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The business environment is increasingly becoming uncertain and complex. Environmental scanning is a systematic way for organizations to detect changes, and hence formulate adaptive strategies for coping with uncertainties. Information literacy skills are required to conduct effective and efficient environmental scanning activities as it is an information intensive process. Moreover, the development of information technology and telecommunication provides various channels and applications for accessing, processing and distributing information, which also proposes higher requirements of information literacy skills for dealing with environmental information. However, despite the number of studies undertaken to investigate the role of information literacy at the workplace, few have integrated information literacy skills with a specific business management activity or have tried to evaluate the impact of information literacy on real business applications. This paper provides an overview of environmental scanning and information literacy skills. A refined model, showing the relationship between environmental uncertainty, information literacy skills and environmental scanning, is also presented.
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Environmental scanning:
An application of information
literacy skills at the workplace
Xue Zhang, Shaheen Majid and Schubert Foo
Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Abstract.
The business environment is increasingly becoming uncertain and complex. Environmental scanning is a
systematic way for organizations to detect changes, and hence formulate adaptive strategies for coping with
uncertainties. Information literacy skills are required to conduct effective and efficient environmental scan-
ning activities as it is an information intensive process. Moreover, the development of information technology
and telecommunication provides various channels and applications for accessing, processing and distribut-
ing information, which also proposes higher requirements of information literacy skills for dealing with
environmental information. However, despite the number of studies undertaken to investigate the role of
information literacy at the workplace, few have integrated information literacy skills with a specific business
management activity or have tried to evaluate the impact of information literacy on real business applica-
tions. This paper provides an overview of environmental scanning and information literacy skills. A refined
model, showing the relationship between environmental uncertainty, information literacy skills and environ-
mental scanning, is also presented.
Keywords: environmental scanning; information literacy
1. Introduction
In recent years, the business environment has become more and more turbulent and uncertain due
to political realignments, economic crises, terrorism threats, technological innovations and natural
disasters [1]. Environmental scanning, as a systematic process to detect environmental signals and
deal with uncertainties, is becoming critical for all types of organizations to survive and remain
successful. Organizations have to closely monitor their task and remote environments, and use the
acquired environmental information to assist tactical and strategic decision making.
Environmental scanning is defined as a management process adopted by organizations to deal
with external environmental information, the products of which would assist tactical and strategic
Journal of Information Science, 36 (6) 2010, pp. 719–732 © The Author(s), 2010. Reprints and Permissions:
sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav, DOI: 10.1177/0165551510385644 719
Correspondence to: Xue Zhang, WKWSCI Building, 31 Nanyang Link, Singapore 637718.
Email: ZH0002UE@e.ntu.edu.sg
Xue Zhang, Shaheen Majid and Schuber t Foo
Journal of Information Science, 36 (6) 2010, pp. 719–732 © CILIP, DOI: 10.1177/0165551510385644 720
decision making [2–4]. It starts from scanning needs identification and ends at information evalua-
tion and use. The collected environmental information is filtered, interpreted and organized to
formulate insights or predictions about the external environments, and then disseminated to its end
users for evaluation and use. Environmental scanning is a typical application of information literacy
skills in the workplace, as each of its activities could only be completed effectively and efficiently
with people possessing the corresponding information literacy skills. Without proper skills to deal
with information, as well as the related technologies, people would suffer from various problems by
conducting environmental scanning, such as information overload, inability to locate and extract
relevant information and disorganization of information. Moreover, the current advancement of
information and telecommunication technology has facilitated vast improvements in developing
sophisticated infrastructures, which makes a huge amount of information available to people with
easy and flexible access, and also provides a variety of applications and channels for processing and
distributing information.
2. Literature review
2.1. Definition of environmental scanning
In the field of environmental scanning, the first notable study was carried out by Aguilar [2]. Aguilar
defines environmental scanning as acquiring information about events and relationships in a com-
pany’s outside environment, the knowledge of which would assist senior management in the task
of charting the company’s future course of action.
