Essential Reading

Visioning for the Future

Community Visioning: A Clear-eyed Approach to Planning

The Joslyn Institute uses community visioning to bring as many stakeholders as possible into the planning process. It allows an entire community, and not just one individual or group, to envision a mutually desired future and take the steps necessary to achieve its goals.

All too often there is a tendency in society to expect others to solve a community’s problems, others being those who have wealth, influence or specialized skills. But without full participation from a broad spectrum of residents, property owners or others who inhabit a community, no amount of wealth or skill alone will make it a better place to live.

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More alternatives and issues are discovered through community meetings and forums that use visioning rather than a hierarchical decision-making process. Visioning generates strong opinions among alternatives, so the act of choosing becomes a powerful communal event. It also insists upon everyone at the table having specific input, which helps a community to better understand the values of its citizens and identify various forces and trends.

Visioning offers an alternative to verbal or textual decision-making practices, which can be manipulated by skillful practitioners through the use of legal or technical jargon. In visioning, ideas are also expressed through models, photographs, drawings or symbols, and are more accessible to a wider group of participants.

When ideas are expressed visually, interests are pared down. Participants are able to make decisions that are based not on the recommendations of one individual or committee, but on a mutually derived set of ideas and themes.

The Joslyn Institute has used principles of visioning in its work in Saunders County, where growth pressures from metropolitan Omaha are being experienced in eco-sensitive regions near the Platte River. Visual reference materials were used to stimulate interaction and discussion among various stakeholders in the region.

Rather than merely responding to development pressures, Saunders County residents participated in forums that created an alternative vision of their future. The resulting planning process is now moving toward that vision.

In Saunders County and in other communities, visioning creates an environment of positive thinking where stakeholders focus their energy on what can happen rather than on what can’t happen. Residents know that the city will continue to expand, but through visioning they are now better able to imagine themselves in a variety of future scenarios.

Ultimately, visioning fosters a new ethos in which citizens demonstrate a renewed pride of ownership in their community, and a deeper sense of responsibility for its future. Broader citizen participation ensures that communities retain the characteristics that make them unique and give them a meaningful sense of place.

Visioning leads to healthy communities, which are always characterized by active participation from citizens from all walks of life.