Board of Directors Environment Scanning Process


Environmental scanning is an objective review of the current and anticipated environmental factors that impact an organization. These include political, economic, and demographic environments but also encapsulate other areas, including the regulatory environment, funding trends, and competitor activities. As part of our commitment to maintaining the value of CARA membership and to ensure the longevity of the Association, we undertake a biannual review of both CARA’s strategic and operational landscapes, scanning the horizon for challenges and opportunities, and informing our understanding of the broader context in which we govern and manage CARA on behalf of the members. This document maps the process we follow to ensure routine and robust assessments of CARA’s internal and external environments.



A general objective of environmental scanning is to capture, share and integrate relevant and valid knowledge about the Association and its environment to facilitate informed decision-making at all levels. Specific objectives include:

  • Detecting important economic, social-cultural, environmental, technological and political trends, situations, and events;
  • Identifying the potential opportunities and threats for the Association implied by these trends, situations, and events;
  • Gaining an accurate understanding of the strengths and limitations of the Association and its ability to respond to both challenges and opportunities; and
  • Providing a basis for the analysis of investment in existing and/or new membership services, and (internal and external) resources for delivering those services.

On a biannual basis, the findings of our scanning inform or affirm our operational decision-making, continually testing our assumptions and supporting our actions. The environmental scan is also used as part of our annual appraisal of the Strategic Plan, helping to ensure our objectives remain relevant and that our targets are SMART[1].



An environmental scan is usually limited to looking at current or future issues. It does not attempt historical analysis or the searching out of all possible information on a subject. The scan identifies and examines current trends in order to explore their implications for the future. In conducting a scan, we look within the organization, to other organizations in the sector and profession, and to our overall business environment, identifying trends and conditions that may give rise to issues requiring the Board’s attention.

Routine environmental scanning naturally occurs within CARA, albeit tacitly, as both staff and the Board go about their business. For example, staff who are at the interface with the membership, sister associations, suppliers, etc. are well-placed to detect changes and trends in their immediate environment and instinctively feed this information into decision-making processes. However, routine, tacit scanning by itself does not meet the needs of effective strategic planning and those of a responsive organization. A more systematic approach is necessary, and the keys to our successful environmental scanning are the active and open exploration of CARA’s communities, incorporating diverse sources of information and different viewpoints. Therefore, led by the Association’s Vice President, a sub-committee[2] of the Board of Directors is tasked with managing the formal process of environmental scanning, convening biannually to prepare a report for the Board of Directors to consider and respond to by adjusting strategies and activities accordingly.

During the year, the ES Sub-Committee is formally tasked with observing external and internal factors that influence CARA’s environment and bringing these together for the Board to consider, but in practice all Directors and staff members adopt the habit of horizon scanning, regularly feeding their observations into the ES Sub-Committee. As part of that process, colleagues consider the following in their observations:

  1. Events are important and specific occurrences taking place in different sectors or organizations;
  2. Trends are the general tendencies of the courses of action along which events take place;
  3. Issues are the current concerns that arise in response to events and threats; and
  4. Expectations are the demands made by interested groups in light of their concerns for issues.

Colleagues’ observations are fed into the ES Sub-Committee’s formal systematic approach to environmental scanning, which broadly follows a 7- step process:

Step 1 - Confirm the scanning type

There are two fundamental scanning types: social intuitive and formal analytical. Social intuitive is a less rigorous type of scanning: The term acknowledges the fact that everyone scans their environment for useful information about what is on the horizon. For CARA’s purposes, we use the formal analytical process whereby people investigate a wide range of sources and then produce a report by a given date. Some people are much better at social-intuitive scanning than others; research indicates that founders of successful startup ventures, for example, are adept at social-intuitive scanning. They do a lot of networking and are naturally inclined to ask questions and generate opinions on what the future holds. Similarly, people who use social media are trafficking the kind of information that lends itself to social-intuitive scanning. Formal analytical scanning is a means of bringing discipline, range, and conclusions to a social-intuitive inclination. It is, therefore, crucial to have the correct people, equipped with the appropriate skillset leading on the Association’s environmental scanning.