Subsequent studies reinforced this definition without substantially altering Aguilar’s perspective;
however, the process of environmental scanning was gradually extended and has been conceptual-
ized as an integrated information management system. For example, Lester and Waters [3] define
environmental scanning as a management process of using information from the environment to aid
decision making through the process of obtaining, analysing and using information. Based on the
foundation of Aaker [5], Costa [6] proposes a strategic information scanning system consisting of six
steps: Steps 1 and 2 specify information needs and sources; Steps 3 and 4 identify the participants
of the system and assign them scanning tasks; and Steps 5 and 6 deal with the storage, processing
and dissemination of the information. Similarly, Hough and White [7] view environmental scanning
as a process of identifying, collecting, processing and translating information about external influ-
ences into useful plans and decisions.
2.2. Definition of information literacy skills
The term ‘information literacy’ was coined by Paul Zurkowski in the 1970s [8]. Since then, the con-
cept has been mainly used by information specialists, and promulgated worldwide through the
work of the National Forum for Information Literacy and the American Library Association (ALA)
[9]. However, there is no single agreed definition of the term. Some researchers describe information
literacy as requisites to lifelong learning [10–11], while others perceive it as a natural extension of
the concept of literacy in our society [12–13]. Some have acquainted information literacy with infor-
mation technology [14], while others have used it interchangeably with library skills [15]. Todd and
colleagues [16] defined information literacy as ‘a holistic, interactive learning process encompassing
the skills of defining, locating, selecting, organizing, presenting, and evaluating information’. Goad
[17] gave a brief definition as ‘the ability to search for, find, evaluate, and use information from a
variety of sources’.
The 1989 Final Report of the American Library Association’s Presidential Committee on
Information Literacy, as a milestone in the history of information literacy research, not only recog-
nized the importance of the term, but also sought to highlight the skills of an information literate
person: to be information literate, a person must be able to recognize the need for information, to
effectively access, evaluate and creatively use it [18]. The famous ‘Big Six’ information problem
Xue Zhang, Shaheen Majid and Schuber t Foo
Journal of Information Science, 36 (6) 2010, pp. 719–732 © CILIP, DOI: 10.1177/0165551510385644 721
solving model raised by Eisenberg and Berkowitz [19] covers the stages as task definition, informa-
tion seeking strategies, location and access, use of information, synthesis and evaluation. Similarly,
Doyle [20] identified 10 steps required to execute an information task, which build on each other,
and formulate a total and systematic approach to being information literate. The 10 steps are:
1. recognize the need for information;
2. recognize the need for accurate and complete information;
3. formulate questions based on needs;
4. identify potential sources of information;
5. develop successful search strategies;
6. access sources including computer-based and other technology;
7. evaluate information;
8. organize information for practical application;
9. integrate new information into an existing body of knowledge;
10. use information in critical thinking and problem solving.
Based on the mainstream literature on this field, Webber and Johnston [21] pointed out that most
definitions in fact circle around these stages of information needs recognition, search formulation,
source selection, information evaluation, synthesis and use. Similarly, Kurbanoglu, Akkoyunlu and
Umay [22] concluded that information literacy incorporates the abilities to recognize when informa-
tion is needed, to initiate search strategies designed to locate the needed information, to evaluate,
synthesize and use information appropriately, ethically and legally, to communicate and share the
results of the information problem-solving efforts accurately and creatively across the range of infor-
mation formats, and to evaluate how well the final product resolved the information problem.
2.3. Information literacy at the workplace
A number of researchers have pointed out the importance of information and information literacy
skills at the workplace. Porter and Miller [23] report information as one of the most important ele-
ments in competitive advantages. Forward-looking companies take the view that information is a
strategic asset of the enterprise in much the same way as a company’s financial resources, capital
equipment and real estate, and properly employed information assets would create additional value
with a measurable return on investment, and can be leveraged into strong competitiveness [24].
