Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Environmental Scanning, Pt. 2.

What is an environmental scan? Here's a definition I like:
Environmental scanning is the internal communication of external information about issues that may potentially influence an organization's decision-making process. Environmental scanning focuses on the identification of emerging issues, situations, and potential pitfalls that may affect an organization's future. The information gathered, including the events, trends, and relationships that are external to an organization, is provided to key managers within the organization and is used to guide management in future plans. It is used to evaluate an organization's strengths and weaknesses in response to external threats and opportunities. In essence, environmental scanning is a method for identifying, collecting, and translating information about external influences into useful plans and decisions.
(Kendra S. Albright, "Environmental Scanning: Radar for Success", Information Management Journal 38 (3), May/June 2004: p. 38)

In yesterday's post about environmental scanning I said that there wasn't much in the library literature published about environmental scanning....one reason for this is that scans are internal business documents and so may not be published or publically available. Be that as it may, it would be helpful if there were more overview articles available to library staff such as the one I quote from above.

OCLC's Board of Trustees is to be credited for the decision to release OCLC's scan as a public document. The original audience of our environmental scan was the OCLC Board and it was indeed intended to be "internal communication of external information" delivered to the Board as an element of OCLC's regular and ongoing business planning. The purpose of the scan was to inform OCLC's key decision makers to guide them in strategic planning.

The Board members felt that the information we had identified, collected, interpreted and synthesized was of value to the larger library world and so the now well-known OCLC Environmental Scan was released.

There really is no "boiler plate" for producing an environmental scan but if you look at a lot of them you will see common elements. For example, almost all will use the same kind of structure as we did--the division of the environment into certain "landscapes". You'll see various initialisms to describe the landscapes (PEST, STEP...) but there are no rules as to the landscapes covered. Most scans will examine political, economic, social and technological trends and then, depending on the nature of the organization doing the scan others will be added that are particularly relevant to that worldview.

In our scan we decided not to scan political trends per se due to the international scope of our review but we did add Research and Learning, and Library. Other organizations add landscapes such as Legal/Regulatory, Demographics, Transportation, Policing and so on...whatever will adequately expose the issues and trends relevant to a particular group of decision makers.

If you've read our scan, you will know that we approached the scanning from "outside-in". We began a long way away from libraries and looked at the mega-trends that have influences on many sectors and then tried to analyze these through the optic of what these mega-trends might imply for OCLC and libraries. "Outside-in" takes a very broad view of the environment and is intended as a long view of the world. The other way to scan is "inside-out" and it is this approach that I think libraries in general take (as OCLC has also in the past), in that planning is begun with the organization at the center and the landscapes are viewed from that vantage point.

It's my personal opinion that "inside-out" planning is why librarians find themselves at the periphery of the new information universe and why some librarians still believe that our version of the information universe is the correct one, and some seem determined to be missionaries to the heathens.

Inside-out planning allows us, for example, to view circulation statistics rising and gate counts increasing as measures of success and ignore the ever decreasing share of the budget pie vis a vis other parts of the parent funding agency.

And for those of you who've had to sit through one of my scanny presentations, you will know that the need for "outside-in" scanning is one I go on and on about. One of Google's philosophies is "Focus on the user and all else will follow." This is outside-in planning.

In part 3, I'll cover the "how-to" part of environmental scanning.


rakerman said...

Very interesting. I'm looking forward to part 3.

Tom Wilson said...

Readers of the Weblog might be interested in the current issue of Information Research - http://InformationR.net/ir/index.html

David Bencz├║r
Environmental scanning: how developed is information acquisition in Western European companies?

Liana Kourteli
Scanning the business external environment for information: evidence from Greece

Alison L. Koch, C.L. Arfken, M.W. Dickson, E. Agius & J.K. Mitchelson
Variables associated with environmental scanning among clinicians at substance abuse treatment clinics.