Environmental Scanning – it sounds like some form of new Green technology, but really it’s just a fancy term for something that all organizations need to do: taking a look at the environment in which they do business and using the information to shape future decisions. All market research is a form of environmental scanning, so it’s a topic with which we at Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) are quite familiar.

On October 5, 2011, RMS President Mark Dengler was a presenter at the University Professional & Continuing Education Association’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference in Princeton, N.J. The topic of Mark’s presentation was “Environmental Scanning in Action” a summary of how to apply environmental scanning techniques in a higher education setting – specifically related to continuing education admissions efforts. He focused on a case study of RMS’s work with longtime client University College of Syracuse University, and presented alongside Robert Colley, Associate Dean of University College.

The main thrust of the presentation was that environmental scanning can be viewed as a four-step process:

  1. Collecting and analyzing environmental data – this step can involve traditional market research techniques such as community surveys, student focus groups, secondary research about market economic trends and demographics, demand modeling, etc.
  2. Synthesizing findings into an overall Strategic Plan – at this step the findings from the scan are used to inform an overall strategic planning process. We could go on at length about how such a process might work. In fact, we already have here.
  3. Implementing the Strategic Plan – this is where the college or university begins the initiatives set forth in the plan. Essentially, this amounts to the day-to-day operations.
  4. Evaluating the effectiveness of current activities –  in this step, the institution looks at what it is doing and assesses how well it’s working. This evaluation can employ market research techniques such as mystery shopping or in-depth interviews with staff. Additionally, RMS advocates aggregating key data and metrics into a concise dashboard that administrators can refer to on a continuing basis to gauge how things are going.

And, of course, the process doesn’t just stop there. It is cyclical, and starts anew with each strategic planning cycle. Actually, some level of environmental scanning should always be happening on a regular basis, regardless of the strategic planning cycle. In very simplified terms, the process looks like this:

The ongoing nature of the process can’t be stressed enough. The environment is always changing, so you need to continuously refresh and add to your knowledge. That knowledge is essential to the formulation of a strategic plan. Of course, actually implementing what you’ve learned is vital. And testing the effectiveness of what you’ve implemented should be part of the next environmental scan.

If you’d like to know more about how RMS can help bring focus and strategic direction to your organization with its proven environmental scanning approach, contact our Director of Business Development, Sandy Baker, at SandyB@RMSresults.com or by calling 1-866-567-5422.