Drucker [25] elaborates the need for organizations to become information literate. He suggests that
corporations need to learn to ask questions such as: What information is needed? In what form and
how to get it? Mutch [26] also points out the potential importance of information literacy skills to
business as he outlined how the concept might be employed within the business field. Information
literacy is a means of helping individuals handle the massive amount of information that pervades
their daily life [27]. Karim and Hussein [24] state that good quality information can improve deci-
sion making, enhance efficiency and allow organizations to gain competitive advantage.
Despite its importance as highlighted in the literature, information literacy, the key to informa-
tion power, has not been of great concern to the business sector. Employees tend to attend more to
the need for computer skills but not information literacy ones [28]. Nevertheless, having the ability
to handle technology does not necessarily mean that employees are information literate [29].
Negative examples were observed from various workplace contexts, such as ‘unable to determine the
nature and the extent of the information needed’, ‘unable to retrieve information effectively from the
information systems’, ‘not aware of the full range of resources available’ and so on, which may result
in increased operating costs and an inability to fully exploit valuable information sources [29–30].
2.4. Information literacy skills at each step of environmental scanning
While information literacy is not mentioned specifically in mainstream scanning literature, it is an
implicit aspect of environmental scanning, as the whole process could only be completed effectively
Xue Zhang, Shaheen Majid and Schuber t Foo
Journal of Information Science, 36 (6) 2010, pp. 719–732 © CILIP, DOI: 10.1177/0165551510385644 722
by people with corresponding information literacy skills. Specifically, employees should possess
information literacy skills to identify information needs and to locate the best sources to obtain
accurate and updated information. They should also have the abilities to filter, interpret and repack-
age the collected intelligence and present the information to the intended users in the right format
and in a timely manner, which is extremely valuable to the overall effectiveness of environmental
scanning and hence the success of the organization. By improving their own skills of creating,
acquiring and transferring knowledge, employees would enable their organization to modify its
behaviour according to the continuously changing external environment [31].
To elaborate the importance of information literacy skills, a six-step environmental scanning
process is proposed (Figure 1) based on Choo’s information management model [32] (Figure 2), and
the use of corresponding skills will be discussed one by one. The formal environmental scanning
process starts with clearly defined scanning needs. Organizations actively collect environmental
information through various channels and from various sources. The collected information is either
stored for future use or processed and synthesized with the existing organizational knowledge. After
filtering (removing the irrelevant part of the information), repackaging (selecting information from
different sources and merging it) or interpreting (analysing and adding organizational context and
meaning to the collected information based on understanding), the processed environmental intel-
ligence may be organized and stored in an organization knowledge repository for future utilization,
or disseminated directly to target users. Unlike Choo’s information management model, we define
environmental scanning to end at information evaluation and use, i.e. evaluating and using the col-
lected and processed external environmental information for assisting tactical and strategic decision
making. However, what strategy will be developed and what kind of adaptive behaviour would be
formulated is regarded as a strategic management issue out of the scope of this study. Moreover, the
step ‘information products/service’ is replaced with ‘information processing and synthesizing’,
which can provide a more vivid picture of the systematic scanning process.
Upon receipt, the end-users may evaluate its quality, such as timeliness, relevancy and accuracy,
and use it for assisting with tactical or strategic decision making. If an end-user’s information need
is not satisfied, a new round of acquisition, processing and distribution will occur. It is worth noting
that steps like ‘information processing and synthesizing’ and ‘information distribution’ may be
skipped due to certain factors, such as fulfilling urgent information needs (which requires immedi-
ate action), a lack of human resources, or the information collector will use the knowledge without
sharing it with others.
Fig. 1. Environmental scanning process. Adapted from [32].
Xue Zhang, Shaheen Majid and Schuber t Foo
Journal of Information Science, 36 (6) 2010, pp. 719–732 © CILIP, DOI: 10.1177/0165551510385644 723
2.4.1. Scanning needs identification
The first step in developing an environmental scanning strategy is to accurately appraise the needs
of information users in the organization. Understanding their needs and requirements would be a
significant step in developing information strategy and tools for providing effective information
services and promoting organization-wide creativity and innovation [24].