Further, our use of the formal analytical approach enforces the use of both viewing and directed modes of environmental scanning: One approach is to conduct an unrestricted search of the entire environment. In this viewing mode, the scanner is open to anything that could be relevant to the organization, though the scanner is especially attentive to broad subject categories that are thought to offer the best opportunities. One such viewing scheme goes by the acronym STEEP, referring to trends in the social, technological, economic, environmental (i.e. ecological), and political spheres. Another approach, the directed mode, relates to specific trends an organization is already aware of. Here the goal is to learn more about how a trend will affect its industry or profession. For example, in directed mode, the scanner drills down to discover the implications of a trend for suppliers, competitors, customers, and downstream beneficiaries. It's important to remember that no organization operates exclusively in viewing or directing mode and CARA’s formal scanning process engages in both simultaneously, at once identifying newly relevant trends and performing in-depth research on those already believed to be the most significant. Membership of the ES Sub-Committee reflects these requirements.

Step 2 - Identify the members of the ES Sub-Committee

Led by the Vice President, the ES Sub-Committee comprises the appropriate skillset to deliver both social intuitive and formal analytical scanning, in both viewing and direct modes. In addition to the Vice President and the Executive Director, the Board of Directors nominates five colleagues to participate on an annual basis. These are drawn from amongst the Directors or are co-opted from outside the Board, and key personal attributes that correlate with scanning proficiency include:

  • Imagination: Participants have the ability to create mental images of things that have not actually happened.
  • Fluency: An ability to speak or write easily and coherently is essential. Scanning is about exploring concepts using language.
  • Networking: The best scanners are inclined to develop contacts with a diverse spectrum of people and to stay in touch with them over time, giving and gathering information.

Step 3 - Identify priority environmental factors

The key environmental factors to be considered by the ES Sub-Committee as part of the environmental scan largely reflect the context of the strategic plan and the corresponding internal and external working environments. These are listed in Annex A.

Step 4 - Identify primary information sources

Primary information sources are media that offer productive and reliable insights over time. CARA is continually reviewing and developing its catalog of sources, including those that offer a single but important piece of information, and secondary sources that are checked periodically. Our sources include print and electronic news, live events where members gather, and social media outlets where member-related information is transferred.

Step 5 - Scan and collate data

Individually we use a combination of scanning methods, informed by the social intuitive and formal analytical approaches, and viewing and directed modes but collectively, the ES Sub-Committee uses the following techniques to capture and collate data:

  • Identifying possible trends: each person on the sub-committee assigned a list of sources he or she is to track over time. Each member looks for possible trends and captures them in an agreed standard format.
  • Refining possibilities: at biannual intervals between submissions of the formal reports to the Board, the sub-committee meets to discuss the findings of each individual. Using a combination of PESTLE Analysis and SWOT Analysis[3], the sub-committee takes the opportunity to brainstorm the possible implications of a trend for each affected constituency. In these discussions, colleagues sought to identify the implications of a trend, including impact on CARA and possible solutions to combat or embrace that trend.
  • Continuously scanning: the sub-committee is tasked with looking for new possibilities from the open universe of information (viewing mode) and for more information on those that passed the initial screening (directed mode).
  • Ad hoc approach: in addition to our systematic approach, periodically we also capitalize on ad hoc environment scanning, capturing valuable data on members’ views and opinions via the annual Membership Survey and similar activities.

Step 6 - Prepare “ready to use” scanning information

Whilst pages of prose can go into explaining an implication drawn from a trend, brevity is key and therefore each strategic issue identified by the CARA ES Sub-Committee is distilled into a single paragraph. The objective is to describe the cause-and-effect scenario to which the Board must respond. Whatever the Board decides is contained in a strategy, and the reason for something at all is a strategic issue. The ES- Sub-Committee does not provide recommendations on responsive actions. That is the role of the Board of Directors in their capacity as CARA’s strategy makers, which they will do if they agree that the issue warrants a response. The number-one failure point in problem-solving arises when nobody can agree on the motive to act before launching an action. Critically, separating the roles and responsibilities of the ES Sub-Committee and the Board of Directors creates a firewall between the stimulus (issue) and the response (the strategy) and therefore promotes a far more efficient and creative decision-making process.

