A Collaboration Incubator

Envision

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Create a collective vision statement that describes a successful outcome for the issue and establish core values that will guide action planning.

Developing a vision for the future is often an effective way to help groups recognize the common ground they share or wish for future generations. Visions typically look ahead 20 to 50 years. Taking such a long-term perspective helps people avoid what may be perceived as current, self-serving interests and instead look forward to what will benefit everyone.

The vision statement describes what future success related to the issue would look like in ideal terms. A vision is written in the present tense, as if describing what is real at the moment; it includes results that are being achieved and identifies programs or characteristics that are helping to accomplish those results. The strategic vision statement provides direction and inspiration for goal setting and action planning in the next stage.

The common values identified by the collaboration group members form the foundation of their thinking on the issue. These can be community values if the problem being addressed relates to the community, or internal values that drive an organization. While there is an entire universe of values, participants are asked to identify the ones that the group can agree to abide by in spite of their differences. These values underlie the group’s work together and determine how they will interact with each other and what approach they will take to action planning in the next stage.

A collective vision often helps defuse differences of opinion, and can serve to ground the discussion and keep people focused on resolving the issue rather than complaining or placing blame.

  • Create a vision statement on the issue.
    • Use a vision development process where the group is asked to imagine a time a number of years ahead where the issue has been successfully addressed; they can then brainstorm ideas about what that future looks like. This can be done either in small groups or with the entire group if it is not too large (e.g., more than 15). (See Tool: Sample Vision Format.)
    • Group similar suggestions and areas of shared agreement, and then create a draft vision. This can be done in various ways. One or two volunteers from each work group could be asked to draft a narrative vision based on the small group’s input and those could be collected into one written vision statement. Alternatively, the facilitator could brainstorm with the entire group, ask for volunteers to help group similar ideas, and then create a draft for review and revision with the entire group.
    • Continue to discuss the draft vision and refine and revise it until there is group consensus on the vision statement. The final version should be stated in aspirational and inspirational terms that can be easily understood by everyone.
  • Create a list of community values to guide the collaboration group.
    • Ask group members to describe what they believe are shared community values and beliefs that will help guide them in their work on this issue. (Or create organizational values, if the issue is internal to an organization.) What basic values help form the foundation of the community’s beliefs and thinking on the issue? Brainstorm issues as a large group or break into smaller work groups.
    • Review the list(s) created to look for commonalities and areas of shared agreement, and then create a single draft list of community values.
    • Discuss the list and refine and revise it until group consensus is secured.
  • Some people resist visioning.
    The facilitator can remind participants that this is an exercise to look at what everyone wants for the future in a way that takes it beyond the people in this room and plans for future generations. It helps provide a shared foundation to decide on actions to be taken.
  • To minimize conflict and difference of opinion about solutions, keep group members focused on the future and on what success will look like. Encourage them to think big enough for the actions to be challenging but achievable.
  • Be sure people understand that the vision is not their personal vision, but needs to reflect a shared vision for the entire community (or the organization, if that is the focus). It is meant to be bigger than any one individual and benefit everyone. By looking ahead 20 years or more, it rises above any current conflict or problems and enables group members to think of what could be.
  • Similarly, community values are shared and are meant to reflect common thinking and beliefs. The values help ground the group to what is really important and may help to prevent petty bickering. It helps them see the “high road.”
  • Determine if the vision provides the inspiration to guide goal setting and action planning in the next stage. Is it good enough? Would the vision be clearly understood by others? Would the vision inspire others?
  • Consider innovative ways to attract people to public meetings that are part of the exploration phase. For example, in a project that was looking at future planning for a town, a baby luau theme was used. A video of mother and her one-year old was shown; she talked about the future she wanted for her baby. Attendees were asked to think about all the one-year olds in the town, and then asked to think ahead 20 years. What future would they want for those babies, now adults? What would the town look like? What opportunities would exist?
  • If volunteer participants are involved in writing the vision, the facilitator should review and revise the draft and discuss any changes with the volunteers before presenting it to the larger group.
  • If some time has passed since the last meeting, take time to restate the problem and talk about what has been learned about the issue before starting the visioning process.
  • In groups where a good deal of common ground has been established, it may feel more comfortable to develop values and then the vision. Where there continues to be a diversity of opinions, what may work best is setting the vision first, followed by looking for the values that exemplify that vision.

Related Examples

Related Tools/Resources

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