Environmental Scanning

Environmental Scanning

Barbara Holland
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 10
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch288
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To capsulize the future needs of library users, Management must consistently collect, analyze and diffuse information on trends that are internal and external affecting user behaviors and needs. Environmental Scanning is an organizational practice of screening external demographic, cultural, social, political, technological and legal trends in an effort to foresee and meet the needs of users in the future. This article examines environmental scanning, futures research, peripheral vision, and corporate/strategic foresight as tools for strategic planning, and assisting Managers in making better decisions concerning libraries, businesses and other organizations.
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Environmental Scanning began with social sciences and emerged as a method for qualitative research. Environmental scanning helps libraries to understand external threats and opportunities leading to change. When the library has undergone significant changes the knowledge discovered by an environment scan is intrinsic. User’s needs and the impact on library services must be newly assessed on an ongoing basis.

Brown and Weiner (1985) define environmental scanning as “a kind of radar to scan the world systematically and signal the new, the unexpected, the major and the minor” Aguilar (1967), in his study of the information gathering practices of managers, defined scanning as the systematic collection of external information in order to (1) lessen the randomness of information flowing into the organization and (2) provide early warnings for managers of changing external conditions. Organizations scan the environment in order to perceive the external forces of change so that they can develop effective responses which secure or improve their position in the future. Scannings are conducted in order to avoid surprises, identify threats and opportunities, gain competitive advantage, and improve long-term and short-term planning.

Figure 1.

Scanning diagram


The ability to predict future developments in the last four decades have decreased tremendously. Globalization has increased and abundance of unknown competitors, the emergence of the Internet has created global markets and now serves as a fast and inexpensive marketing and distribution channel, risk capital allows small firms and new ventures to become global players in months, and social networks have the power to turn niche trends into huge markets within weeks. Resulting in firms finding it increasingly difficult to retain their competitive advantage and survive in these dynamic environmental situations.

A full environmental scan can facilitate understanding of the library’s relationship of the external environment. The findings when used properly can help Managers improve the library’s dependent relationship with the external environment.

A well conducted scan results in a new management and marketing style that is more forward thinking. This article examines environmental scanning and the various types of scanning that can be used as tool for strategic planning, emerging trends beneficial to libraries and organizations.



An Environment is the surroundings, conditions, circumstances and influences affecting the development of a library community, group, organization, etc.

Environmental scanning, is the detailed monitoring of an organization’s internal and external environments for detecting early signs of opportunities and threats that may influence its current and future plans. In similitude, surveillance is confined to a specific objective or a narrow sector. Furthermore, it is the practice of screening external

Demographic, social, cultural, political, technological, and legal trends in order to anticipate and meet the user’s needs in the future. Used heavily in the corporate world, helps organizations, “assess and respond to external environmental change that may have a decisive impact on strategic business decisions, performance and viability”(Castiglione, 2008). Environmental scanning is a strategic planning technique for monitoring trends in the external environment. Changes in the social, technological, economic, environmental, and political (STEEP) sectors affect organizations directly and indirectly. For example, a national or global recession increases the probability of budget cuts in state government and, publicly supported colleges and universities. A well conducted scan on an ongoing basis helps the organization to “maintain a preparative stance” as the environmental circumstances change (Albright, 2004). Fahey and Narayanan (1986) identified three levels of environment for scanning: The task, industry, and macro environments. Aguilar (1967) identified four types of scanning. Undirected viewing consists of reading a variety of publications just to be informed. Conditioned viewing consists of responding to this information in terms of evaluating its relevance to the organization.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Strategic Foresight: The practice of creating a functional view of the future, or future events and possibilities, in such a way as to take full advantage of opportunities, as well as to prepare for any possible adversity.

The: Task Environment: Relates to a specific institution set of customers in higher education that may include students and likely students, parents of students and of potential students, political leaders, and employers.

Internal Analysis: A review of an organization's strengths and weaknesses that focuses on those factors within its domain.

Sogo Shosha: Means general trading companies, a business entity unique to Japan trading a wide range of products and materials. In addition to trading, they have historically acted as investment banks and private equities.

Strategic Scanning: Involves looking for what are known, as “weak signals.” Since they are weak signals, they may seem to have little or no bearing on “here and now” and may therefore not seem useful.

Foresight: Is a process of developing a range of views of possible ways in which the future could develop, and understanding these sufficiently well to be able to decide what decisions can be taken today to create the best possible tomorrow.

External Analysis: Analysis of the external environment that normally focuses on the customer.

Industry Environment: Constitutes all enterprises associated with an organization in society. Factors such as public confidence in higher education or student aid legislation are industry factors affecting all institutions.

Macro Environment: Major external and uncontrollable factors that influence an organization's decision making, and affect its performance and strategies. These factors include the economic factors; demographics; legal, political, and social conditions; technological changes.

Internal Environment: The conditions, entities, events, and factors within an organization that influence its activities and choices, particularly the behavior of the employees.

Trajectory: A curve that intersects all of a family of curves or surfaces at a constant angle to track a scanned object.

Environmental Scanning: Defined as ‘the study and interpretation of the political, economic, social and technological events and trends which influence a business, an organization or even a total market.

SWOT Analysis: The SWOT analysis is one of several strategic planning tools that are used by businesses and other organizations to ensure that there is a clear objective defined for the project or venture, and that all factors related to the effort, both positive and negative, are identified and addressed. In order to accomplish this task, the process involves four areas of consideration: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

STEEP: Natural forces alterations in the social, technological, economic, environmental, and political sectors affect organizations directly and indirectly.

Strategic Planning: Is an organizational management activity that is used to set priorities, focus energy and resources, strengthen operations, ensure that employees and other stakeholders working toward common goals.

Corporate Social Responsibility(CSR): A process with the aim to embrace responsibility for the company's actions and encourage a positive impact through its activities on the environment, consumers, employees, communities, stakeholders and all other members of the public sphere who may also be considered as stakeholders.

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