Theoretically, perceived environmental uncertainty will trigger the need for scanning [33–34].
Decision makers perceive uncertainty of the environment when they do not feel confident that they
understand the major events or trends happening in the external environment or when they feel
unable to accurately assign probabilities to the likelihood that particular events and/or changes will
occur [35]. Specifically, two environmental characteristics, degree of complexity and rate of change,
influence perceived environmental uncertainty [36–37]. A degree of complexity refers to the number
of external factors that are relevant to the organization [36–38], while rate of change refers to the
frequency of changes that occurs in the organization’s external environment [36–37].
Daft et al. [33] further propose that scanning is affected more when perceived environmental
uncertainty is located in strategically important sectors. They note that uncertainty by itself will not
lead to scanning behaviour, unless the external factors are perceived as important to organizational
performance. The combination of perceived environmental uncertainty and strategic importance
creates ‘perceived strategic uncertainty’ for decision makers, and is expected to generate a need for
them to conduct scanning for the selected environmental sectors [33] (Figure 3). Daft’s model also
states that, based on the perceived strategic uncertainty, executives may conduct scanning dif-
ferently in terms of frequency (frequency of collecting environmental information) and mode (use
of various information sources). This model is widely adopted in the environmental scanning
literature [34, 39–40].
In an organization, the identification of information needs begins with an analysis of tasks per-
formed by key decision makers and the environment of the organization, and key decision makers
are found to be not only at the top of the organization, but also among middle managers and tactical
employees [41]. In other words, the identification of an organization’s information needs starts from
the identification of individual information needs. To ensure that the organization’s scanning needs
are captured, individuals working in the organization must firstly be able to identify their own
information needs clearly; secondly, they must possess essential communication skills to express
those needs; finally, the ‘leader’ of the aggregation of individual information needs should be capa-
ble in information processing and synthesizing, and should conclude the organization’s overall
scanning needs.
2.4.2. Information acquisition
Information acquisition aims to satisfy the identified information needs. In previous literature, three
key issues were highlighted during this step, i.e. where to collect, how to collect, and when to stop.
‘Where to collect’ concentrates on the source of the information. Case [42] categorized these
sources as either internal (the company manager and staff) or external (printed and broadcast media).
Fig. 2. Choo’s information management model [32].
Xue Zhang, Shaheen Majid and Schuber t Foo
Journal of Information Science, 36 (6) 2010, pp. 719–732 © CILIP, DOI: 10.1177/0165551510385644 724
Choo [32] divided information sources into three categories: textual, online and human. Information
literate workers should realize that each kind of information source has its own advantages and dis-
advantages, and sources need to be matched with the information needs and strategic objectives as
well as their ‘accessibility’ and ‘reliability’ [43]. For example, textual sources are well suited to situ-[43]. For example, textual sources are well suited to situ-. For example, textual sources are well suited to situ-
ations when the information is structured and formal, or when the transmission accuracy of informa-
tion is highly demanding; online sources are especially useful when reasonably complete and
up-to-date information needs to be gathered swiftly; human sources tends to be preferred when deal-
ing with ambiguous, unstructured problem situations [32].
‘How to collect’ concerns the methods or techniques used for gathering information. People could
be routinely getting information through various media channels, like newspapers, market reports or
television, or acquiring first-hand data through active research methodologies, for example question-
naires, interviews and participant observation [41], or passively receiving information through sub-
scribed alerting services provided by information vendors. With the number of methods and
techniques available, people in charge of collection of environmental information should be able to
select the most appropriate one, with consideration of the quality of information and the cost of col-
lection. Moreover, possessing search skills and knowledge of search operators (e.g. Boolean operator,
truncation, wildcard) is essential for formulating a proper search strategy to retrieve information from
databases or through online search engines. Information literate workers would be able to formulate
a suitable search strategy to find more relevant and updated information. Last but not least, collectors
should be aware that the methods and techniques hired should be based on legal collections of open-
source or public domain information, without involving immoral, unethical or illegal activities.
