A Brief Intellectual History of the STEPE Model or Framework—

(i.e., the Social, Technical, Economic, Political, and Ecological)

Compiled by Dr. John V. Richardson Jr., Professor of Information Studies, UCLA


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Part of a set of tools for strategic planning which also include Stanford University's Albert Henry's SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunity, threats), TEAM (trend evaluation and monitoring), TIP (trend impact project), and George T. Doran's SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely); see:


Originally conceived as ETPS (a mnemonic for the four sectors of his taxonomy of the environment: economic, technical, political, and social) by Francis J. Aguilar (see his 1965 Harvard dissertation entitled "Formulating Company Strategy: Scanning the Environment" which was later published as Scanning the Business Environment in New York by Macmillan, 1967).


A little later in the 1960s, Arnold Brown for the Institute of Life Insurance reorganized it as STEP (or strategic trend evaluation process) as a way to organize the results of his environmental scanning.  See his Supermanaging: How to Harness Change for Personal and Organizational Success with Edith Weiner (New York: McGraw Hill, 1984).


Thereafter, this macro external environment analysis, or environmental scanning for change model, was modified yet again to become the so-called STEPE analysis (i.e., the social, technical, economic, political, and ecological taxonomy).  Note that the final E has been a grab bag of strategy, politics, behavior/culture, staff, processes, and architecture (see, for example, Thomas H. Davenport and Laurence Prusak’s Information Ecology: Mastering the Information and Knowledge Environment (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).


In the late 1980s, James L. Morrison and Thomas V. Mecca, "Managing Uncertainty," In Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research (New York: Agathon Press, 1989), vol. 5, pp. 334‑382 developed Ed QUEST, or “Quick Environmental Scanning Technique,” which focused on education as the final E. 


Even more recently, the L for legislative or legal concerns has also been added, but seems redundant or duplicative of the political, but which could be useful in some contexts.  Half seriously, I think the L should be used for libraries.


See also: TOPSIS method and Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP).


Revised: 9 May 2017; previous revision: 22 March 2016.