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Maximize Your ROI on Environmental Scanning


The Society for Human Resource Management defines environmental scanning as a systematic process of surveying and interpreting relevant data to identify external opportunities and threats. Effective grant professionals do this every day to stay current on evidence-based strategies, innovations, funding trends, and best practices. I imagine that most of us have a library of regular email newsletters, funding agency alerts, professional publications, and sector-specific news sources that we monitor regularly. We are committing a great deal of time and energy to this task, but are we maximizing its value to our work? What good is all of the information that we are gathering if we cannot recall it, or retrieve it when we need it?
 

Since I work in the higher education sector, I often come across research reports on effective strategies for student retention, support services for underprepared or disadvantaged student populations, and innovative applications of instructional technologies. I may not be working on a related proposal when I find these resources, but could be in the near future. Earlier in my career, I might bookmark these resources in my web browser for future reference, but eventually I ended up with an unmanageable and unsearchable list of bookmarks. I also tried saving pdf files in folders on my hard drive, but this approach was less than ideal because it was difficult to search and took up a lot of storage space.
 
I needed a solution that would be simple to use, low-cost (free), and minimize the time I spend trying to find a resource that I know I read about two months ago. My solution turned out to be cloud-based note-taking software. These products, like Evernote or OneNote, can be downloaded and synced on multiple devices, providing mobile functionality and accessibility. You can type text directly into a note, upload Word documents or pdf files, save full articles from websites, clip photos or portions of webpages, or record audio files. Individual notes can be organized by topic or project, grouped into stacks or notebooks, and tagged with keywords for cross-referencing or to facilitate search and retrieval. And, best of all, everything you type or upload is saved automatically.
 
Rather than starting research from scratch for every new project, Evernote allows me to archive scholarly articles, webpages, research reports, and other resources as I find them in an easily searchable and retrievable system. This gives me a head start on research for my statement of need when a project does come up, minimizes duplicate work, and maximizes the return on my investment of time in environmental scanning.
 
Here, I have described how I use Evernote to archive research for future use in a statement of need, but you can apply the same approach to funding prospect research, professional development, and other information collection and organization activities. For instance, recent GrantZone community forum posts have recommended Evernote and OneNote as more efficient alternatives to Word documents and folders for organizing boilerplate language and frequently used attachments for grant proposals. I also use Evernote for day-to-day note taking in meetings, which keeps my notes organized, prevents them getting lost in a pile on my desk, and facilitates follow up on action items. The potential applications to the grants profession are broad and present many opportunities for increased efficiency and effectiveness in our work.  
 
Are you maximizing the impact of the time you spend scanning your environment? How are you organizing and archiving your research for future reference?
 
Nikki Morrison, GPC, is the Grant Researcher/Writer at Northeast State Community College in Blountville, TN.  She has worked in grant development for community colleges for more than 12 years.

 

Comments

 
By: Vda Gibson
On: 12/17/2018 13:09:26
At GrantAwish, we organize our files using MS Excel spreadsheets, Google Drive, and client folders. Our office is structured like a doctor's office. When we complete the initial interview, we start a client file. During the interview, we identify the client and the needs, we determine whether our services can really make a difference, we discuss mission, objectives, program, and project best practices, and examine each of the 5 metrics. We send an email each year advising a "check up" regarding these metrics...a free phone call. I am available to explain our methods and processes in person or at your next event.

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