Step 7 - Respond

When developing a response to a strategic issue, the Board of Directors considers three (and only three) response options but explores each in-depth:

  1. Make the cause go away so the Association does not need to worry about the consequences;
  2. Acknowledge that the cause is not apt to go away but find ways to avoid the consequences; or
  3. Acknowledge that the cause and the consequences are inevitable, so change practices or approaches to the issue in ways that avoid the negative consequences and strengthen the Association in the long term.

The value of this three-option framework is itself threefold: it forces the Board to agree on the need to act before it considers possible actions (if it does not agree on the motive, the Board is not likely to agree on a strategy); secondly, it provides an analytical format to explore a full spectrum of strategic options; and finally, it helps to ensure that the ES Sub-Committee’s findings are used properly by the Board of Directors.



CARA recognizes that as more members of the Association are exposed to environmental scanning systems through their own work, they expect their professional body to adopt best practices and pursue environmental scanning as well, enhancing the quality of decision-making and ultimately improving the quality of membership services and support. Indeed, recognizing that often the Association and its members’ organizations face the same or similar issues, the findings of CARA’s environmental scanning are routinely offered as a source of information for members’ own scanning efforts, thus making CARA’s environmental scanning both a highly effective administrative tool for the Association and a valuable service to its members.



Internal Environmental Factors

Value system: The value system of the Association and those of the Board of Directors has an important bearing on the mission and objectives of the organization, Association policies, and practices. It is widely acknowledged that the extent to which the value system is shared by all in the organization is an important factor contributing to success.

Mission and objectives: The sphere of the Association’s activity, priorities, the direction of development, organizational philosophy and policy, etc. is guided by the mission and objectives of the company.

Governance and management structures and natures: The organizational structure, the composition of the Board of Directors, the extent of professionalization of management, etc. are important factors influencing decision-making.

Internal power relationships: Factors like the amount of support the Executive Director enjoys from staff, CARA members and the Board of Directors are an important influence on decisions and their implementation. The relationship between the members of the Board of Directors is also a critical factor.

Human resources: The characteristics of human resources like skill, quality, morale, commitment, attitudes, etc. could contribute to the strength or weakness of CARA.

CARA image, reputation and brand equity: The image and reputation of the Association matters, particularly in terms of membership recruitment and retention, but also in terms of forming joint ventures or other alliances, entering purchase or sale contracts, launching new membership products or service, etc. Brand equity is also relevant in several of these cases[1].

Technological capabilities: CARA’s main membership interface is online. If it is inadequate, is CARA able to innovate and compete?

Marketing resources: A key factor in membership recruitment and retention is the quality and distribution of CARA’s marketing and promotion.

Financial: An obvious but often overlooked factor is the financial capabilities of an organization, i.e. not simply money in the bank but features like financial strategy and policies, financial position, and capital structure are also important in affecting Association performance, strategies and decisions.

External Environmental Factors

The external environment consists of no fewer than three types of setting: micro, macro, and mega environments:

Micro Environment: This consists of the actors in the Association’s immediate environment who affect the performance of the Association. These include but are not limited to:

  • Suppliers: such as conference suppliers, IT providers, and specialist consultants;
  • Marketing intermediaries: which are organizations that aid CARA in promoting, selling and distributing its membership products and services;
  • Competitors: not only other sister associations (such as SRAI or NCURA) but also all

those who compete for the discretionary income of the membership, such as the AUTM, CARL, CAREB, and the AURP;

  • Customers: business is a creation of the customer; therefore, monitoring customer sensitivity is a prerequisite for business success. In CARA terms, the customers are its members and the measure of success is membership recruitment and retention; and
  • Publics: this is any group that has an actual or potential interest in or impact on CARA’s ability to achieve its interests. Universities, hospital corporations, sector groupings, and the media are all examples.

