quarter) that have the most salient implications for the Georgia Center. Then, in round robin fashion, members publicly cast one vote for a stimulator they consider important to the Center. The tally is recorded on a flip chart during each round. This process continues until each member of the group has exhausted his or her allocated quota of votes. Through a modified nominal group technique, the top four issues are then identified and discussed by the committee. The primary purpose of this activity is to clarify, focus, or expand the issues as they relate to the Georgia Center and to make recommendations for the strategic planning process.

The Strategic Planning Executive Committee Meeting

After ESEC's meeting, the project manager initiates SPEC's formal review of the "Strategic Planning Worksheet" and the quarter's abstracts. The project manager delivers to each SPEC member the "Strategic Planning Worksheets," a voting form, and all abstracts collected that quarter. The project manager tallies SPEC's anonymous votes, generates a comparison of the top six issues surfaced by ESEC and by SPEC, and delivers the evaluation committee's written report to SPEC members.

The Strategic Planning Executive Committee meets in a half day session. The first order of business is to formulate an update on the action agenda set by SPEC in previous meetings. Planning adjustments and a new agenda may develop in these discussions.  The second order of business is to examine and discuss the final comparison of ESEC and SPEC votes as to those trends, issues and events that have the most implications for the Georgia Center's future. A crucial concern is: Are the same issues surfacing from “bottom-up” as from “top-down”? If there are conspicuous differences, what do they indicate to Center management?

The third order of business is to discuss and act upon the three top concerns of ESEC. These discussions are always broadened by the perspectives and orientations of SPEC members. ESEC recommendations by be adopted, modified, or rejected (within the context of the Center's overall strategic plan), or SPEC may generate. an alternate solution. Finally, SPEC discusses and acts upon those concerns uppermost in SPEC's assessment and not identified by the ESEC.

Post-Analysis Follow-Up

The three-week flurry of scanning activity, which once a quarter concentrates the efforts of thirty to forty scanners in the arena of analysis, concludes with the SPEC meeting. However, at this stage, much remains to be done in follow-up, the premise being that environmental scanning information should be widely disseminated throughout the organization and that everyone should be clear about results and the action agenda that may have been set. A memorandum from the Director to SPEC summarizes SPEC's quarterly deliberations and the action assignments that were made. A memorandum from the project manager to the evaluation committee is used to transmit a copy of the director's memorandum to SPEC, the evaluation committee's written report to SPEC, and the comparison of top concerns voted by SPEC and the evaluation committee.

As noted earlier, all abstracts, articles, and written reports are deposited in the Center library for use by staff members. (Staff members are encouraged to derive implications for their functional areas from the environmental scanning materials.) Within each quarterly cycle, the project manager compiles and distributes to all Georgia Center employees an environmental scanning newsletter, Lookouts. Most of the material for Lookouts is gleaned from abstracts and summarizes national, regional, state, and local issues. Included in each edition are top strategic concerns identified during the quarter by SPEC and the Evaluation Committee, as well as programming ideas identified by scanners.3

The System Responds

During the first year of the project, Georgia Center scanners identified a number of issues viewed as critical for some dimension of the Center's operation. For example, both SPEC and ESEC evaluated such issues as the increasing demands for child care on college campuses, accommodation of management to values and aspirations of "baby boomers," adult illiteracy, increasing buying power of senior citizens, and the rapid expansion of VCRs in American homes. Examples of issues identified during the first 15 months are summarized in Figure 4.

Two examples illustrate how information identified in the environmental scanning process has been used in developing strategic direction for the Center. The first example deals with the organization's perceived need for freedom to experiment, innovate and fail, while seeking to renew the organization's creativity. The second example focuses on human resource development, both as a programming option for the Georgia Center and as a needed in-house activity for the professional development of staff.

Figure 4
Examples of Issues Which Surfaced in Environmental Scanning
Georgia Center for Continuing Education

(Note:  All discussions in analysis committee meetings linked these issues directly to Georgia Center management concerns or program development.)

