Choosing and documenting scan sources 
Our focus in choosing scanning sources is to select those that identify possible, probable and preferable fundamental changes in:

  • Business: the nature of commerce
  • Economics: the value chain
  • Environment: scarce natural resources & sustainability
  • Health: our well-being
  • Industries: key markets and services
  • Lifestyles: the way we live and work
  • Politics: major country and ideological political shifts
  • Society: our global communities
  • Technology: advances in, and the uses of, science

We believe that most world information is readily available through open sources and that which is hidden behind subscription sites can mostly be deduced. However, we track useful subscription sites for the benefit of our members and use these in client specific assignments where open sources are insufficient for proper analysis.

For the mainstream we look for sources that the interest communities themselves use to announce news. For changes on the social and cultural fringe, we look for voices that express values and ideas bubbling among artists and youth for example. For all scan hits we seek to ‘get close to the sources of change’.

Here’s where we look:
‘newspapers, websites, blogs, wikis, podcasts, videos, news sites, newsletters; magazines, books, book reviews, presentations, reports, surveys, interviews, seminars, chat rooms, trend observers, advertisers, philosophers, sociologists, management gurus, consultants, researchers, experts, universities’

'Unfortunately, intuitive recognition of a source as useful is not a transferable decision rule. So, in the best tradition of expert systems analyzes, we ask ourselves what we are actually doing when we choose sources. To which the shortest possible answer is probably, "identifying opinion leaders." Because our current social construction grants credibility to intellectual adventuring within formal structures, such as science, we label those opinion leaders "experts." As innovative social and cultural ideas and behaviors challenge the status quo with the potential for transformation, they are generally marginalized – hence the usual scanning label of "fringe" for sources on emerging issues among youth, artists, social movements, the underclass, etc.

[Our source categorization acknowledges this by asking scanners to assess the credibility of sources as "expert," "professional," or "pundit, ‘amateur’ and ‘fringe’. This is NOT meant to be pejorative, only descriptive. It does, to some extent, conflate a judgment of location of emergence of insight (scientific / rational genius vs. artistic / intuitive genius) with the timeframe of emergence (e.g. expert and fringe vs. punditry: the assumption being that something spotted in the popular press is further away from the origin point on the emergence growth curve).

Our researchers concentrate on identifying anomalies and patterns from their daily scans with a detailed knowledge of where information resides using proprietary and utility technology to find the best material versus our source categorization.

We look for material that expresses:

New, novel, advance, innovation, renovation, fashion, latest, renew, innovate, newness, fresh,

First, inception, conception, initiative, beginning, debut, onset, birth, infancy, start, dawn, commencement

Idea, notion, belief, apprehension, thought, impression, ideation, point of view, standpoint, theory, prediction

Change, alteration, mutation, permutation, variation, modification, inflection, mood, deviation, turn, inversion, subversion, forecast

Surprise, marvel, astonish, amaze, wonder, stupefy, fascinate, dazzle, startle, take aback, electrify, stun, bewilder, boggle, wildcard

Opportunity: chance, opening, crisis, juncture, conjuncture, favorable, high time

Threat:  future, prospect, anticipation, perspective, expectation, horizon, outlook, look-out, coming, forthcoming, imminent, approaching, fear, uncertainty

A robust scanning strategy will monitor change all along the above curve, and discriminate between the uses and usefulness of data emerging from different points of the curve. When a change is just emerging, and only a few data points exist with which to characterize it, we can only analyze it via a case study approach; changes indicated by limited data points and observations are referred to as “weak signals” of change. As a change matures, more and more data points are available with which to analyze it: we can speak of the change as a variable which is displaying a trend in some direction. The more mature the trend, the more likely it has entered the public arena, and thus attracted issue adherents voicing demands on government.

Therefore, while we may initially tag a trend as having been sourced from an amateur, or the fringe, our task is to strengthen and broaden hits in order to improve source attributes towards professional and expert. If we cannot our system reduces the priority rating we would give to the issue.

