Horizon scanning and environmental scanning are two terms which are seemingly interchangeable. Even futurist organizations are often unsure how to use them. As a scanner, I feel there is a difference. Scanning the environment means looking only for what is happening now and immediate consequences, but scanning the horizon is looking more broadly at the plausible implications of what is happening now and weak signals for how things may change in the future. If I were to choose a preference for describing what I do, I would say I am a horizon scanner because environmental scanner is too narrow. In truth, any good scanner does both, and so it is largely unnecessary for anyone outside of the foresight field to bother with the difference which is largely semantic.

I make this distinction here because I recently came across a great flyer by Maree Conway about what makes a good environmental scanner. Ms. Conway’s description is appropriate for scanning in general whether horizon or environmental. There is one thing I would add to the list. Scanners must be resilient to hype and capable of maintaining objectivity. These are similar to the scanner understanding their own world view and challenging assumptions about the future, but they are more specific. Without a proper hype meter, the scanner is likely to bring in too much dross and apply too much emphasis to something without merit. Whether the scanner is looking at the daily news, blogs or academic journals, hype and poor research methods abound. A good scanner has a critical eye and the ability to apply the right emphasis to potential trends and changes by being aware of the influence of others on themselves and the world around them.

2 thoughts on “Environmental & Horizon Scanning

  1. Hi Dennis
    Glad you liked the scanning characteristics flyer. I do like the idea of scanners needing a good hype meter though – as you write, it’s a very important attribute.

    I might add it to the next version (with appropriate citation) if that’s okay with you.


  2. Maree, that’s certainly fine with me. The hype meter is something I always have to check myself on especially once I started writing a trend or report. I’m curious about you opinion of horizon versus environmental scanning. Do you feel there is a difference or should the terms be interchangeable? By the way, I really like what you are doing with the APF! I’m finally beginning to see it become what I expected it to be about three to four years ago. Now, I have to take an interest in it again. Is Andy still involved in the leadership? I hope so.

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