My Scanning Toolkit
By taking a wide angle lens look at the present, the goal of scanning is to find points of information in the present that can be connected to form images of possible futures.
After a few classes worth of scanning, I’ve found a few tools that help with the process.
What is Scanning?
Environmental scanning is the ongoing tracking of trends and events that are relevant to an organization. Scanning can focus on issues and areas that have specific relevance to an organization. However, some attention should also be spent watching broad trends that will effect many industries. Demographic change, automation, and urbanization – for example.
Using a mnemonic like STEEP (Social, Technology, Economics, Environment, Policy) can help you avoid tunnel vision. The VERGE Framework is an alternative/complementary way to categorize your scanning. Instead of dividing different sectors, VERGE sorts information based on the more humanistic criteria of Define, Relate, Connect, Create, Consume, and Destroy.
A foresight project can take 100’s of scans to build up enough information to start making inferences about the future that are well grounded in the reality of today. Sometimes it feels like I never stop scanning!
One Database to Rule Them All
I’ve been playing around with creating a system where I can store all my scans. Someplace where I can archive, connect, and resurface information over time.
People in my program seem to love Diigo. It’s a simple and easy to use bookmaking tool that allows you to tag links and create and share different project spaces.
Image: My scanning workspace in Notion
I prefer using an app called Notion, which is sort of a hybrid of a wiki, Airtable, and Evernote webclipper. You can use different “blocks” to create a system tailor to your needs. It has its own drawbacks. But, after a year of using it, I’m still satisfied. Because Notion arrives as a blank slate, it takes some time to build it out – I know I still am.
(Another benefit of Notion is that you can make a quick mini-website like I did for this scenario project in my Introduction to Foresight class)
I’ve tried to make it as easy as possible to add information to a set of databases that store scan hits, related media, trends, and influencers (not in the Instagram sense). These databases are linked together to help me find relationships between different points of information.
I’ve set up a template based on the scanning forms we use in class in order to quickly enter the relevant information about a hit. I track:
- Published Date
- STEEP category
- Type (actual event, new trend, new cycle, new plan, potential even, new info, new issues)
- Horizon (based on the three horizons framework)
- Keywords and Tags
I also rate, on a scale of 1-5, the plausibility, impact, novelty, and timeliness of the scan hit. I write up a brief description of the most important points of the scan, how the future could be different as a result, and what stakeholders would be impacted.
Entering all this information can sometimes be tedious, but it does pay off.
Notion has their own web-clipper plug-in, but the Chrome extension Save to Notion by Anis Gad is sooo much better. It allows you to save whole articles, but also apply different templates to the pages as you save them. Huge time saver.
Feel free to poke around this sandboxed version of my scanning workspace, populated with the hits I’ve collected so far for a project on the Future of Local Food. Some parts are broken from when I duplicated the databases, but hopefully it gives you an idea of what I’m working towards.
Highlight the Web
When I’m reading on a screen, sometimes I want to mark up webpages and scrawl notes in the margin like I can on paper. Especially as I finish reading an article, I want to be able to quickly go back and extract those best morsels to save in Notion.
YAWAS (Yet Another Web Annotation System) has been a game changer for me. This extension allows you to highlight text directly in your web browser (in four different colors). All the annotations are saved, so when you return to a webpage all your notes are still there. I never knew I needed this. Now I surf the web without it.
Image: Brian J Matis on Flickr
AI Summarization Tools
With all that scanning, sometimes you gotta take some short cuts.
These three AI summarization services all work with Chrome (maybe they also work with other browsers, IDK, as much as I fantasize about with holding my data from the Google monster, I don’t).
The summaries these tools create can be a little awkward, but they have defiantly save me time. They are great for confirming if the body of an article matches the headline and is worth reading more carefully. They are not perfect, but a good tool.
Summarize the Internet The most basic summarizer on this list, but sometimes simple is best.
Pro - Low visual impact and fast, cute inchworm icon
Con - I wish the text was larger. My eyes (and the rest of me) are getting old!) Doesn’t return keywords. Sometimes outputs can be unwieldy.
Scholarcy is the most robust tool on this list. Inside an article, Scholarcy can find keywords, the abstract, key highlights, an overall summary, and also return the full text with the parts extracted for the summary highlighted. You can also download a summary as a markdown file, which is great for copy and pasting into Notion. There are additional paid features, but I don’t know anything about those.
Pro - Presents summaries in different ways, downloadable summaries
Con - Sometimes slow and times out, especially when you are doing a lot of summaries
Just started trying this one out. In the past, when I tried it, it would stall out. Past couple of days, it’s been working great. I’m using the free tier, but there is also a more advance paid version.
Pro - Displays keywords
Con - Unclear what makes the “advanced” version better