Research shows that there are various influences that shape our behaviors and actions. Such influences make the environment in which our daily thoughts and behaviors occur (let’s call this the “small” picture). In addition, on a greater scale, such influences shape the organizations we lead or are a part of (we can refer to this as the “big(ger) picture”). How can we create a perspective on the bigger picture AND the smaller picture so that we can lead ourselves and others?
Environmental scanning (i.e., creating a series of overview documents that outlined both internal and external trends shaping the future of a geographical region from an educational or other perspective (such as organizational psychology, talent development, human resource management). According to the Society for Human Resource Management, environmental scans are commonly used for, e.g., workforce planning, “student/customer centric” strategic planning, and accreditation related initiatives (see, e.g., the Research and Planning distribution of State General Fund Revenue, appropriated for Community College Districts). Environmental scanning is the method to create a perspective on the bigger and the smaller picture at the same time.
Researchers who conduct an environmental scan systematically gather information about the economy, government, laws and demographic factors such as population size and distribution on a national, State, and local level:
(1) Social and (2) demographic trends;
(3) The economy, (4) public policies and grant opportunities;
(5) Technological change.
The above influences shape today’s workforce.
After the data is collected, the final step is to analyze the data (e.g., in organizational committees or think tanks) and derive so called Planning Assumptions, Strategies, and Goals: these can serve for program planning and program initiatives such as Incubators, Change Management, Program Evaluation and other forms of evidence based initiatives. Environmental scans can be made available for collaborative purposes with other organizations, if so desired. Planning Assumptions, Strategies, and Goals need to be linked to an organization’s Resource Allocation process.
Planning Assumptions are the basis of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Sensitive) goals and strategies to accomplish such goals. Goals and strategies are most impacting if they are linked to the organization’s Resource Allocation.
Strategies and goals should be customized to accomplish the organization’s vision, mission, and values. In other words, the strength of Environmental Scanning based initiatives is that strategies can bring about what the organization is all about, while taking into account the “bigger picture” and “small picture” influences (instead of being underprepared to navigate the complex challenges that today’s organizations face daily).
In 2006-2007, I had the opportunity to conduct an Environmental Scan as a lead researcher for a Southern California Community College. I am very grateful to have received the College’s Administrator Award for Excellence for the Environmental Scanning and subsequent strategic initiatives. It is my passion to also train others in this line of research.
Environmental scan research may serve in various ways an organization’s development. Often times, a SWOT analysis is conducted in conjunction with an environmental scan: An organization needs to be evaluated to detect its Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats so that the initiatives derived via the environmental scan are most targeted and customized.
I value your questions and thoughts. Feel free to reach out with comments you might have.