An Introduction to Environmental Scanning

Based on extracts from one of my recent essays: “What is the impact upon donations of this technological age”?


Choo (1999) states in the seminal article “The Art of Scanning the Environment” that “environmental scanning is the acquisition and use of information about events, trends and relationships in an organisation’s external environment”. It, environmental scanning, is broader than competitor intelligence and competitive intelligence, which are used to analyse a competitor’s actions and the shared market environment respectively. In fact, environmental scanning is used to scan every sector of the external milieu.

From the perspective of further understanding environmental scanning it is helpful to differentiate between the scanning modes. These modes broadly viewing and scanning. Of the two, scanning is more deliberate and focused:

  • Undirected viewing:       information used for sensing
  • Directed viewing:             information used for sense making
  • Informal search                information used for learning
  • Formal search                   information used for decisions

So, for the  purposes of categorisation, the scanning modes that you use could be a mix of directed viewing and informal search. Perhaps because you know what the area of strategic need is, undirected viewing isn’t appropriate. Likewise with formal search. As the output won’t be directly used for decision making, the formal search category won’t be used.

Now, with respect to the process of environmental scanning, using directed viewing to gather a breadth of information about the area of strategic need and informal search to strengthen the case for further understanding of the initial hits. For example, a “scanning hit” on philanthropy was the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. Analysis of the work they do, giving for specific outcomes, should lead to informal searches returning articles about this topic.

It is through its outcomes that the value of environmental scanning can be realised. It can be seen that the outputs of environmental scanning or the same as information acquisition in the sphere of Organisational Learning (Sanchez, 2008). Sanchez goes onto to conclude that the activity of organisational learning creates value in and for the organisation.

However, as Choo points out, the quality of environmental scanning may be affected by internal perceptions of either the information source’s credibility or relevance of the information itself.

Therefore, by being cognisant of the both the inhibitors to scanning quality and the process of scanning, highly relevant outcomes, or hits, can be realised.


Choo, C (1999). “The Art of Scanning the Environment”, Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science, Feb-Mar 1999 p21-24

Sanchez, J (2008). “Organisational Learning and value creation in business markets”, European Journal of Marketing , Vol 44, No 11/12, 2010, pp1612-1641]]


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