What would be measurable or documentable attributes that would help us distinguish among sources, and that would establish sources’ credibility as opinion leaders for their communities of interest?

  • High numbers of citations by members of the community: for science documents, literally the extent to which they are cited; for popular media, their distribution; for "fringe" literature, the "buzz," measurable also by popularity within their target audience and, in the case of blogs, their ranking by links and hits. Is the source therefore credible as an opinion leader for that community?
  • Market niche: to whom is the source targetedThe Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine are targeted to professionals in medical research; New Scientist is targeted to scientific professionals and decision-makers, as well as interested laypeople; Discovery is targeted entirely to interested laypeople and students. Is that documentable, e.g., by reference to mission statements or self-descriptions?
  • Distribution: does distribution data, or access data (in the case of web sources / info-feeds), demonstrate widespread use by members of the source’s target audience / community of interest? This would to some extent duplicate, and therefore corroborate, the citations variable, above.
  • Media: the medium of information distribution itself might help distinguish among expert, fringe, and punditry, in terms of print journal, professional association newsletter, tabloid, etc.

We ask our researchers to weight these variables for each trend which in turn increases, or decreases, the prioritization of one issue versus another. These ranking systems in turn provide a useful sight check of whether our thinking has been sufficiently robust.]

Text in parens above by kind permission of Infinite Futures:

Our framework for determining what should be uploaded is as follows:

  • Does the link aim to identify and assess possible future threats and opportunities, including radical alternatives?
  • Does the link explore socio-economic trends and their potential impacts?
  • Does the link challenge existing political, economic, social, technological, environmental assumptions and evidence?
  • Does the link question assumptions underlying current policies?
  • Does the link pioneer or employ methodologies appropriate to best practice horizon scanning, strategic planning or change management?

Good links have the following attributes:

  • Credible and eclectic sources from the full range of disciplines
  • Easy to read/plain language
  • Thought provoking
  • Future focused (except where history or today give context and
    understanding of the future)
  • Helpful to creating future plans and actions

And our analysis of the links:

  • Is at deep-link site level wherever available
  • Is comprehensively described through our content classification
  • Correctly describes an interesting title and properly ascribed
  • Contains a description that eliminates a site’s over-claims to
  • Includes key tags: document type, timeframe, country of origin, url, language
  • Only reference pre-payment sites at front page level and are
    clearly marked as 'subscription' sites

Retiring “old” trends
Any update cycle must consider how to retire or delete trends, in order to ensure the accumulating wealth of data does not render the database unwieldy and unworkable. In our experience, trends are slow to dissipate. What is more common is either a change in direction (such as with the obesity issue in the middle of 2003) or a change in emphasis (the value of the outdoors in health promotion has evolved to include mental health or “wellbeing” as well as physical health) or a transformation due to collision with an emerging issue from another sector (twenty years ago an “aging society” implied communities of infirm, debilitated OAPs; with advances in gerontology, an “aging society” may now mean communities of active seniors with vigorous lifestyles).

As cases and observations of the trend accumulate, it becomes more widely known. The uncertainty level drops, and it is more likely to be addressed by plans, strategies, and policies: it becomes a condition of daily life, rather than a perturber of daily life.

Those trends that lack any sign of alteration are retired (retired through our rating system or deleted where the link is broken), or where appropriate, added to other existing trends as secondary or tertiary evidence.

We conduct this check annually.

Content management

  • Broken links are checked and removed automatically each week. Those that can be repaired are restored, those that cannot are removed
  • We never remove live content from the site but move items older than two years into our archive. The archive is still available to view by members.
  • We rely on sight checks and member notifications of changed links where the URL is the same but the content changed
  • We spell check all content but do not change text from the links except where an obvious error has been made
  • We regularly use system utilities to check for missing field information (description, url type, criteria, country of origin etc.) and correct as necessary
  • We encourage our members to report broken links