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Environmental scanning makes planning possible: how can you bring emerging issues and trends to the forefront so that you can focus strategic attention on them? Try environmental scanning.

AT THE AMERICAN DIETETIC A Association (ADA), Chicago, environmental scanning and strategic planning are not simply linked--they are inseparable. I do not see how we could have one without the other.

As one of the nation's largest organizations of food and nutrition professionals, ADA relies on our strategic plan to be a road map for individual programs, as well as a statement of our overarching priorities and our role in improving the public's health and nutrition. Environmental scanning makes it possible for ADA leaders to create the framework that guides the organization.

When ADA faces its future, the information its board and leaders possess about the world shapes their perceptions and influences their strategic thinking. Environmental scanning helps us search for important cues about how the world is changing, how these changes are likely to affect our organization and profession, how the world looks now, and--with luck--how it will look a few years from now.

Positioning the profession

During a 1995 governance restructuring, we identified environmental scanning as a key step that had been missing from our strategic planning process. The ADA house of delegates assumed the role of identifying key trends affecting the profession and began the process of trend gathering as a part of environmental scanning. After our first attempt to use environmental scanning to guide the development of our strategic plan, board members understood the value of environmental scanning. They saw how it prepared them, individually and collectively, to anticipate the future and to identify strategic goals that would position the profession for success.

At ADA, we now begin the environmental scanning process one year in advance of development of a new strategic plan. Our house of delegates conducted the most recent environmental scan in early 2002, but planning for the scan occurred from June to December 2001. At every step of the way in our planning process, at each meeting or conference call, the ADA board of directors reviews the strategic plan and progress made toward completion.

Confronting our challenges

Our 2002 environmental scan shows growing public interest in nutrition, food safety, and the potential of functional foods to prevent illness. At the same time, dietetics professionals face increasing and new sources of competition--from Web-based information services, food producers, and alternative medicine practitioners, among others.

ADA must confront four strategic challenges:

1. Technological, social, political, global, and environmental forces are significantly reshaping the U.S. food system.

2. Consumer access to increasingly sophisticated delivery of nutrition and health-related information from a variety of sources.

3. The need for dietetics to remain relevant to more people, in more circumstances, at more life stages, and in more cultures.

4. The growing concern of privacy in health and other personal records, as government and commercial data are collected on individuals' behaviors.

Process prompts new activities

Our strategic planning process has produced tangible results, prompting us to develop new activities. For example, the 1998 environmental scanning report stated: "Medical professionals not trained in nutrition and nutrition amateurs are aggressively positioning themselves as the experts on food and nutrition." In response to this trend, ADA established a strategic goal: "Increase demand and utilization of services provided by ADA members."

The outcome of this goal: We initiated a baseline study exploring consumers' perceptions of access, value, demand, and use of ADA members' services. The results of this study influenced our house of delegates to conduct a series of dialogues to improve customer satisfaction. The outcomes of these dialogues will be recommendations that ADA and dietetics professionals consider to increase the value and demand of member services.

This is just one example. The invaluable data collected by environmental scanning offer ADA a vision of our future and a framework from which to act and make that future real.

RELATED ARTICLE: For Every Season There Is a Deadline

The American Dietetic Association used this timeline to conduct its environmental scan and develop its 2003-2006 strategic plan:

* JANUARY TO FEBRUARY 2002: Provide an overview of environmental scanning for the house of delegates via an electronic mailing list (listserver). Headquarters staff reviews previous trends gathered in 1998 and identifies any new trends.

* MARCH TO APRIL 2002: Delegates, dietetic practice groups within ADA's membership, state and local dietetic associations affiliated with ADA, and organizational units receive the trends list for refinement and input.

* MAY 2002: House of delegates hears environmental scanning presentation at its spring meeting.

* MAY TO JUNE 2002: House receives revised list of more than 100 trends and prioritizes strategic trends that have a significant impact on dietetics practice, research, and education.

* JULY TO AUGUST 2002: Prioritized list of trends is forwarded to futurist organization for validation and development of final report. Board of directors' strategic planning task force receives validated environmental scanning report, reviews and discusses scan's results, and identifies key elements for inclusion in the upcoming strategic plan. A consultant in strategic planning assists the task force.

* SEPTEMBER 2002: Board of directors approves completed environmental scanning report, which is posted to ADA's house of delegates Web page for member input. Strategic planning task force continues its work.

* OCTOBER 2002 TO DECEMBER 2002: Based on member feedback, the task force revises draft plan.

* DECEMBER 2002: Environmental scanning report is published as a supplement in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. (The detailed report can be viewed at

* JANUARY 2003: ADA board of directors approves final 2003-2006 strategic plan.

Ronald S. Moen is the chief executive officer officer American Dietetic Association, Chicago. E-mail:
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Title Annotation:related article: For Every Season There Is a Deadline
Author:Moen, Ronald S.
Publication:Association Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2003
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