Environmental Scanning for Strategic Planning and All Things Association Management

Even associations that don’t commit the time and resources to continuous environmental scanning understand this research and analysis is essential in strategic planning.

Sue Pine and Kristine Metter used this hook in their ASAE Annual Conference session to make the point that even a little scanning can make a big difference. Pine and Metter are ASAE Foundation Research Committee members championing environmental scanning research. They structured a one-hour session to quickly explore trends that got people thinking.   

They counseled that continuous, patient and persistent scanning using the standard STEEP categories can generate a lot to factor into any strategic plan or other association management decision. They recommended giving demographics additional attention because associations are not responding quickly to trends that can easily be forecast from the census like aging or diversity. They urged associations to scan in three domains:

  • Global trends that affect everyone (often called the macroenvironment)
  • Industry trends specific to the association’s membership and stakeholders
  • Association management trends  

Working with a set of trends cards, session participants quickly generated a long list of trends and issues affecting their associations. When people described these trends, they often stated them as questions because they involve areas of change and uncertainty. Here’s just a quick sampling:

Social: work life balance, aging, women in the workforce, generational differences, learning trends; rapid deployment of misinformation

Technology: cybersecurity, pressures for continuous adoption, and aligning staff with technological capabilities

Economic: return on investment, workforce changes due to automation, sharing economy, mergers and acquisitions, e-commerce, and alternatives to cash and credit

Environment—global interdependence

Political—outcome of the current election cycle, increasing regulation, Millennial generation shift in Congress and other elected offices

Listening to these association executives share trends and issues, I found myself asking an important question: what’s next? These trends are top of mind. What will need to be top of mind for association executives in 2017 and 2018 and beyond?

That compelling question will guide Signature i and the Foresight Alliance as we work to help the ASAE Foundation reestablish a continuous environmental scanning program. The Foundation announced this grant award last month. We will be identifying change drivers with the potential to affect associations and their members. We’ll also be developing tools and resources that will make it easier for associations to develop a culture of foresight, not just to support strategic planning, but in all the ways associations need to anticipate the future to make better decisions in the present.