The literature revealed that there is no one established methodology to conduct an environmental scan. In fact, this seems to be a key characteristic of environmental scans. Scans have been designed in various ways and used in a range of sectors to better assess external environments. In a review of studies on environmental scans for information management and organizational learning, Choo defines environmental scanning as “the acquisition and use of information about events, trends and relationships in an organization’s external environment, the knowledge of which would assist management in planning the organization’s future course of action.” He also states that an organization processes information to make sense of its environment, to create new knowledge and to make decisions” and that the goal of scanning is “the gaining of new knowledge that enables action.” The multidisci-plinary American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) defines environmental scanning as “a systematic and continuous effort to search for important cues about how the world is changing and how these changes are likely to affect your organization.

Based on previous work, Choo states that scanning is affected by two factors: 1) the complexity of the environment and availability of information to support decision-making (“environmental analyz-ability”) and 2) the extent to which an organization intrudes into the environment to understand it (“organizational intrusiveness”). Within this framework, Choo identifies four modes of scanning: Undirected viewing; Enacting; Conditioned Viewing; and Searching (Table 1), which can be used alone or in combination with the design of environmental scans. levitra plus

Table 1. Environmental Scanning Modes

Scanning Modes When Used Characteristics
Undirected Viewing Unanalyzable

•   Complex environment

• Not enough information to make decisions

• Information needs ill-defined

• Organization is satisfied with limited or “soft” data as opposed to comprehensive or “hard” data

•   Viewing economical, but not comprehensive

Enacting Unanalyzable

•   Complex environment

• Not enough information to make decisions

• Information needs ill-defined

• Organizations intrude actively to influence events and outcomes

• Information needs tend to be those required for experimentation and testing the environment

• Involves identifying areas for successful interventions

Conditioned Viewing Analyzable

• Less complex environment

• Enough information available to make decisions

• Organization is passive about information gathering or influencing the environment

• Most information is gathered from formal and well-established sources, such as industry databases and external reports

• Having established procedures and sources of data is one of its advantages


Source: Choo11


• Less complex environment

• Enough information available to make decisions

• Organization actively intrudes into the environment to gather an accurate set of facts

• Data gathering is relatively intense and may involve intrusive actions, such as polls, surveys, focus groups and key informant interviews

•   Can require considerable resources

The ASAE review concurs that there is no one correct way to conduct an environmental scan, but it does identify a few characteristics of most scans. First, a broad range of issues is examined, covering social, economic, political, technological and other trends. Second, information is gathered from a variety of sources, including literature reviews, surveys, interviews, focus groups and site visits. Third, leading-edge thinkers are sought from both within and beyond the profession being scanned. Finally, “out-of-the-box” thinking is encouraged by studying trends in other industries or professions. These characteristics imply that scans may rely on formal, well-established sources of information, such as industry databases and professional reports or guidelines, or they may rely on informal, personal sources. Environmental scans can utilize high technology, such as Internet searches and national databases or low technology, such as visually assessing resources or talking to community leaders or indeed, a combination of both. viagra plus

Examples of Use of Environmental Scans

The use of environmental scans by private and government sectors vary. In the private, for-profit sector, environmental scans have been used primarily for purposes of strategic planning, organizational development, information management and enhancing an organization’s ability to anticipate and respond to changes in the environment. Universities are increasingly utilizing environmental scans as part of their strategic planning and decision-making processes. Among government agencies, environmental scans have been used in both the collection and the dissemination of information. The Canadian government uses environmental scans in various areas, including public health, literacy and information management. These environmental scans are often documented in government reports and not in academic or professional literature. Developing countries are now regularly utilizing environmental scanning as a planning tool, and there is also evidence of government agencies conducting scans and increasing the use of the methodology in the nongovernmental, not-for-profit sector.

Within the last five years, several environmental scans have been conducted in the public health arena in public and private sectors to assess and improve services in a variety of areas, including mental health, nutrition and violence (Table 2). Most often, public health scans rely on quantitative (i.e., surveys) and qualitative (i.e., focus groups, key informant interviews and document content analysis) data collection methodologies. Increasingly, environmental scans utilize health databases, such as hospital information systems and government population health registries. As reflected in Table 2, environmental scans have also been used in a range of public health projects as a means to strengthen public health information technology and resources, to guide regional healthcare reform and to assist in program planning and development. sumatriptan tablets

Table 2. Studies Utilizing Environmental Scans In Public Health

Study Purpose of Study Data Collection Methods
Environmental Scan of Metis Health Information, Initiatives and Programs Improve Canadian health outcomes • Review annual reports and other key documents

•   Internet searches

• Small scale review of pertinent literature

•   Phone interview with stakeholders

An Environmental Scan of Research Transfer Strategies Identify a range of strategies for transfer of health-related research knowledge in Canada • Cross-sectional survey of 17 research organizations from academic, policy think tanks and governmental sectors
Environmental Scan on the Health and Housing Needs of Aging Lesbians Assess health and housing needs of aging lesbians in Canada •    Phone survey

•    Focus groups

•    Personal Interviews

National Literacy and Health Research Program Needs Assessment and Environmental Scan Identify gaps in knowledge in literacy and health research in Canada • Face-to-face and phone interviews with 40 practitioners, researchers and policy-makers involved or interested in literacy and health issues

•   Focus groups

Environmental Scan 2000: Issues Facing State Mental Health Agencies Assess changes in state mental health systems in the United States • Interviews with state mental health agency directors
Environmental Scan on Women’s Health Information Resources in Ontario, Canada Identify information resources essential to informed decision­making •   Internet and database searches

•   Focus group discussions

Effectiveness of Environmental Scans

Within the private sector, there is evidence that environmental scanning improves organizational performance, as measured by profitability and organizational growth. One survey of U.S. Fortune 500 companies found that organizations that used scanning had higher growth and profitability than those who did not. This was also true for small businesses. The benefits of scanning are not just financial. According to the ASAE, scanning allows for a creative search of emerging opportunities and necessitates a collaborative and continuous dialogue between staff and boards of organizations. Environmental scans also have proved to be an essential tool in discovering ways to implement and manage change successfully. Studies reviewed by Choo noted that scanning led to increased communication and had a positive effect on the organization in the areas of shared vision, strategic management and future orientation. In addition, scanning provided structured opportunities for people to regularly participate in discussions on planning issues. Favorable outcomes were also reported by public health scanning studies. For example, a scan on women’s health information resources in Ontario, Canada demonstrated that information acquisition using database technology is an effective method for conducting environmental scans. celebrex medication

Category: Cancer / Tags: environmental scan, guidelines, public health tool

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