Babyboomer values and aspirations  

Public service re-emerging as a national value  
Aging of America   Need for foreign language training  
Videocassette recorders as a mass medium  International perspective (most adults lack)  
Adult illiteracy

Middle class (shrinking or expanding)  

"Accountability" in higher education   Conferencing competition (upsurge in)  
Corporate America's interest in public schools   Electronic universities  
Corporate classroom   Thinking & problem solving (missing links in schools)  
Human resource development  

New technologies in program delivery  

Growing tension between business and the non-profit sector

Marketing (customer demographics)  
Litigation explosion   Self-directed learning  
Inadequate child care nationwide   Fitness and health movement  
Direct mail (now leading advertising medium)   Crisis management as a strategy  
Unionization of non-profits   “Two Georgias” debate (one affluent, the other disadvantaged)  
Concerns of academic administrators regarding continuing education  

Desktop publishing  

Employer preference for workers with associate degrees versus certificates or diplomas

Privitization (provision of public services by private sector)   Rural adult postsecondary education  
Feminization of certain professions  Personal & organizational renewal  
Entrepreneurial philosophy of management   State governors & legislatures (key to meeting higher education goals)
Value of conferences in disseminating research findings  

In the first example dealing with innovation and creativity, scanners submitted a number of articles which were grouped by the project manager under a strategic thinking stimulator called “organizational and personal renewal as on-going components of strategic planning.” One article addressed the issue of an organization's failing victim to its own historical success and not planning appropriately for the future (Hirsh, 1986). In another abstract, Peter Drucker was quoted as stating, “Innovation is the specific function of entrepreneurship, whether in an existing business or a public service institution...” (1986, p. 67). He went on to describe innovation as a disorderly and unpredictable process that must be facilitated by successful managers who frequently prefer order and predictability. An article by Quinn (1985) stressed that successful entrepreneurs, inventors, and creators tend to be “possessed” and demand flexibility and quickness, unencumbered by committee approvals and bureaucratic delays within the organization. Other abstracts discussed “idea entrepreneurs.”  Kanter (1986) argued that middle managers should be “reshaped” as planners, strategists and project leaders. Deets and Morano (1986) described how the Xerox Corporation encouraged high risk and innovation. Katz (1986) concluded that current management thinking maintained that administrative and managerial skills in technical, conceptual and human relations areas were not in-born, but could be developed with help and the opportunity to learn by doing. The implication of these abstracts was that the Center needed to provide freedom to experiment, in order to stimulate creativity and entrepreneurship.

The Evaluation Committee's discussion and review of the literature represented by the abstracts led them to focus on the concept of a “skunk works,” as a needed management concept at the Georgia Center. This idea, pioneered by the Lockheed Corporation, had permitted groups of workers to experiment on anything to which their imaginations led them. Unencumbered by demands for accountability, the process assumed that innovation would occur in an environment free of restrictions on experimentation. The evaluation committee recommended in its report to SPEC that the Center adopt a “skunk works” approach.

There was much discussion of the recommendation in the SPEC meeting. While the majority of committee members saw the importance of innovation, creativity and the need to experiment in the organization, they wanted more accountability than was present in a “skunk works.” The result of their discussions was a recommendation to the director that the Center adopt a plan to provide internal grants as incentives for experimentation. These grants would be awarded on a competitive basis and would be viewed as seed money; failure would not be the “the kiss of death.”

In the second example, the method of dealing with an issue identified in the scanning process differed dramatically from the first. Both committees discussed human resource development (HRD) in an effort to define it and use it at the Center for program and organizational renewal. The evaluation committee focused on a number of abstracts grouped under the strategic planning stimulator question, “Is HRD rather than traditional continuing education the wave of the future?” It concluded that this question had important implications for the future of the Center. Scanners cited the “National Report on Human Resources” (American Society for Training and Development, 1986), which indicated that Congress apparently favored an integrated approach to HRD. Congressional consultation with the American Society for Training and Development had led to a recommendation for building lifelong learning systems. The goal was to create workplace productivity and more dollar incentives for employers. Targeted audiences and issues were viewed by some scanners as critical for a university-based continuing education center. The Evaluation Committee, over a period of several quarters, continued to define HRD issues facing the Georgia Center. SPEC members, however, considered HRD to be an umbrella term that includes continuing education plus a number of functions once relegated to a “personnel officer,” such as the development of career tracks, preretirement planning, benefits, and professional and personal counseling. Consequently, they did not choose to pursue the matter further.

The articles identified in the environmental scanning process, their evaluation by ESEC, and the discussions of the issue at the SPEC quarterly meeting, however, did influence the director to the extent that he became convinced of the importance of HRD as a programming thrust. He felt that not only should HRD-focused training efforts be designed by the Center programming staff, but that HRD contained important elements for the personal and professional health of the Center's employees. Subsequently, after further discussions with senior staffers, he initiated a reallocation of personnel resources to begin a new program effort in the human resources development area. Thus, the scanning process generated a topic of considerable interest to one element of the organization, but an interest which could not be sustained initially for senior management. The exception was the director who chose to act because of the persuasive arguments from colleagues on the Evaluation Committee.

Costs of Operating the System

The costs of operating an environmental scanning program may be discussed in terms of personnel time, scanning resources, printing and copying expenses, and computer support.

While these costs may vary widely, depending upon the design of an environmental scanning project, extrapolations from the Georgia Center experience should prove helpful.

