Environmental Scanning

What it is

Environmental scanning is an analytical activity that is often a part of a strategic planning process. It can also inform fund development or marketing planning as well as provide valuable program information. In a strategic planning process, scanning entails intentional observation of an organization’s external environment (competitors, regulatory changes, societal trends, the economic climate, demographic shifts in the relevant populations, etc.) and internal environment (changes in services and participation, evaluation results, staffing needs, survey results, physical plant needs, etc.). In other planning initiatives, scanning involves the study of different factors.

When you need it

Informal intelligence gathering goes on in most organizations all the time but  more formal or intentional environmental scanning is needed when:

  • Decisions are being made “from the seat of the pants” and are often short-sighted.
  • Board and staff members do not understand the organization’s operating environment or technicalities of the industry or sub-sector.
  • The organization is preparing for a strategic planning process or other planning activity.
  • When a major decision needs to be made.

How we can help

In facilitating numerous strategic planning processes and other planning initiatives, Centerpoint consultants have led many types of environmental scanning activities. Examples include focus group interviews, telephone interviews of key informants, surveys, and extracting relevant data from public information sources. To keep costs down, we involve staff in the scanning activities whenever possible but there is great value in having an external expert lead the process. Key informants tend to be more comfortable sharing their real views with an impartial third-party, leading to a more reliable environmental scan overall.