Environmental Scan

Environmental Scan – keep an eye on the world around you

Environmental Scanning (ES) is a technique to help us gather information about the ever changing world around us - particularly events and trends that could impact us and the way we live. 

Then, with this new found knowledge & understanding we are more enabled, more motivated, to identify ways that we may benefit from an opportunity, or respond to a threat.

Most of us already do some level of scanning – watching the TV news, reading the newspapers and browsing selected web sites. We just call it ‘catching-up-with-the-news’. This is a very basic and passive way to discovering new information, where the information is presented to us and where we (mostly) accept & trust the source. But there are a few problems with this passive approach. Firstly, the news and information from TV, newspapers, news websites, etc. is ‘mainstream’ by the time we read it. Secondly, we have to sift through an awful lot of *stuff* we aren’t particularly interested in.

The active way to gather information is to setup an ES process where we view, read, search and gather specific information, in a way that we can repeat. A way that will help us to spot opportunities and threats.


What is the benefit of personal Environmental Scanning?

Simply put, the benefit of setting up an active ES process is that you get to be better informed.

Better informed means you are are in a better position to make better decisions.

Better decisions lead to improved Personal Fulfilment. Read more here at Goalmuse > Personal Fulfilment


The basic Environmental Scanning process

Active Environmental Scanning is a structured approach to obtaining information, and takes some thought, time and effort to setup and run. Here are the steps…

  1. Determine the information you want 
  2. Define and identify the data sources
  3. Gather information
  4. Record the information

. . . repeat.


What to do next . . .

After you have run through a scan or discovered some new information (aka something jogged my memory), the next steps are necessary as they enable you to actually do something with the new information. The steps are…

  1. Sense-making.
    • With the new information we try to make sense of this and place it into the context of our lives. With this new understanding and better knowledge you can now identify if it is . . .
      • An Opportunity – in which case, you could make plans to benefit from the new knowledge, or
      • A Threat – in which case, you could plan to reduce the impact it may have on you
    • Alternatively, you may want go back and gather more info, but at some point you will move on to Decision making
  2. Decision making.
  3. Action.
    • Out of a decision we’ve made, we plan an action to perform.
    • The urgency and importance of the action will depend on the opportunity or threat. Try using the Urgent / Important matrix (aka the Eisenhower Matrix) to prioritise your list of actions. See more here at Goalmuse > Urgent / Important Matrix

In some cases we can do this in a matter of seconds, when new information is so ‘big. But ideally, we should spend quite a bit of time at the sense-making step gathering specific information that will help us make a better decision.


Setting up your Environmental Scanning process

To be very clear here, setting up and using a formalised ES process is for an active approach to gathering information, not for a passive approach. With a passive approach to gathering information we simply accept the news and information that is delivered to us by newspapers, TV, articles, etc.

For an active approach we need to do these steps…

  1. Make a list of the Subjects and Factors that you would like to keep aware of
  2. List the sources of data that you will use
    • Books, magazines, newspapers
    • Websites
    • Location relevance – Local, National or International
  3. Gather the information
    • This is where we are looking at (Viewing) and looking for (Searching) the information sources.
    • Within this step there are 4 modes, or types, of scanning (see the table below)
  4. Record the information
    • Saving and recording is vital. So too is finding a reliable, repeatable way. A way that won’t drive you nuts after a few weeks and make you just chuck in the whole idea 🙁
    • At the bottom of this article (here) we list some good software applications that can be used, and suggestions on how to use them.
    • Ultimately, this step is vital to the whole ES process. 
  5. Decide how often you will perform this process.
    • Daily, Weekly, monthly? A lot depends on the simplicity of your ES process and the amount of data, the urgency to keep updated, and how easy the search is (spoiler alert – Google Alerts is very easy). 
Modes of scanning

The are 4 distinct modes of scanning ie looking for and gathering information, that were first documented by Francis J Aguilar in the book “Scanning the Business Environment” (1967)

Undirected Viewing

Here, we are just browsing available information without much intention other than to explore.

We can use many sources of information – TV channels, surfing the internet, flipping through a magazine, etc.

Much of the information is not relevant and is dropped immediately. However, some does get our attention, and we take if further – either to find more informative sources (in the Conditioned Viewing mode), or search for some specific information (in the Formal Search mode).

Sense-making here is rather sporadic, and depends what is foremost in our mind at the time of viewing. It’s a bit random.

Conditioned Viewing

Here, we are viewing a source that is specific to a subject we’re interested in. Like the sports section of the newspaper, or a website with the latest data.

The information viewed here is relevant to the subject we’re interested in, so we naturally retain a good portion of the information.

In these sources we may find a specific point that we want to know more about: this would take us the Formal Search mode. 

Sense-making here is based on our own perspective and assumptions of the subject. We make sense of the info through our rose-tinted glasses

Informal Search

This is when we’re looking for more  information on a broad subject.

We know that we don’t know enough about the specific subject, but we do know that we want to know more. I hope that makes sense 😉

We view a few webpages, articles and videos. We get a good overview of the subject, then once we’ve found out more we either go to Conditioned Viewing, or we move to Formal Search

Sense-making here is to find out more on a subject to get a wide perspective, or opposing views on a contentious subject. We keep an open mind to what we are viewing.

Formal Search

This is a deep-dive, deliberate action to search out specific information.

Using the internet, this would be a specific keyword search, such as a business stock exchange code, or the model number of an aircraft.

Sense-making here is to find an objective fact, to get to the bottom of a specific point.


Technology tools

Below are some useful tools to help you setup and record your Environmental Scanning system.


Evernote / MS OneNote / Google Keep / Apple Notes

These are very good note taking applications. Naturally, they all have their own pro’s and con’s.

  • Use notebooks and pages to create & record your PESTLE tables
  • Make notes of the data sources you use for each Subject.
  • Embed saved URLs/links to search engine queries. These can be easily clicked on and the query used repeatedly
  • Keep records on the following…
    • Relevant new information and the references (links, doc, book/page details)
    • Decisions made, and why. This is very useful to refer to at a later date.
    • Actions to perform. Then use one of the many smartphone apps to track the actions – due date, etc.



Google Alerts

This is a very useful tool to automate your internet searches. You can setup the search criteria and the timing of the delivery daily, weekly, etc. to your email address.

URL: Google Alerts

Some good searches to automate are:- 

  • your name
  • your business name
  • a specific search based on your PESTLE assessment.
    • For example, you could use the below search query for
      • Life Area = “Family
      • a PESTLE subject = “Environment”
      • the Factor = “beach cleanup”
    • To give the following search format
      • +{Life area name} +{PESTLE subject} +”{the factor text}”
      • where we use the {} brackets to indicate the replaceable text – don’t use the {} in the search text
      • The ‘+’ tells the search engine that the text after it must be in the results. Note: No space between the + and the text. 
    • Click the below URL to see the results, and the format used

Google Public Alerts

“Google Public Alerts is an online notification service owned by Google.org that sends safety alerts to the United States, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Mexico, and Brazil”

URL: Google Public Alerts


Some things to be aware of

Using Internet search engines.

  • Search engines may not be as impartial as you think. They can and do personalise your search results, based on a number of factors, such as your location, your search history and if you are logged in. 
  • Search results are really AWESOME  . . . for Confirmation Bias ! 

“Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or strengthens one’s prior personal beliefs or hypotheses.” Wikipedia

The Information Cycle

  • News and information has a life cycle of its own. It’s called The Information Life Cycle (see more > here)
  • If you want to find new ideas and concept that are in their infancy (and maybe controversial) then a good starting place could be Reddit.com
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