Collective visioning: deciding on a destination together and planning the trip there

Where do you see your community in 25 years? Inviting all your community members to join in the journey can create an investment in progress towards those goals and positive change in the future.

As individual’s personal visioning is easy. We think about what we want, what will serve us best as individuals, and try to identify steps to make those things happen. This visioning, whether you’ve called it that or not, is very beneficial to helping set personal goals but it doesn’t often lead to collective action, even if your goals are for the betterment of your community. On the other hand, collective visioning can help a community as a whole move forward toward a better future.

Collective visioning empowers all voices in a community to collaboratively imagine the best future. It is important in this process to remember that “collective” doesn’t necessarily mean “the same.” By inviting all the members of the community on this journey, and working hard to establish a safe and trusting environment for idea sharing, you can intently move beyond the status quo and transform your community. Similar to logic models, collective visioning helps communities envision their end goal and create an action plan to get there. As in any long trip, there are often bumps and detours along the way but the vision you have created together is a lighthouse of hope and inspiration leading you toward your final destination.

Linda Stout, expert on collective visioning and executive director of Spirit in Action, has developed a seven-step process for collective visioning in your community.

  1. Purposefully include all the members of your community and create a safe space. By design, it is vital for you to make sure that all the historically unheard perspectives in your community are brought to the table and feel they have equal voice in the vision. Trust among all “visioners” is key to the long-term success of any collective visioning session. One way to build trust is to have all the visioning participants write and commit to a working agreement. This agreement should outline the collective responsibilities each participant has to one another and themselves.
  2. Guided visualization. This is a time for participants to be creative in identifying the characteristics of the community they aspire to have. Similarly to Appreciate Inquiry’s dream phase, participants have the space and time to discover the endless potential of their community and gain awareness they previously might not have consciously identified. If you want to participate in your community’s collective visioning process, it’s best to have another individual guide this step. At the conclusion of the facilitated visioning, it is important to provide time and tools for individuals to reflect on their thoughts and take note of areas they think are most important.
  3. Sharing visions together. Allow individuals to share their visions for the community with the participating group, keeping in mind that people vision in different ways. Some may think of concrete ideas, others abstract thoughts or feelings; even senses, like sounds and smells can be a part of the visioning process. One way to facilitate this sharing is through a collective picture. On a large sheet of paper, have individuals draw, write, or collage their visions. When the whole group works at the same time on their drawing, individual additions start to form a greater picture with individuals sharing and adding to one another’s contributions. In the end, you’re doing a creative visual aide while building community and starting to identify the shared vision of the group.

In article two of this series, we’ll explore steps four through seven in greater detail. These steps include:

4.      Discussion
5.      Creating a roadmap
6.      Sharing your vision with others
7.      Reflection and conclusion

Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) has long-term goals, which include “Youth and adults are civically-engaged as volunteers, decision-makers and community leaders” and “Communities thrive due to increased engagement by citizens with knowledge and skills to create change.”  Collective visioning is one process to help meet these goals, as well as engage both youth and adults from diverse perspectives in action toward positive social change. For more information on the work MSU Extension is doing in these arenas, and for information on how to get involved contact

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