The greatest expense incurred is in staff time. The assistant to the director spends approximately half-time as project manager.  The time spent on environmental scanning by other individuals is more difficult to measure. Most scanners assume responsibility for two publications; a few hardy souls also scan one of several daily newspapers on the resource list. Time spent in abstracting is difficult to assess. For instance, a simple news item with a clear-cut implication for the Georgia Center can be abstracted in thirty minutes. At the other extreme, a lengthy article yielding several interlocking implications might require an hour or more to prepare.  Scanners who elect to participate in quarterly abstract-assessment meetings must block their calendars for a half-day. SPEC members spend additional time assessing and voting on abstracts prior to their quarterly meeting. Finally, although scanning and abstracting are regarded as important activities for the Center and for individual professional development, they never take precedence over operational job assignments. Consequently, many scanners elect to scan and abstract after hours.

Costs related to environmental scanning of continuing resources (magazines, journals, newsletters, and newspapers) and copying have been minimal, in that the Georgia Center is one of several campus satellites of the University of Georgia's main library. Costs for subscriptions could be substantial for any organization without these facilities. Because the Center has printing and copying support available in-house, such costs have been relatively low. Expenses would be greater if the organization had to secure these services externally.

Ultimately, the success of the project depends upon computerization of scanning data. Consequently, there will be expenses for hardware, software, and staff time for data input and retrieval.


In January 1987, the 43 initial participants in the environmental scanning project were sent questionnaires asking them to evaluate (1) their participation in various aspects of the project, (2) the ability of their colleagues to analyze trends, issues, and events, (3) the benefits of the project, and (4) their recommendations for improving the project.

Thirty-two participants responded (74%). Nine respondents reported submitting from 410 abstracts, and six respondents reported submitting over 11 abstracts during this period. Eight respondents submitted between one to three abstracts. Nine did not submit any abstracts during the first year of the project.

Many respondents wrote that the lack of time was the primary deterrent in their participation.

With respect to participation in quarterly ESEC meetings, nine respondents attended all of the four meetings held in the first year of the project, eight attended at least one of the meetings, and six did not participate at all. (Again, these respondents blamed lack of time or scheduling conflict for interfering with participation.) Of those who participated in the meetings of either SPEC or ESEC, most thought that quarterly meetings were appropriate, and almost every respondent thought that the procedures used in conducting these meetings were very helpful.

When asked to evaluate the skill of the group in which they participated (ESEC or SPEC) with respect to analyzing trends, issues, and events, the vast majority of respondents (74%) judged this skill to be only average. Lack of experience was given as the primary reason for this evaluation; there was a perceived need for more training in selected futures research methods.

Respondents were asked to evaluate the “feed-back” loop used in the project (i.e., ESEC forwards its concerns and recommendations to SPEC, and SPEC sends a summary of its discussion back to ESEC). All SPEC members and 62% of ESEC respondents saw the feedback loop as a beneficial process. Those who did not check “beneficial” were asked to comment. One respondent thought that there was “mostly lip service to analyses and conclusions.” Several others recommended a joint meeting of the two committees after both had analyzed that quarter's abstracts and strategic planning worksheets.

Respondents were then asked to rank order five specific “benefits” of the project and to identify others not specified on the questionnaire. The rank order of benefits was as follows: (1) provides assistance in linking the Center's future to external threats and opportunities; (2) provides useful programming suggestions; (3) fosters cross-divisional communication and understanding; (4) enhances staff development; and (5) results in. the newsletter, Lookouts. Contributed “benefits” centered on such things as assisting management to keep informed of new developments, identifying marketing opportunities, providing for wide participation in planning the Center's future, enhancing strategic planning, enhancing the Center's reputation as a leader in continuing education, and facilitating personal development.

Respondents were then requested to make an overall evaluation of the project. Out of 30 participants who responded to this question, 16 (53%) noted that the project was “well worth the time and effort,” 13 (43%) noted that it was “probably worth the time and effort,” 11 and one person said that it was “not worth the time and effort.” Seventy percent of the SPEC members voted that the project was “well worth the time and effort,” thirty percent voted that it was “probably worth the time and effort.”

Finally, respondents were requested to make specific suggestions for improving the system. Several respondents commented that the information sources currently used should be reevaluated and new sources identified, particularly non-print sources such as conferences, radio, and TV. Others reported a problem in finding time to participate in scanning, writing abstracts, and evaluating abstracts. One person suggested that “ghost-writers” be employed to write abstracts of articles identified by scanners; another suggested that “lead scanners” be identified (and rewarded) to write the majority of abstracts with assistance from everyone identifying articles to be abstracted. One respondent said, “Involvement in the scanning process should be an integral part of each employee's job, not an add-on volunteer effort.”

