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Many communities across the country are finding visioning to be a unique way of looking into the future, free from the encumbrances of budgetary, political, or other constraints that may give a narrow focus to even the most "comprehensive" planning exercises.
The very open and free-flowing nature of visioning may make planning traditionalists uncomfortable, for at its best, it brings out ideas not likely to surface any other way. There are pitfalls, too. If the vision is not ultimately tied to the reality of everyday planning and what the community agrees to afford, it will fail, and the disappointment and disenchantment can have serious repercussions.
Still, visioning can be exciting and challenging. Some of the key aspects of visioning are that it:
Success requires a commitment from those in charge of the visioning process to reach out to all segments of the community.
- Engages a number and type of people who may generally not be involved in a typical planning process. People respond well to provocative questions such as "What do we want our community to be like in 20-30 years?" or, "Remove yourselves from the immediate here and now; how do you envision our ideal future?" Success requires a commitment from those in charge of the visioning process to reach out to all segments of the community through every means possible, and the time and budget to make sure it happens.
- Focuses on broad, rather than narrow issues. People may come to the meetings with concerns about the potholes in their streets, but they are encouraged to take a holistic view of major transportation matters that involve how they get around on these streets. They may arrive saying they want more cops on the beat, then through visioning focus on the broader perspective of community safety.
- Depends upon a shared agreement. This is the heart of the matter in visioning and often takes the most time to get there. Participants are asked to come to common understandings. "What are our values? What are most important as we look into the future? What does our community really mean to us? Today? Tomorrow?"
- Evolves separately from the everyday planning process. Although life does go on and land use and other planning matters need to be acted upon, it may be wise to hold some major decisions in abeyance while the visioning takes place. In addition, many of the elements of the final vision may be beyond what is commonly thought of as planning. They are likely to include education, social services, the environment, and economic development as community participants decide what is most important to them in the future.
- Requires political support. The value of visioning is its inherent apolitical nature; that is, it is not captive to one officeholder or agenda. But to succeed, the process must have the tacit if not explicit support of the majority of the community's elected leadership. At the least, the governing body has to provide the budget for the visioning effort, which may be considerable. Ideally, they should listen carefully to what the citizens say and eventually incorporate the results of the vision into tangible products.
The final outcome often involves a range of governmental and non-governmental partners and can be one of the strengths of the entire process.
End of excerpt
... in the second part of her article, Elaine Cogan goes over the basic steps in a visioning process.
Elaine Cogan, founding principal of the Portland, Oregon planning and communications firm of Cogan Owens Cogan, has consulted for more than 36 years with communities undertaking strategic planning and visioning processes. Cogan has been honored for her work on a variety of citizen involvement projects.