Environmental Scanning Part 1: What Is It?

As part of the Wider Organisational and Environmental Context module of the VLE I have chosen to do a reflective exercise on environmental scanning, considering the wider professional context in which I work and to what extent performing environmental scanning enhances my knowledge.

Environmental scanning as I understand it provides analysis of changes in the environment. This includes both legal and regulatory issues, demographic and social issues, and market research into what our competitors are doing (Choo, 2001).

Environmental scanning can be both formal and informal; conversations in corridors can be just as important as formalised (and expensive) market research. Companies with poor environmental scanning will eventually fail, and this is why I believe that sending staff to networking and training events such as conferences is an investment opportunity for libraries. Sectors that do not spend money on staff development and are absent from conferences in the main are going to fall behind in terms of knowledge of future developments and ways of thinking. Unfortunately austerity budgets mean understandably less money is available. It seems so unfair and unjust that the sectors that most need to be present at conferences are not, because of budget cut backs, and it is this lack of presence and staff training that eventually leads to these sectors’ libraries having less impact.

I am very lucky in that in my role I have had several opportunities over the past two months to partake in activities that could be considered ‘environmental scanning’. I intend to write a series of blog posts covering this topic as it is a large area of development for me, and as a semi-new professional in a new sector I think one of the most important things I am currently doing.

My blog posts will cover

  1. Trends in HE, libraries and the NMC Horizon Reports
  2. Threshold Concepts and other conference themes
  3. Looking at competitors (or ‘other places that do what we do but somewhere else with less/more money’)
  4. The University of Hertfordshire Subject Librarians Conference

Though it is the nature of the beast that all these things will overlap and I’ll probably end up saying the same thing four times.

There are three types of knowledge: tacit, learnt ‘on the job’: explicit, which are your rules, routines and operating procedure: and cultural, the beliefs held to be true based on experience and it is this knowledge that allows an organisation to decide what knowledge would be worth pursuing.  You can teach someone explicit knowledge when they start a new role, however in order to expand my tacit and cultural knowledge I have had to work on gathering information from colleagues, delegates at conferences I have attended, and I have read a LOT. The blog posts will cover this learning in hopefully enough detail to be understood, but not so much as to bore.

It has been a long couple of months, but I am very grateful for the opportunities I have had and would recommend anyone else starting in a new sector to take the time out to learn about it and expand your knowledge. Environmental scanning, informally and formally, is a great way to do that.

Choo, C.W.  (2001) ‘Environmental scanning as information seeking and organizational learning’, Information Research. 7 (1). Available from http://www.informationr.net/ir/7-1/paper112.html. (Accessed 22 July 2015).


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