‘When to stop’ is about the judgment of ‘enough’ information, which could satisfy the identified
information needs. Over-collection of information would result in information overload. Both
qualitative and quantitative criteria are helpful for making rational choices to determine when the
collected information is ‘enough’ [44]. The personal judgment of experienced information workers
would also help identify the quantity of collection.
2.4.3. Information organization and storage
Collected or created information should be organized and stored systematically in order to facilitate
future information retrieval and sharing. Stored information reflects a significant and frequently
consulted component of the organization’s memory and its perception of the environment [45–46].
Fig. 3. Perceived strategic uncertainty and environmental scanning. Adapted from [33].
Xue Zhang, Shaheen Majid and Schuber t Foo
Journal of Information Science, 36 (6) 2010, pp. 719–732 © CILIP, DOI: 10.1177/0165551510385644 725
In enterprises, information on paper could be stored in traditional filing systems, or digitized and
archived on hard disks attached to file servers. No matter what format, the design and performance of
the system, such as its creation of taxonomies, resource description and comprehensiveness, would
greatly affect the accessibility and retrieval of stored information, especially when the majority of infor-
mation is collected from electronic sources and the internet [47]. On the organizational level, there is a
need to have a clearly stated policy for information organization and storage. Individual employees
should have the awareness and knowledge of proper organization and storage of information. Without
employees possessing sufficient information literacy skills, organizations would not be able to catego-
rize their knowledge base properly, which may result in various barriers for future retrieval and use.
2.4.4. Information processing and synthesizing
The collected or generated information could be directly stored for future accessibility, or processed
into information products or services through some sets of value added activities, such as filtering,
interpreting and repackaging. Analysing the collected information and extracting meaning from it is
the most important part of environmental scanning and, moreover, today’s complex and turbulent
environment places a premium on the reliability and quality of information. The collected informa-
tion should be analysed for issues and trends that may influence the organization, to assist users to
acquire a better sense of situations and make better decisions, and hence facilitate the creation of a
dynamic knowledge capability. The relevant information from each source should be extracted and
information from multiple sources should be organized. Srinivas [48] pointed out that the following
questions need to be addressed during processing: which parts of the information collected would
be used? What additional data are needed? How can information be best presented to enable situa-
tion understanding and problem solving?
However, a 2005 study reports that knowledge workers are spending more time collecting infor-
mation and less time analysing it [49]. Inadequate filtering of information would result in informa-
tion overload; with inadequate time for analysis, the collected information will provide either a
recital of facts or a ‘dump’ of data with little advice or confirmation [41]. Without proper informa-
tion processing skills, the gathered information would be underutilized as ‘the organization does not
know what it knows’ [50].
Moreover, there are more than 100 different analytical techniques which could be used to glean
meaning from the collected data and information, such as blind spot analysis, competitor bench-
marking and SWOT analysis [41], and due to the rapid technological development, more advanced
information systems equipped with enterprise decision support tools are available. However, these
tools still rely heavily on human interpretation and cognition [24]. If staff have insufficient knowl-
edge of these techniques, and are without the ability to manage information flows for future utiliza-
tions and developments, advances in information and communication technology may also impose
immense challenges for people with handling the existing overly loaded information [24].
2.4.5. Information distribution
The processed environmental information, with potential effects on the organization, should be
reported to the appropriate decision makers within the firm. Myburgh [41] and Albright [51] suggest
some points deserving special attention in information distribution. Firstly, to ensure that the
correct information or intelligence makes its way to the correct destination, as the decision makers
may be scattered throughout the organization; secondly, the information should be delivered
through vehicles and in formats that mesh well with the user’s information preferences and work
habits; thirdly, the intelligence also must match the users’ requirements of presentation, such as its
orientation and content. Briefly, the real issue is getting the right information to the right person at
the right time and in a usable form.
