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Environmental Scans:

Environmental scans actively involve the
public in the agency’s planning and transformation processes. The public pays
the taxes that support the agency’s operation. It is, in fact, their agency.
Involving the public is no more optional than would be involving the
“owners” in the strategic planning for any business. It would make
little sense to do otherwise, although, for public agencies, excluding the
public from strategic planning processes is much more common than one might

The agency has been authorized to do its work
on behalf of the public. It only makes sense that the public, defined in the
broadest sense, must be involved in the planning process. To do otherwise would
be extraordinarily shortsighted and potentially counterproductive, especially
when the agency depends on the public for continuing authorization and
financial support.

The agency must cast its net wide and far to
invite the public to participate in the planning process and to provide the
essential data about what they want to be included in the agency’s strategic
plan. What is normally defined as the “usual cast of characters,” e.g., elected officials, service
providers, law enforcement representatives, members of the faith community, the
media, etc. are of course invited. Additionally, though, parents, foster
parents, children and youth, and other interested members of the public should
also actively take part in this phase of the strategic planning process. The
key question is, “Who else could we have invited?” Invite them.

Environmental scanning participants in each
scanning session (Depending on the size of the community, more than one session
may be necessary.) are, through a facilitated process, asked to respond
one-question-at-a-time to a series of three structured questions:

1.   What are your hopes for children,
families, and your community ten years from now?

The group, which may consist of more than one
hundred people, is broken into sub-groups of six to eight individuals who
normally do not work together. Sub-group members are asked to first discuss the
above question and reach consensus in their small groups about what their
response will be for that question. The response captures what they, as a
group, want and value.

Each sub-group is next asked to record its
response on a large sheet of paper that can be displayed so the full group can
see each other’s responses. If reasonable within the available time and in the
facility, each sub-group should also verbally report their response to the full
group. If not, the facilitator should report to the full group, being sure to
include the response of every sub-group. Through this process, every
participant has the opportunity to contribute data.

While the reports are being given to the full
group, either the primary facilitator or a qualified assistant begins to
identify and record what organizations and individuals, formal and informal,
need to be involved to support the attainment of the wants and values being
reported. The agency, courts, mental health, substance abuse treatment, law
enforcement, child care, churches, parks and recreation, etc. are a few of the
many which will be listed. The Children’s Safety Net (See the Introduction)
exists in every community and realizing the wants and values of the full group
will require the coordinated efforts of all of its members.

Every member of the scanning group has the
opportunity to contribute to creating the vision. This is the information that
will be used by the “guiding group” (discussed later) in its
development of a community vision for children, families, and the community.
Once developed, this vision will be shared with the community, including the
participants in the environmental scanning process.

2.   What is the unique contribution that the
child protection agency can make to the attainment of this vision?

The facilitator has recorded a large number
of individuals and organizations within the Children’s Safety Net that must
contribute to realizing the wants and values identified by the full group. This
question is designed to “ratchet down” the role of the agency in
attaining the vision. The agency cannot do everything but it does have an
important contribution to make. What should that contribution be?

Again, the full group divides into sub-groups
of six to eight participants, discusses the question, and reports out to the
full group. The reports represent the information that will be used by the
guiding group when developing the agency’s mission statement during its
planning process.

3.   What are the unique opportunities and
barriers facing children and families?

The small group process is repeated and
reports are made to the full group. This information will be considered when
the guiding group determines the priorities that the strategic plan will

There are several important, direct outcomes
from the environmental scanning process. First, the public has been invited to
contribute to the development of the agency’s strategic plan and the planning
process has been explained to them. Next, if the media chose to attend the
session, it may report on the activity and on the data contributed through the
environmental scanning process. If so, many people who did not attend the
session will be made aware of the planning initiative. Additionally, the agency
has been provided specific information about what the public wants and values.

Further, there is a powerful and oftentimes
unintended consequence of the environmental scanning process, i.e., education.
Far too often, there are misconceptions and just plain bad information that
abound about agency practices. These beliefs can be identified, discussed, and
clarified, usually in the sub-group sessions. Community support for the agency
is generally higher after the environmental scanning process. However, that
increased support will be withdrawn quickly if the agency fails to take
definitive action to either better explain current practices or to modify
agency practices to better conform to public expectations.

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