STEEP stands for 'social, technological, environmental, economic and political' factors (aka trends, forces, change drivers) that are external to the system, issue or question examined in the futuring exercise, but can influence it. Other acronyms might be encountered (such as PEST, PESTLE, STEP, etc.), but these all point to a similar way of categorising factors in the external environment:

  • S – Social (and cultural): Factors that describe societies as a whole, such as demographics, lifestyles, traditions, arts and design, health, religion, education, age, etc.
  • T – Technological (and scientific): Scientific research, (pressure for and speed of) innovation, availability of materials, energy, transport, specific technologies, licensing, etc.
  • E – Economic: Markets, taxes, trade, crises, stasis, growth, interest rates, inflation, consumption, production, etc.
  • E – Ecological: Physical and biological environments, climate, natural resources, food, water, soil, weather, biodiversity, degradation etc.
  • P – Political (and legal): Political climate, government, systems of rules and regulations, law, funding, infrastructure, the military etc.


There are a few ways to approach STEEP analysis, depending on the purpose of the futuring exercise, as well as time, expertise and resources available.

When accuracy of the information is important and there are resources available to involve a futurist, foresight strategist or (trend) analyst, the horizon scanning and analysis of trends in STEEP categories can be outsourced to this person or organisation.

When there is time and resources available for the participants themselves to do the research and analysis, this can be an excellent way to create a sense of ownership of the content and process before a futuring workshop. You can assist the participants in framing and documenting the research, pointing to potential gaps and suggesting (online) sources. However it is also important that the participants have enough freedom to design and conduct the research process on their own. The results might not be as accurate, deep and broad as they would be if an expert were involved, but they can provide insight into the particular lenses and interests that already exist in the group.

Finally, the shortest but also least accurate technique is to use the readymade knowledge and assumptions that participants already have to shape their landscape of driving forces. This can be done during the workshop with little or no preparation beforehand.


The following process assumes that there is some knowledge about the STEEP factors present in the group, whether by consulting an expert, independent research or existing perceptions.

  1. Frame the exercise and provide clear instructions. If the group is small enough you can have five rounds of conversations each focusing on a different category of STEEP factors. If the group is larger than max. 8–10 people, it might be better to work in separate breakout groups per category, or you can chose to group categories (e.g. social and political, economic and environmental). Be aware that the grouping will influence the conversation and that links between different categories will be found, which might be beneficial if your core issue is strongly influenced by multiple categories or it might distort the outcome. If all participants have the opportunity to discuss all categories, you can use a hosting technique like the world cafe.
  2. Discuss each category separately. You can opt to bring some tools (e.g Foresight cards, Drivers of Change cards…) to inspire the conversation and invite the participants to fill in the details that are relevant to their context, while adding new drivers that are not represented by the cards.
  3. Guide the conversation to answer the following questions:
    1. What STEEP factors are relevant to your core issue?
    2. Which tendencies do you see emerging?
    3. Are there specific events or news items that point to a (radical) change?
    4. Can you identify any weak signals or wild cards that could disrupt the status quo?
  4. Create clusters of themes that point to the most important drivers of change for the group.
  5. Summarise the conversations and ask for any last-minute additions or changes.


  • futurist_fieldguide/steep.txt
  • Last modified: 2015-05-21 07:48
  • by alkan