Knowledge is power, so the saying goes. But not all knowledge is power to all organizations. Knowledge for your organization is power only if it is actionable. Otherwise, it is just information. So the question to ask yourself is: Do we have the knowledge we need to make good decisions for our organization?

Most associations thrive on knowledge work. No doubt you have a cornucopia of information sources at your disposal: news services, trade journals, newsletters, email, websites, social networking sites and Twitter feeds, along with your own data collection and feedback channels. With so many input mechanisms producing a constant stream of information, how do you manage it all? More importantly, how do you keep abreast of the actionable information you need to guide your strategy and stay competitive?

One useful tool is environmental scanning. Perhaps your organization already conducts an environmental scan to support its strategic planning or business planning process. This is a good practice, but an annually produced scan will soon go out of date. For month-to-month or even week-to-week decision-making, you need a more nimble solution: a miniscan.

When conducting an environmental scan for holistic planning processes, like strategic planning, you want to cast a wide net, including futuristic projections that may have long-range impact on your organization and possibly require the development of new business units or investments in new skills or technology. 

 In contrast, the miniscan should focus on critical areas of current strategic focus to help you regularly take the pulse of your industry and those elements of the larger environment that have the most impact on it. It should provide you the knowledge to answer the question: What is changing or evolving in our industry or the larger environment that may require us to modify our strategy or adjust our plans? 

 If you have already done the work of developing a strategic plan, and perhaps also have conducted a large-scale environmental scan, then creating a miniscan will require little effort. Begin by listing the areas of critical strategic focus in your plan. Then, for each one, identify the factors that will have the greatest impact on your strategy and are likely to shift or evolve within a relatively brief timespan — a week, a month or a quarter. These will vary from association to association, depending on the volatility of the industry you represent. 

 Next, determine the data or information you need to track these factors on a weekly basis. These are your key indicators. Finally, add to the mix a few outliers, something on the fringe of your industry or in one of the five spheres of your environmental scan — economic, political, social, technological or environmental — that, should it begin to move toward the center, has the potential to reshape your plan. Provided you are truly focused and selective in your choice of key indicators, you should end up with a manageable list of about a dozen or so items.

Armed with your list of key indicators, review your information sources to glean which are mostly likely to provide you the most current, most reliable data or information from which to track your indicators. Bookmark or tag those sources and create a scanning folder or feed. Again, this should be a manageable list of a few dozen sources. 

 The goal is to have enough range so that your are not too dependent on any one source, which can create blind spots, but not so expansive that you are inundated with information. It is then a relatively simple process to review your sources once or twice a week to check for any meaningful developments. These, then, can be easily compiled into a report organized by your key indicators. 

 Since much of what you gather from week to week will be transitory, it is not necessary to create a database or archive of the information you find. Should you need to refer back to a source at a later date, most likely that source will have an archive with the information you seek. The real value of the miniscan is in the process of doing the scanning. Over time you will develop a sensitivity to emerging patterns and evolving systems that will provide new insights and maintain your association's reputation as a knowledge leader rather than a knowledge follower.