The digital information era has brought incredible advances which have made the advent of new
methods of communication, such as email, instant message tools and Web 2.0 tools, possible. To
ensure those tools’ effectiveness as information dissemination platforms, besides the essential
operational knowledge, users should also be able to identify their respective strengths and weak-
nesses and make deliberate selections.
Xue Zhang, Shaheen Majid and Schuber t Foo
Journal of Information Science, 36 (6) 2010, pp. 719–732 © CILIP, DOI: 10.1177/0165551510385644 726
The benefits of a wider distribution of information are also highlighted in earlier literature. Nutt
[52], from the perspective of decision-making theory, found that, when the same piece of informa-, from the perspective of decision-making theory, found that, when the same piece of informa-
tion is distributed to many individuals, multiple interpretations could be resolved and a consensus
would be reached. Daft [53] discovered that multiple interpretations of the same information could
improve the decisions by redefining the problem. A wider distribution of information may bring
more broadly based and more frequent organizational learning, as retrieval efforts are more likely to
succeed and individuals and units are more likely to be able to learn [54].
However, in practice, it is found that organizations differ in the extent to which information is dis-
seminated: some firms may allow a wide distribution of all information; some may permit a sizeable
amount of information to be accessible to all employees; there are also some firms which restrict the
access to certain types of information due to its confidential nature [55]. Although, as already sug-
gested, key decision makers are not only at the top of the organization [41], in a highly centralized,
while less information literate organization, information dissemination can be strictly limited to the
top management only [56]. Moreover, many employees narrow-mindedly focus only on what they or
their divisions need, without considering the broader picture of sharing information with others [29].
2.4.6. Information evaluation and use
On receiving the processed information, the end-users would evaluate and use it for assisting with
decision making. In the current information intensive business environment, the utilization of infor-
mation is indeed a critical factor in the achievement of organizational success [57]. Information liter-[57]. Information liter-. Information liter-
ate decision makers would be open-minded and objective, rely not merely on the guidance of instincts
and their experiences, but use information from a variety of sources presenting different viewpoints.
At this stage, various information literacy skills are required. For example, decision makers need
information evaluation skills to make judgments about the quantity and quality of the received
information in terms of reliability, accuracy, timeliness and so on. If they find the information insuf-
ficient or unqualified, they may initiate a new round of scanning; with sufficient and high-quality
information, they may still need to process and synthesize it based on the real-time situation and
different usage.
3. Proposed research models
As an integrated process, equal importance should be attached to the different steps of environmen-
tal scanning. Based on the above literature review, information literacy skills are concluded as
essential for conducting effective scanning processes. In addition, several studies have found that
scanning activities could be completed through staff from different functional units and at different
hierarchical levels [1, 58], not restricted to the top management level. For example, a senior manager
needs information for product repositioning. They may assign staff from the sales department to
acquire information like existing customers’ feedback and market trends through talking to custom-
ers, or conducting online searching for related news or market reports. To retrieve and obtain more
relevant information efficiently, those employees should be able to formulate a suitable search
strategy, and have the ability to filter and synthesize the collected intelligence using their own
knowledge and interpretation skills, and report it to the senior manager in a timely manner and
presented in an easily useable format. As a result, to investigate the role of information literacy
skills in environmental scanning, we should include all staff participating in the scanning process.
Daft’s model [33], as the most widely adopted theoretical foundation of study on the relationship
between uncertainty and environmental scanning, states that senior managers’ perceived strategic
uncertainty would determine the scanning frequency and mode, i.e. how often and in what way
would organizations collect information about their external environment. Besides information
acquisition, whether the other steps of environmental scanning, such as identification of informa-
tion needs and information distribution, would also be influenced by perceived uncertainty levels
remains unexplored. Moreover, this model has not considered the role of information literacy skills
in environmental scanning, as well as the participation of employees.
