Thursday, July 14, 2005

Environmental Scanning, Pt. 3

Part 3 of this series on environmental scanning looks at some of the "how" of the process. As I said in Part 2, there is no template for producing an environmental scan and no one way to do the work. There are, though, some important, must-have basics:
  • top-level support
  • know why you're doing a scan
  • decide how it will be done and who will do it
  • decide how the results will be communicated
  • must lead to action

Environmental scanning is not a fancy name for crystal-ball gazing--there's no assuption that a scan in anyway foretells the future. A good scan will identify trends not fads but it isn't intended to be The Future. It is meant to identify some issues which are likely to have an impact on your organization. And it isn't a means to an end. A scan should be only one part of a larger strategic planning process--that's the "must lead to action" piece.

We are often asked why we didn't include any/more information on topic X (usually someone's hobby horse!) and the reason is a practical one, for the most part. There are so many trends that may impact an organization that at some point in the scanning process, you just have to decide which ones are included and which ones aren't. But be prepared to defend your decisions.

How you do the scan has to work within your organization but here's the benefit of our hindsight. The best people to do the work of scanning the environment may be anywhere in your organization and they may not be part of the management team. Some of the characteristics you're looking for are curiosity, a "big-picture" ability, a willingness to see beyond the status quo, the ability to synthesize a lot of disparate information, the ability to spot "early warning signs" (the beginnings of a trend), facility with numbers and spreadsheets, and a librarian's dedication to recording the sources.

Now, does all this exist in one person? Could be, but not necessary. Our experience was that a small team is better than a big team and that a lot of what we hold dear in terms of process needed to be jettisoned

Much of the strategic planning work I participated in as an academic librarian was, in a word, painful. Big committees concerned about inclusiveness and collegiality to the point that deciding how to respect differing opinions and reach consensus became the tasks of these committees, not the original purposes.

Think of your scan as being like the slogan about a library's collection: There's something in here to offend everybody. And because that's so, it's a lot better to put together a small team of people that can do the work and then step back and let them peering over their shoulders, or having the entire management team review the scan-in-progress weekly.

Our team here at OCLC was small: Jay Jordan, our CEO, was the sponsor. I reported to Jay for the project, and Cathy De Rosa and Lorcan Dempsey were my co-authors. We were the content owners and complemented one another's backgrounds and skills. Lorcan and I are librarians with different work experiences, neither of us are Americans, and we can both write. Cathy was the business and marketing leg of this stool, and the American non-librarian. She has considerable numeric skills (she won't let me near a spreadsheet) and was the main reason the "voice" of the scan is accessible and clear because she wouldn't let Lorcan or me sink into librarianese.

Our core team was supplemented by two very able art directors who helped turn data into easily apprehended pictures, as well as make a layout that was fresh and interesting. We also were able to use some of the staff in our market research analysis for data identification and analysis. They also conducted the focus groups.

Many OCLC staff did interviews of the over 100 people we talked with...and there's a bit of a tale here. We began researching the Scan in June 2003 and had to have it finished in early September. Not a lot of time and over the summer. Lots of people are away in the summer, so we canvassed OCLC staff: who do you know that you could call up and ask a bunch of questions of? And that's how we came up with the list of interviewees--luckily because OCLC staff have diverse contacts we were able to talk with a wide variety of information professionals. And that's the point: it's important to talk to people outside your main community and your usual supporters.

To actually do the work? Gather information like a sponge and with little regard for where it comes from or in what format....anywhere and anything will do as long as it's relevant to the landscapes you've decided on. Even then, having a bucket for 'really interesting stuff that doesn't fit' is a good idea because as you start to analyze and synthesize, connections may pop out at you.

Start your bibliography the minute you start collecting stuff...this is a lesson learned from leaving the dang bibliography to the end too many times in grad school and having a very hard time getting it put together.

Put material into physical or virtual folders representing your landscapes--even if it means duplicating items--and mark them when you add them to the bibliography. And keep track of the places you look for information--with so much interesting stuff available on the web it's easy to lose something. I spent too many hours trying to reproduce a search so I could locate some exact thing.

Lorcan, Cathy and I divvied up the landscapes and did most of the information gathering and preliminary writing by ourselves, but then we spent a lot of time together hashing over the trends, analyzing them and coming to conclusions about their relative importance. We drew on white boards a lot over the summer.

And then, I got my magic editorial wand out and made one voice for the report.

Next, and the last in this series: what happens when the scan is done.

1 comment:

The Editor said...

This is excellent! My Collection Development class just read a little bit about environmental scanning for class tonight. (I'm an MLIS student at Rutgers in New Jersey)