The literature and foresight experts have enriched the case study research with the view that a scanning strategy is necessary to determine the direction and scope of scanning activities, even though support from theory is limited. In order to determine the focus of environmental scanning, to consider the elements of the uncertain environment based on the current knowledge levels and by considering the strategic knowledge needs of management, a scanning strategy provides the necessary guidelines for the process of identifying, collecting and monitoring signals. In terms of a monitoring system, both practice frameworks confirmed that monitoring is an element of a foresight framework. Monitoring is widely supported in the literature, but the limited use of monitoring in the case organisations indicates the need for investment in this area (one case organisation recognised that the organisation is at risk without policies and accountabilities for the scanning, monitoring and updating of foresight knowledge), for instance via the utilisation of a time map and the future agent network. The time map highlights and identifies weak signals and topics that have a clear potential to become important in the future, but do not yet require a strategic response or are not yet understood in detail.
Here, once the scenarios have been developed and are used in strategy development, they need to be monitored, together with their drivers and signals, on a continuous basis in order to observe and update insights from the external environment. A scanning strategy and monitoring system should address two key issues, namely the fields (or topics) which need to be monitored and the processes and methods applied in order to do so. It is advisable to revisit scenarios whenever a signal or the competitive environment is behaving differently than expected. Evidence from the case organisation supports that every three to four years, an organisation utilising a foresight approach should re-run the entire, in-depth foresight process. At the same time, the established foresight framework should be focussed on the ongoing process of capturing strong and weak signals, not only to enrich the database of signals, but also because of potential strategic surprises or wildcards. The importance of keeping foresight insights and reports up-to-date is recognised in practice, as they have the propensity to become quickly outdated. It is important to implement policy and procedures to clarify responsibilities and accountabilities to update and manage the foresight process, and how often the teams should report to senior management and share insights via their future agent network across the organisation. In the organisation adopting a foresight framework, a “working document” exists, which is continuously enriched with foresight content. The need for articulated policy and procedures is supported by foresight experts, who also conclude that once the first set-up scenarios are available, trends need to be continuously monitored and assessed.
As a result, in order to anticipate changes in the environment and develop potential innovations, organisations must systematically monitor the environment. It is seen as a process to further analyse the signals and indicators unveiled through environmental scanning. At each phase in the development (lifecycle) of the signals, a company needs to decide whether to act on the signal (graduated response) or continue with observation. It is recommended to apply the same methods used for scanning activities, including reports and media scanning, expert interviews and panels, future agent networks, observation of consumer behaviour and innovation laboratories in organisations, utilising creativity methods. A monitoring report should be presented to senior management prior to the annual strategy and planning meeting with new insights, signals developments and recommendations for further steps. However, if strategic surprises or wildcards come into play or a weak signal suddenly starts to become stronger than expected, management needs be informed immediately. This will allow flexible decision-making as strategic responses are being defined and implemented.
Practice Implications Derived through the Research
Continuity in foresight requires a scanning strategy and the continuous monitoring of signals and scenarios (for instance with a time map of signals) because of potential strategic surprises or wildcards. Foresight is an ongoing process, but it seems that every three to four years, a major investment, for instance from a corporate team, is required to update the foundations of insights around future developments. An infusion of either human resources or financial support seems to be necessary to aid this periodic update. Despite the intention to run innovation in an uncontrolled and decentralised manner, a certain degree of control is necessary to provide a framework, process and a minimal set of methods (outlined in the scanning strategy), in combination with sufficient funding. There is a direct connection to the company’s culture and willingness to take risks: without an innovation driven framework and with low appetite for growth and risk, strategic foresight will not be prioritised in a company and therefore weak signals will virtually be ignored. These companies will not anticipate and prepare for industry and market reconfigurations, but simply wait and adapt, or react later.