Xue Zhang, Shaheen Majid and Schuber t Foo
Journal of Information Science, 36 (6) 2010, pp. 719–732 © CILIP, DOI: 10.1177/0165551510385644 727
A refined model has been proposed addressing the limitations of Daft’s model (Figure 4). This
model is developed based on a formal six-step environmental scanning process conducted to fulfil
top management’s needs for strategic decision making. In this refined model, equal importance has
been attached to the scanning steps starting from ‘scanning needs identification’ to ‘information
evaluation and use’. Furthermore, besides acknowledging senior managers’ directing role in the
whole process, employees participating in environmental scanning are also covered through the
influence of their information literacy skills on carrying out corresponding scanning activities.
Figure 5 shows the refined model in detail. Senior managers’ (strategic decision makers) per-
ceived strategic uncertainty is still proposed to have influence on frequency and rate of importance
for environmental scanning, but is not restricted to the step of information collection. The other
steps would also vary to cope with different uncertainty levels. ‘Implemented frequency’ refers to
how often organizations would conduct the corresponding scanning activity; ‘rate of importance’
refers to the importance attached to each scanning step, in terms of conducting manner (primitive,
ad hoc, reactive or proactive) [59] and assigned scanning unit (CEO, a dedicated unit or a non-
dedicated unit) [60].
Moreover, a perceived level of information literacy skills is also proposed to have influence on
the scanning frequency and rate of interest. Bandura [61] found that motivation levels, affective
states and actions are more based on what people believe than what is objectively true. In the con-
text of environmental scanning, people involved in the activities may not have an objective view of
Fig. 4. Coverage of Daft’s model and the refined model.
Xue Zhang, Shaheen Majid and Schuber t Foo
Journal of Information Science, 36 (6) 2010, pp. 719–732 © CILIP, DOI: 10.1177/0165551510385644 728
their actual level of information literacy skills; instead, their scanning behaviours are determined
by their perceived level of information literacy skills.
Decision makers guiding the scanning process may adjust the scanning frequency and rate of
importance for each step according to their perceived strategic uncertainty level, as well as their
perceptions towards the participants’ overall level of related information literacy skills, such as
skills for gathering, processing, disseminating and presenting information. However, how this per-
ceived level of information skills would affect the process remains unexplored. If the decision mak-
ers feel the overall level is low, it would be possible that they require the participants to conduct
more frequent scanning with higher attached importance, in order to fulfil their information needs.
It is also possible that the senior managers choose to complete the steps by themselves, seek help
from consultant companies, or just avoid the challenging tasks due to low expectations of the out-
come.
For employees participating in environmental scanning, their perceived level of their own related
information literacy skills, or in other words, self-efficacy of information literacy skills, would also
impact their conducted scanning activities. Self-efficacy refers to the belief that one is capable of
performing a particular behaviour or task to attain certain goals [62–63]. Self-efficacy belief provides
the foundation for human motivation, well-being and accomplishment, and it will determine how
long individuals will persevere, how resilient they will be in the face of difficulties, and how much
effort they will expend on an activity [22, 64]. If participants perceive that they have the correspond-
ing information skills to produce the desired outcomes, they will be willing to perform the scanning
activities; if they feel the task in hand exceeds their capabilities, they will have little incentive to act.
The implemented frequency and rate of importance for each scanning step would impact its
effectiveness, and hence influence the final outcome of the whole scanning process, i.e. the quality
of environmental information ready for assisting strategic decision making, in terms of relevance,
accuracy, reliability, timeliness and so on.
This model is proposed based on the formal scanning process, which is directed by the clearly
identified strategic information needs of senior managers. Moreover, the generic model would be
revised for each scanning step based on the real situation. For example, the implemented frequency
Fig. 5. A refined model of perceived strategic uncertainty, perceived information literacy skills and environmental scanning.
