Four Ways to do Environmental Scanning


Paying attention to what is happening in the world is a key futurism skill.
Paying attention to what is happening in the world is a key futurism skill.

If you have read my material on Futurism you know I have mentioned the subject of environmental scanning before. For those of you unfamiliar with this topic environmental scanning is the ongoing year round process of looking for trends and events that may have implications for your organization. It is paying attention to a set of factors that have will have an impact on you and the world. Various futurists use different systems to classify what they pay attention to. Here are four ways to do environmental scanning based upon these systems.
Acronyms are a popular way to help you remember a series of words. This one is one of the most popular and it is the one taught in the SHRM PHR certification classes. It means:

Social, Technical, Environmental, Economic, Political.

Within each of these areas there are subtopics that I will explore in more detail below.
This is an expansion of STEEP that basically takes the Political area and divides it into political, legal and ethical. This acronym is not used as frequently but may gain steam with some futurists.
The Four Factors
Futurist writer and consultant, Cecily Sommers, in her book Think Like a Futurist, takes a simpler approach and talks about the four factors that are most important. These are Resources, Technology, Demographics, and Governance. To her these are the four forces that drive change that result in the trends we need to heed.
One of the deans of futurist thought, Edward Cornish, used this acronym which stands for:

Demography, Economy, Government, Environmental, Society, Technology

As you can see it covers everything in the others, I just think that it is a bit more cumbersome to try to remember.
My choice is STEEP
My choice is STEEP. Since I have been schooled in it, and teach it on the PHR prep classes it is the one I am most comfortable with. So here is a breakdown of some of the things that go with each of these letters.
Social Scanning: In social scanning you would pay attention to things such as:

  • Demographics: The aging of populations, the changing racial make-up of populations
  • Family life- The changing nature of the definition of family
  • Health- Increases in longevity, changing attitudes to health
  • Religion- The make-up of populations and the changing definitions
  • Immigration- Migration patterns

Technology Scanning: Technology changes at a rapid pace and has an impact on all aspects of life and business. Many of these will combine to create significant changes and opportunities.

  • Biotechnology
  • Chemistry
  • Information technology
  • Manufacturing
  • Nanotechnology
  • Robotics
  • Genetics

Economic Scanning: Domestic and global financial advances and crises have an impact on everyone.

  • Globalization
  • Poverty- rich/poor gap
  • Inflation/Recession
  • Currency fluctuation
  • Market

Environmental (Ecology) Scanning: Pay attention to the natural world around us and understanding how Mother Nature impacts us and how we impact Mother Nature is critical.

  • Global warming
  • Clean water
  • Air quality
  • Agriculture
  • Increasing severity of storms

Political Scanning: This encompasses the legal, ethical, legislative and regulatory of local, state, national and international situations.

  • Lawsuits
  • Government regulations
  • Legislative trends
  • International governing bodies
  • Wars & regional conflicts  

How to get started
These are some of the areas to pay attention to. You can do this by generally scanning by being widely read and using Google alerts. Or you can specifically identify and area you are interested in and looking for information on that specific topic. Look for newsletters and trend reports that cover your areas of interest or cover your areas of concern.

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