The reality of life for most of us is that we are very busy doing the things we have to do – to survive economically, to keep an organisation going, to do things expected of us, or because we get into a routine rut. This means that most of the things we do are not necessarily the things we would most like to do, or the things we thought we might get to do when we started out in a particular social or political field of work. The good and necessary becomes the enemy of the excellent and innovative. This is one of the realities of life, especially in a complex modern society.
Engaging in visioning or a vision exercise is a way to connect us to our ultimate goals. Instead of starting where we are, we start by looking where we would like to be. Instead of grabbing the little bit of time we have left over after we have done our routine tasks to do innovative work, visioning starts by asking the question – what is our vision, and if we are going to end up with it, or a version of it, what needs to happen to take us there? Thus our ultimate goal comes first, and we then work to connect this to where we are now, and look at the stages that would have to fall into place
Of course life is not usually so simple that we can then drop everything else and do what our visioning might suggest. But it may suggest a different mindset and way of thinking about what we do currently so that possibly we can adopt some of what emerges, reprioritise, and keep our eye on the ball or the goal in a way we previously found difficult.
There are many different ways of doing visioning. It is a common exercise, including with young people’s or other groups asked to devise their ideal society (though this is usually then taken to reflect on current society rather than working out the steps needed to get there). The focus in this is in assisting individual’s thinking about what is needed in society and that is a worthwhile goal. There is no one right or wrong way; the right way to do it is one which fits your needs and purposes. Our orientation here is a political and social one, i.e. to assist in social and political change, and that requires particular preparation and follow up.
Visioning can be used for those who are starting out in a particular involvement or commitment. They can be included in a visioning exercise or it can be done exclusively for them. The advantage of having a ‘mixed’ group in terms of experience and knowledge can be that, unburdened as new people hopefully are by everyday demands in the field, they can see more clearly. In working out the steps that are needed to reach a goal, the voice of experience may count more, but sometimes because of bad or tortuous experiences, old hands can think that something is impossible when it is a question of it not having been tried in the right way.
The vision being sought needs to be carefully defined. Deciding on ‘Your ideal society’ can be a general goal. But for a specific organisation or interest it is much preferable to define it much fairly tightly such as “A waste free society”. Even taking “A country without violence” has a myriad of elements to it (domestic/home violence, interpersonal, structural and societal violence, engagement in international violence through war, economic exploitation etc). So, depending on your orientation, you may wish to define the latter in more specific terms as “A society without domestic violence”. You can then take another go, if you want, in visioning “A country that does not engage in violence internationally”, or whatever.
It needs to be an inclusive and non-hierarchical process if it is being done collectively. It can use visuals in people being asked to draw a picture (stick people are fine) as well as listing the form or organisation and qualities of life desired. Getting a collective vision together is easiest in a small group so, depending on numbers, there may be one or more groups working simultaneously. Groups can be specifically advised to try to incorporate as much as they can from different people’s suggestions.
How it is all followed up is crucial. Doing such an exercise can be just a flittering glance at what could or should be, and it will be such if not followed up. However if it is done in an organisation then it is up to the responsible committee or people to ensure that ideas are followed up. This will need both time and energy, and a strategy in place beforehand to capture what comes out of the visioning process.
Here is one suggestion for a process for a politically/socially oriented organisation or group. You should design your own that meets your needs.
1. Process design
Those organising the process design the overall process from beginning to end. They think through the topic/goal, who to involve, timing of the event, who will facilitate, recording of ideas or report back, and follow up time frame (e.g. to have looked at and assessed ideas which have emerged, and planned accordingly, within two months), as well as who will facilitate. Having an outside facilitator or facilitators can mean that everyone participates equally rather than a key group member being tied up in facilitation. Obviously, depending on the nature of the group or organisation and its staffing, integrating ideas into its work may require funding and that may add another whole level of uncertainty, if funding has to be specifically acquired as opposed to being allocated from existing funds.
In terms of involvement, it is best that ‘everyone’ is involved where possible. In a larger organisation it could be done departmentally. Not including key players in a group or organisation can mean that they are not as fully engaged with the process and the follow up, and this can be both difficult and frustrating.
2. Event preparation
Venue and logistics (e.g. food), timing and time (a half day or a long evening or more?), invitations and follow up, responding to acceptances and/or reminding people of the event. If trying to do this in an evening, an early start would be required, possibly providing food at the start; a half day or more would be much preferable and it should probably only be done in an evening if there is no alternative.
3. On the day
Breaks and meals to be built in as necessary.
Agenda and process overview (both), the latter explaining how ideas will be recorded and assessed subsequently.
Defining the topic and setting the scene for visioning; imagination and creativity required.
Individual visions. People can be given 20 – 30 minutes with the facilitator checking after a while how much time people need. Individuals can use a mixture of visuals and words as they choose, drawing and/or writing on a flipchart size sheet (coloured markers etc provided).
Sharing of visions. In a room of a dozen or more, the group can be divided into smaller groups of 6 – 8 people. Each person displays their sheet and talks to their vision for 3 - 5 minutes, with a few more minutes allocated for questions to each person. Depending on the size of the group this may take 45 minutes or more.
Continuing in the same group, people are given 45 minutes to get a common vision together, incorporating as many ideas as possible that are acceptable to people. If there are alternative ideas represented but both (or more) are possible simultaneously then all can be included. This process can be done by listing ‘common’ ideas on a flipchart and leaving most time discussing inclusion or exclusion of ideas which are not so well represented in people’s visions. Again the facilitator should check on how much time a group requires. Depending on the nature of the group, a facilitator can volunteer, the group regulate itself, or a facilitator be provided.
If there is more than one group involved, each presents its vision to the other, followed by brief questions.
Back in small groups, people look at the stages needed for their vision to become reality. This can start with individuals being given 6 – 7 minutes to jot down ideas before discussion (again this can be done on a flipchart sheet for passing on to the organisers). Stages may not be entirely realistic but should not be simple fantasy. The group will then try to get as much down of an agreed process as possible; however individual assessments are also kept by the organisers. An hour or more may be required for this. Collective ideas are also recorded on a flipchart for feedback to the organisers.
Individuals can be asked for feedback on the process of the workshop and final written comments.
There should be a final coming together for everyone and celebration of what has been achieved, possibly ending with a meal, snack or social event.
In assessing and developing the emerging ideas, it is probably best for the organising committee/board/whoever is responsible to set aside a special meeting as soon as possible after the visioning exercise (rather than attempting to assess all the material at a ‘regular’ meeting where other business is done). Individual and small group visions and stages should be displayed. As well as assessing what could be integrated into the work there are different categories can be placed on ideas:
Ideas we can integrate straight or start working on away
Ideas which require funding or other aspects to be in place for significant work to happen
Ideas which we will keep on a ‘review list’ for future reference.
Regarding 2), individuals need given the task to follow these up concerning funding or whatever. Concerning 3), looking at the ‘review list’ periodically should be factored in to agendas.