Horizon Scanning

The art of looking sideways

Horizon scanning (or environment scanning) entails the gathering of information on emerging issues and trends across the policy spectrum in the political, economic, social, technological, and environmental setting. 

It can be perceived as a kind of radar to systematically scan the world and signal the new, the unexpected, the major, and the minor. The goal of horizon scanning is to detect change, to “scan today’s culture for signs of future” (Faith Popocorn, 1992).

Trends and their underlying values transcend industry borders and often manifest themselves through several domains at the same time in different shapes and forms (Els Dragt, 2017), and thus it is essential to look sideways for signals of change.

 Generic model for a scanning or early warning system developed for the Kuwait Oil Company by the Millennium Project, Glenn & Gordon, 2009

A Horizon Scanning process may be performed through various tools (see picture above): observation, interviews, questionnaires, hard copy literature reviews, field research, expert panels media scanning, crowdsourcing tools, etc. For example:

  • Media scanning is a popular method for continuous monitoring of a topic. It includes the scanning of printed media (newspapers, magazines, etc), internet sites (scientific, business, blogs, etc), social media (Twitter, Instagram, etc), tv, and radio channels.
  • Crowdsourcing is a relatively new method to collect information on a specific topic of interest. Tools like Co:Tunity, Futures Platform , and our proprietary Gremlin platformoffer different alternatives to collect the views from experts or from the broader society.