Several comments indicated tension between members of SPEC, the formal leaders of the Center, and other staff members. For example, a SPEC member said, “I believe that SPEC has demonstrated an unwillingness to consider suggestions or criticisms from “THEM” as attempts to be constructive. Unless SPEC discovers some way by which it can develop objective views of information coming from the outside ... and treat that information with respect, I fear the effort is doomed.” Another respondent recommended inviting those who volunteered to participate in evaluation committee meetings to meet with SPEC, a recommendation that appeared designed to facilitate communication with the organization.


There are a number of ancillary benefits which accrue to a continuing education organization that establishes an environmental scanning system. Any group of professionals in today's world faces information overload. While the environmental scanning project certainly does not expose participants to all the literature in their domain, it does offer a systematic, formal approach to important literature related to the individual's particular specialization. Although this exposure is uneven in nature, it is a substantial and serious effort to deal with the issues produced by the process, both individually and as members of a decision-making body. The analytical skills required by each scanner to summarize articles, assess them within the context of the organization, and promulgate implications for the organization, both from programming and organizational perspectives, sharpen professional reading skills and analytical abilities, and expand personal knowledge. As Hearn and Heydinger (1985) note, " turning around ideas and challenging various perspectives on the world, the ... dialogues reinforce a long lost and much valued ingredient [of] the ... university" (p. 437). The dialogue continues to employee satisfaction and growth, and thus to organizational effectiveness.

It should be noted that not all management decisions can be based upon the scanning process. In reality, information from the environmental scanning project forms only one part of numerous data sources fed into the decision-making process. As Jonsen (1986) argues, an understanding of the environment and its opportunities or threats should not dictate an organization's course of action. An environmental scanning system per se provides no "quick fix" or gimmick for management. Indeed, it requires an intensive amount of work by a few individuals and some work by many. It is frustrating and demands the commitment of an invaluable resource-time.

The environmental scanning project has had an impact upon the Georgia Center from several perspectives. First, it has provided the Center with a systematic review or “tickler file” to organize priorities and issues that must be dealt with over an extended period of time. Second, it has provided a procedure by which professionals at various administrative levels within the organization and with differing program responsibilities may make suggestions to senior administrators and even debate the issues with them.

After over a year of experience with the project, it is difficult to say if we have identified an emerging issue that has great threat or opportunity for the Center. Nevertheless, the scanning system has already forced management to deal systematically and cyclically with issues raised by subordinates as well as peers. The issues that have been raised have spawned rich, thought-provoking discussions that likely would not have taken place without the process. Moreover, it has been stimulating to develop a new approach to planning, even through the methodology still is developing.

The Georgia Center is fortunate to have the resources to support a comprehensive environmental scanning program. This does not mean that scaled-down versions could not be effective in their own right. For instance, a small staff of continuing educators might agree to "specialize" in the broad taxonomy categories—political, economic, technological, and social. Resources to scan and abstract might include the Chronicle of Higher Education, adult and continuing education journals and newsletters, and key publications that summarize trends and issues, for example, John Naisbitt's trend letter and Future Survey. Bimonthly or quarterly meetings to assess scanning input for organizational implications would achieve the goal of adding a systematic view of the external environment to the planning process. As Keller (1983) says, “We must act, doing the best we can with what we have. Herodotus and Thucydides wrote the first histories without a tidy method. Environmental scanning too should proceed regardless, adjusting regularly to new conditions” (p. 158).


Aguilar, F.J. (1967). Scanning the business environment. New York: Macmillan.

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1.    This paper was originally presented at the 1987 meeting of the National University Continuing Education Association, April 20-24, Kansas City.

2.    When the project was initiated, all members of the evaluation committee reviewed and discussed the abstracts produced in that quarter during a half day meeting. The objective was to ascertain the environmental threats and opportunities to the Center suggested by the entire collection of abstracts and associated articles. However, the time set aside for this activity was insufficient for thoughtful analysis and discussion. Given the busy schedule of staff members, more time could not be allocated. Also, although all state members were encouraged to browse in the files at their convenience throughout the quarter, few did so. Consequently, the project manager undertook the task of reviewing and categorizing the abstracts submitted each quarter.

3.    This is the only promulgation of programming ideas produced in the environmental scanning process. Programming is included on SPEC's discussion agenda only if there is a major allocation or reallocation of resources proposed.

4.    Thirteen volunteers for this committee have also been members of SPEC.



Director of the Center for Continuing Education at the University of Georgia


Assistant to the Director, Center for Continuing Education at the University of Georgia


Professor of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill