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Research Guides

Political Science

What is the purpose of an environmental scan?

An environmental scan is a close look at the internal and/or external situation related to an organization, project or activity.  It may be a snapshot in time or, more frequently, it is an ongoing effort to identify trends and different influential forces. A environmental scan provides a valuable introduction and insight into a topic or problem.

S few of the more common strategies are addressed in more detail on this page:

  • SWOT Analysis
  • PEST Analysis
  • DIME Analysis

There are many other models and strategies for environmental scanning (and tools to support them) -  force field analysis, Porter's five forces and so on,  One way to identify techniques appropriate to a topic or problem is to examine the scholarly or professional literature for relevant studies. 

SWOT Analysis

SWOT (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) is largely used in industry and business, where the context is relatively well-defined but it can also be useful in other sectors.

This example from Kansas ( applies this model to community organizing - a topic that may be relevant to public administration and nonprofit management.

Pest Analysis

PEST Table

In most cases, the context of the topic is
relatively well-bounded - it will be within
the context of the course.  However,
sometimes it may be useful to get a
better idea of the specific areas that
inform or influence a topic.  An environmental
scan can be useful on these occasions. 

For less well-defined topics, it is useful to do a
broader environmental scan. One of the more
versatile models is a PEST analysis (also
called STEP or PESTEL analysis) - the
acronym is often modified to address the
factors relevant to the specific topic.
Essentially, it examines the various
areas that affect a problem or question.
The most common factors are:

  • political
  • economic
  • social
  • technological

But there may also be other areas added such
as environmental, legal, etc.  The drivers or
issues affecting the chosen topic are
examined within each area.  This can help
gain a broader understanding of what drives
the issue and may also help narrow down to a more specific problem statement or question.


DIME Analysis

DIME Analysis is largely used in military and government contexts: it stands for Diplomatic, Informational, Military, Economic.