Xue Zhang, Shaheen Majid and Schuber t Foo
Journal of Information Science, 36 (6) 2010, pp. 719–732 © CILIP, DOI: 10.1177/0165551510385644 729
may not be applicable for the step ‘information processing and synthesizing’, ‘information organiza-
tion and storage’ and ‘information dissemination’. For the step of ‘information acquisition’, some
other factors may also need to be taken into consideration, such as ‘quality of information sources’
in terms of reliability and accessibility [4].
It is also worth noting that this model only covered the perceived level of information literacy
skills, as the actual level of skills could only be assessed approximately through a reliable and com-
prehensive instrument, and the relationship between perceived and actual levels of information
literacy skills for conducting environmental scanning remains unexplored. Upon verifying the
model through a combination of quantitative (questionnaire survey) and qualitative (interview and
case study) research methods, we also plan to discover whether these two are correlated, and hence
reveal the influence of information literacy skills on environmental scanning through a more objec-
tive perspective.
4. Conclusion
Environmental scanning could provide early warning signals for organizations, and help companies
develop and modify business strategies to meet changing external circumstances and hence improve
their competitiveness and performance. To achieve effective results, environmental scanning should
be conducted as an integrated systematic process with equal importance attached to its various
steps. Furthermore, environmental scanning is an information intensive process, and the develop-
ment of information technology and telecommunication provides various channels and applica-
tions, but also creates challenges for accessing, processing and distributing environmental
information. To obtain high-quality environmental information for assisting tactical and strategic
decision making, each employee participating in environmental scanning must possess the corre-
sponding information literacy skills.
In reviewed mainstream literature, the majority of studies investigating environmental scan-
ning activities, as directed by Daft’s model, have mainly focused on the information collection
step, with some easily measurable variables, such as frequency of scanning, use of different kinds
of information sources and scanned environmental sectors, while neglecting other activities, such
as needs identification, information processing, organizing, dissemination and utilization.
Moreover, the role of information literacy skills for conducting various environmental scanning
activities has not been covered in this model, and has not been deliberately investigated in the
reviewed empirical studies. Additionally, Daft’s model does not consider the influence of
employees participating in various scanning activities. According to its guidance, the majority of
empirical studies collected data only from senior managers, who play a leading role in the scan-
ning process, while ignoring the contribution of employees from various function units and hier-
archical levels.
The proposed model aims to address the limitations of Daft’s model as well as to cover the influ-
ence of information literacy skills on the final outcome of environmental scanning. In the refined
model, environmental scanning is re-defined to end at ‘evaluation and use of information’, without
covering the formulation and implementation of adaptive behaviour. The reason for this exclusion
is that several other factors, such as leadership style, availability of resources and personal intuition,
can play a significant role in decision making and strategy implementation. With such clearly
defined boundaries, the contribution of information literacy skills on scanning could be evaluated
through the users’ perception towards the quality of environmental information that is captured,
synthesized and ready for use, while removing the impact of annoying factors. The refined model
attaches equal importance to each scanning step, without restricting it to information acquisition. It
proposes that all scanning steps may adjust accordingly to cope with different uncertainty levels.
The model also incorporates the influence of information literacy skills and acknowledges the role
of all participants, through the decision makers’ perception of the overall skills level, as well as
employees’ self-efficacy of information skills.
Xue Zhang, Shaheen Majid and Schuber t Foo
Journal of Information Science, 36 (6) 2010, pp. 719–732 © CILIP, DOI: 10.1177/0165551510385644 730
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... IL has been conceptualized as a driver of informed learning enabling collaborative use of information in the sociotechnical environment-the workplace (Sommerville and Bruce, 2017). Zhang et al. (2010Zhang et al. ( , 2014 argued that IL skills were essential for environmental scanning and making strategic decisions. Weiner's (2011) literature review reported the dearth of IL research for the workforce and divided the existing studies into three key areas, namely, IL importance for the workforce, the way IL differs in the workplace, and academia, and barriers to workplace IL. ...
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