Macro Environment: This consists of the larger societal forces that affect all the actors in the Association’s microenvironment:

  • Demographics: population growth rate, age composition, sex composition, education level, caste and creed, religion, etc. All factors which are relevant to the sector in which CARA operates;
  • Economic: economic condition, economic policies, and the economic system are the important external factors that constitute the economic environment of any organization, including CARA;
  • Natural: geographical, and ecological factors, such as natural resources endowments, weather, and climatic conditions, topographic factors, location aspects in the global context, etc. are all relevant to CARA’s business, particularly in the context of Canadian research and therefore potential markets for CARA;
  • Technological: fast-changing technologies also create problems for enterprises as they can quickly render software, IT platforms, and/or communications obsolete;
  • Political: provincial and federal politics and government environments have close relationships with economic systems and policy and therefore have significant bearing on business activity, including CARA;
  • Legal: as with all not-for-profit corporations, CARA is subject to a multitude of corporate statutes and must be mindful of both provincial and federal variances;
  • Socio-cultural: sociocultural fabric is an important environmental factor that should be analyzed when formulating business strategies. The cost of ignoring the customs, traditions, taboos, tastes, and preferences, etc. of existing and potential CARA members could be very high.

Mega Environment: This mainly consists of the international environment. Given CARA’s operating links with sister associations, such as ARMA in the UK and SRAI in the USA, plus its leading role within the INORMS community, CARA must remain cognisant of international developments and opportunities.


Annex B

PESTLE Analysis Template

PESTLE Analysis is a useful tool for understanding the “big picture” of the external environment in which CARA navigates. PESTLE involves identifying the political, economic, social (cultural), technological, legal and environmental influences on the Association.

PESTLE is useful before SWOT (see below), although not generally the other way around. PESTLE helps to identify SWOT factors and the advantage of this tool is that it encourages the Board into proactive and structured thinking in its decision-making.


  • Current legislation
  • Future legislation
  • Regulatory bodies and processes
  • Government policies
  • Government terms and changes
  • Trade policies


  • National economic situation and trends
  • Taxation
  • Market and trade cycles
  • Specific research sector factors
  • Interest and exchange rates
  • Competition

Social (Cultural)

  • Lifestyle changes
  • Demographics
  • Members’ attitudes and opinions
  • Brand recognition, reputation, image
  • Members’ buying patterns
  • Equality and diversity matters


  • Replacement
  • Technology solutions
  • Technological maturity of membership
  • Innovation potential
  • Technical access, licensing, patents, etc.


  • International law
  • Employment law
  • Competition law
  • Health and safety law
  • Regional legislation and regulation


  • Ecological issues
  • Environmental impact
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Energy consumption
  • Waste disposal


SWOT Analysis Template

SWOT Analysis is a strategic planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of an organization. In relation to environmental scanning, its use involves specifying the event, trend, issue or expectation, identifying the internal and external factors that are favorable or unfavorable to CARA’s ability to respond to that occurrence and mapping these across a SWOT Matrix.

Strengths and Weaknesses (SW): internal value-creating or destroying factors, such as assets, skills, resources, etc, can be measured by using internal assessment or by external benchmarking.

Opportunities and Threats (OT): external value-creating or destroying factors, outwith CARA’s direct control but emerge from either the competitive dynamistic of the sector or from demographic, political, technical, social, legal, and/or cultural factors.

The relationships in a SWOT analysis are generally represented by a 2x2 matrix. Strengths and Opportunities are both positive considerations. Weakness and Threats are both negative considerations. The Board of Directors can use the outcomes of the ES Sub-Committee’s SWOT analysis to inform its decision-making on appropriate responses. Ultimately the Board should attempt to build its strength, reverse its weakness, maximize its response to opportunity, and overcome its threats.





Internal Factors



External Factors




In the event of inconsistency between the French and English versions, the English language version shall prevail.


Approved by the CARA Executive Board: 6 May 2017