Environmental Scanning

Environmental scanning and monitoring is not a Foresight method as such, but rather an essential background activity or first step in any Foresight exercise. It aims at detecting ‘weak signals’ in order to provide early warning about important future changes.

Setting-up a formal scanning system implies a commitment to a continuing process of monitoring change, with an orientation toward longer-term issues. It is important from the outset to be clear why the scanning system needs to be set up, the level of involvement required and how the results are to be used. This method allows early signs of possible important future developments to be detected so as to gain as much time as possible to react to them.

There are various scanning techniques. Often it is a matter of an individual or a small group of individuals entrusted with the task, and reporting regularly back to the organisation (sometimes with talks by outside experts, videos, etc.).
Material and information can be identified systematically by searching the Web and on-line databases and through the scanning of media and preparation of literature reviews. Text mining, bibliometrics or patents analysis are established tools to support the analysis. Such a role may also be contracted out to consultants.
Another approach to scanning the environment for changes is the use of an expert panel. Participants in such a panel could be asked systematically to provide observations and judgements about important developments that are underway or expected. The composition of the panel could change over time through rotation, so as to encourage fresh views being brought into the process. Communications media can take many forms.

Scanning can be used to inform the management process, enabling it to consider issues at an early stage rather than reacting to them when they become critical.