Final | October 2018 | v1.0.0 | OFFICIAL-Public | QGCDG


Horizon scanning is the systematic examination of potential opportunities and likely future developments including those that challenge current thinking. Horizon scanning explores new and unexpected trends and possibilities. This guideline broadly describes how to conduct horizon scanning with respect to trends in service delivery and service models.


A practitioner in the context of this guideline can include one or more of the following roles:

  • Digital and ICT strategic planners
  • Agency and service strategic planners
  • Workforce planners
  • Enterprise architects
  • Business analysts
  • Information managers.


The term disruption is commonly used across Government. Disruption is something that causes transformation or is the result of a transformation initiative. Four key elements of disruption (Gartner Inc, 2017). These are summarised in the figure below.

Figure 1 - Elements of Disruption

Horizon scanning

This guideline focuses on horizon scanning for trends impacting service delivery in relation to business, industry and society. The approaches outlined can be applied to investigate opportunities across all these elements.

Horizon scanning implies a search process aimed at identifying emerging issues and events which may present themselves as opportunities.

Horizon scanning has two main purposes; an alerting function and a creative function. The altering function highlights anticipate and emerging opportunities that will probably need attention. The creative function is used to create innovative ideas or opportunities based on the analysis of data. The creative function may require further engagement of stakeholders and generate ideas and identify what is possible.

Some of the concepts and methods applied to horizon scanning include exploratory scanning and issues centred scanning.

Exploratory scanning

Exploratory scanning involves searching for information or developments with no specific framework or potential emerging issues or trends in mind. The aim is to identify an extensive list of potential issues and trends, within the broad boundaries of the policy domain selected (e.g. Health, Education, Environment)

The practitioner may end up with substantial amounts of data, research and information that can be clustered or grouped. It may therefore be necessary to tag data, and research as part of the scanning process.

Exploratory scanning involves at least four key steps including:

  1. Setting a high-level search profile that is only lightly focused using keywords.
  2. Using various sources on information including blogs, reports, literature and even conference materials regarding the search profile
  3. Assessment of issues and trends to determine the plausibility and strength of the research and data.
  4. Grouping of issues and trends into themes.

Issues centred scanning

The issues centred approach involves evaluating a hypothesis. A hypothesis may come from any of the elements of disruption. It begins with a wide range of existing and potential emerging opportunities and then seeking information to strengthen or disprove the hypothesis.

A frame of reference is conceptualised for chosen domains and may include articles or presentations by an author or group of authors that describe a future narrative.

There may be strong scientific articles, statistical analysis or trend report reports to support the analysis. There may also be recommendations as part of the narrative that describe how to address the opportunity and the reduce any negative impacts. This information may be useful when considering the objectives, strategies and roadmaps in the later planning activities.

The information collected through horizon scanning can be carried forward into the planning process as strategic drivers and environmental influences that will shape the formulation of objectives and strategies.

The information highlighted in horizon scanning may also identify associated technology trends that will underpin realisation of a hypothesis or theme.


The external environment also needs to be scanned to identify business, industry and cultural factors and trends that may impact on the agency’s direction with respect to the workforce. The aim is to develop a good understanding of the key drivers that may affect the future supply and demand for labour for the agency. The Queensland Government supports a dedicated ICT workforce planning methodology. This methodology outlines two methods for conducting a horizon scan including:

STEEP analysis – consideration of demographic, social/cultural, technological, environmental, economic and political/legal factors

SWOT analysis – a review and analysis of the organisation's internal and external strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Practitioners involved with workforce planning components should familiarise themselves with this methodology. A number of key questions out outlined to consider when exploring when reviewing organisation direction and external environment including:

  • What are the organisation’s current and future business, work functions and activities?
  • How might the future business, work functions and activities impact the agency’s workforce composition and competencies?
  • What are the anticipated changes over the planning period?
  • How is technology expected to change and how will these changes influence the type and number of jobs available and the skills and education needed for these jobs?
  • What is the impact of current or future government regulations (such as affirmative action and equal employment opportunity)?
  • How is the economy performing both locally and nationally?
  • What are the sources of competition for attracting people (salary, benefit packages, etc.)?
  • What other trends may impact the agency (such as trends towards decentralisation, outsourcing or restructuring)?

Next steps

The results of environmental scanning should be used as part of visioning activities with the business representatives and can be incorporated into presentations conducted as part of planning workshops. It may be useful to present the results of environmental scanning as a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis for example.

Visioning is where the creative elements of environmental scanning come into play working with stakeholders defining what might be possible based on research.

Horizon scanning may also help to provide a narrative for digital and or ICT strategy or plan regarding how customers and consumers access and use services and information, how the workforce will work, collaborate and engage as well as how information can be shared with service partners




Queensland Government ICT workforce planning methodology




Amanatidou, A., Butter, M., Carabias, V., Konnola, T., Leis, M., Schaper-Rinkel, P., & Van Rij, V. (2012). On concepts and methods in horizon Scanning: Lessons from initiating policy dialogues on emerging issues. Science and Public Policy, 208-221.

Gartner Inc. (2017, May 25). Research Notes. Retrieved from Digital Disruption and the New Disruptors: Recognise Prioritise and Respond:

Last Reviewed: 24 October 2018