Environmental Scan – What? Why? How?

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FIR On Strategy with Andrea VascellariThis is part of a series of posts that explores the “Adaptive Digital Strategy Framework”, an operative guide that I created to plan, execute and manage online strategy programs more effectively and efficiently. Each of post of this series comes with an audio podcast in which you will find the audio version of the post with additional audio commentary about the discussed topics. The name of the podcast is “FIR On Strategy with Andrea Vascellari”.

The environmental scan is another fundamental analysis that you want to conduct to track the environment you are operating in when you are planning to launch a new project. In today’s cast/post we will understand what it is, why it’s important and I will also give you a specific methodology that can help you conduct your environmental scan more efficiently when dealing with online/digital initiatives.

What is an Environmental Scan?

In our previous cast/post we talked about how the context analysis focuses on factors that are within the organization’s control at internal level. With the environmental analysis we look at factors that are external or outside the organization’s control.

Think of this environmental scan as the study and interpretation of external events and trends which influence an organization, an industry or even an entire market. It gives us a bird’s eye view of the whole environment from different angles that we want to analyze and keep a track of while working on our communication plans and, indeed, throughout the execution of our initiatives.

Why it’s important?

The importance of each one of the factors that we examine in this analysis may be different to different kinds of industries. But it’s vital for any organization to take a pro-active approach and be ahead of these trends, rather than making changes to plans and processes once a project started.

All the factors that we observe with this analysis are crucial for any industry an organization might be in. More than just understanding the external environment this technique will also help us to define our objectives later on in the planning process.

How to conduct an environmental scan?

There are many examples of environmental analysis available on the Internet but there are not many specifically tailored for digital initiatives.

For example you may be familiar with the PESTLE model. That’s an acronym. P stands for Political, E for Economic, S for Social, T for Technological, L for Legal and E for Environmental factors that are evaluated with this model. This is a great model and, like we just said, all these factors are vital for any industry an organization operates in. What it doesn’t tell us though, it’s which factors have a higher relevance in digital initiatives.

What I’m trying to say is that if a PESTLE model works well in traditional communication plans, when we operate in the digital field we must focus even more.

I struggled for a long time with this because in my analyses I was forcing myself to consider, use and give the same importance to all these factors. Everything changed when I looked at this from a different perspective. I’ve noticed that the most successful digital projects were those that got the right balance between business, technology and people.

Sure, legal and environmental factors were important but at the same time were confusing me because if had to look at legal first I couldn’t do much, and the environmental factors were somehow bringing me back to something that seemed to be more like an internal analysis rather than an environmental scan.

So I started to divide my scans into two phases.

Phase 1 – Business, Technology, People.

Business, technology and people are the first “lenses” through which I conduct an environmental scan. Today organizations are paying a lot of attention to technology but with a lack in understanding the two remaining components of the equation. Like I always say, technology is very important but it’s not the silver bullet that will make you succeed. It’s fundamental to interpret also the new trends in how business is changing and evolving and how people communicate and want to be engaged.

Environmental Scan 1

Here’s some examples of what you should consider:


I merged the political and economic factors in a “business” group because they are closely related to one another.

  • What local, regional, provincial or national political priorities or processes might influence the project? i.e. pending elections, specific political directives, etc.
  • Is the political environment stable? And what’s its position on PR & marketing ethics?
  • Are your competitors doing something related to this? How successful are they? And how likely are they to respond to your initiative?
  • What partners, if any, will be affected, interested or directly involved in the project and to what extent? Pay attention to the relationships and engagement mechanisms with these partners that might be in place.
  • What’s the state of the economy in the short and long-terms? Keep this in mind especially when planning for international initiatives.


Technology is vital for competitive advantage but keep in mind that innovations in technology may affect operations favorably or unfavorably… especially when you are working on digital initiatives.

  • What influence technology has or can potentially have on your project? Are there any new technologies that you could be using?
  • How are you positioned to take advantage of these technologies?
  • Does technology offer you a new way to communicate?
  • Is technology mature enough to support you in this initiative?
  • What impact new emerging technologies are having in your industry?
  • How does the change in technology affect your relationships and communications with customers, communities, media, governments, and stakeholders?


With these factors we look at the social environment of the industry/market in which the organization operates.

  • How do people communicate online in your industry/market?
  • Are there social trends that can potentially affect the project?
  • What’s the current adoption rates of social technology in the target population/audience? Here you can consider this based on gender, culture, age, income, housing, education, etc.
  • Are the mainstream media saying something? Who said what online? How does it influence people?
  • Are there specific socio-demographics, or media, affected or targeted by the project?

Phase 2 – Legal and Environmental.

Now that you analyzed the core elements that are relevant to your digital initiative, you can move on and explore the legal and environmental factors.

Environmental Scan 2

Legal factors: These have to do with current legislations that regulate the industry. National and international legislations, regulatory bodies and processes, environmental regulations, consumer protection, industry-specific regulation, competitive regulations etc. Don’t get me wrong this is important, but if you bring in the lawyers and legal department before crafting the basic structure of your initiative, you won’t go anywhere because they will probably stop you before even starting. Remember this is part of a the planning phase. Your plan is not defined yet. So my advice is to get done the basic “design” of your initiative by examining the other factors, and then bring in lawyers to see what can or needs to be reshaped.

Environmental factors: Don’t get confused, these are customer and market values, stakeholder and investor values, staff attitudes, management style, organizational culture, staff morale and engagement, etc. The reason why I look at these factors only at the end is because, even if they are part of the PESTLE model, I see them more related to the contextual analysis, which we already went through in another cast, and to the stakeholder analysis, which we’ll explore this in an upcoming cast/post.

By dividing the analytic process into two different phases we stay focused on what’s relevant to our digital initiative and we can conduct our environmental scan more efficiently.

Your Thoughts

This is based on my experience, what would you adjust based on yours? What do you think about it? Is something missing? Looking at the sector you are working in, would you approach this differently? Please, let me know.

Andrea @vascellari
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7 thoughts on “Environmental Scan – What? Why? How?”

  1. Andrea – this is truly excellent work. Thanks for being so generous and sharing your methodologies online. I rarely see this level of detail and precision. Thank you!

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