By Lisa Tolentino, HC Link Community Consultant
This is the seventh blog in a series on facilitation techniques and approaches written by HC Link staff. This post focuses on using guided visualization or “Visioning” to identify Healthy Community goals.
Visioning is considered a critical step in developing healthy communities and creating change. It is a creative way to bring community members with diverse perspectives together to develop a collective vision of a Healthy Community. Used in many sectors and spheres of life, from business to mental health and sports, this tool can be very effective in assisting with problem-solving, inspiring hope and building confidence. It is also a method for generating joint ownership and commitment for taking action toward achieving change.
In a community visioning session, the vision is often “expressed in pictorial form, using images and symbols to convey [an] ideal community” (pg. 4). It allows participants to travel beyond the current political, economic, social and/or environmental challenges being experienced, to articulating what they would like to see occur in the future. The result is an idea, dream, mental image or picture that is shared by many people living, working and playing in a community. (From the Ground Up: An Organizing Handbook for Healthy Communities, Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition, http://www.ohcc-ccso.ca/en/from-the-ground-up)
Visioning is different than traditional problem-solving in that it offers hope, encouragement and the possibility of fundamental change by generating a common goal. With traditional problem solving, a group can become bogged down in details and even disagree on how to define the problem. It also focuses on the negative, whereas visioning allows a group to move away from this toward something more positive. With visioning, passion and creative thinking are spawned, and people are given a greater sense of control. (The NGO Café, Global Development Resource Centre, http://www.gdrc.org/ngo/index.html)
What is needed to hold a Healthy Communities Visioning Session?
This is a list of some key elements that will help to make any visioning session a success:
- Involvement from a large number of people from a defined geographic area, community of interest and/or affiliation.
- A diverse cross-section of people who are able to participate in a meaningful way (such as those who are marginalized and/or representative of various ages, incomes, abilities, etc.).
- Multi-sector participation (e.g., from education, government, business, health, media).
- A location that is familiar, inviting and physically accessible for participants.
- Ideally, access to transportation, refreshments and childcare should be available or provided.
How do you facilitate a Visioning process?
There are various ways that you can facilitate a visioning session, depending on who is in attendance and the circumstances involved. Regardless of the situation, each one has the same premise, which is that participants are asked to envision the kind of community that they would like to be a part of in the future. The objective is to allow people to dream and collect as many ideas as possible; no concept is too small, big, or “out there” to be included.
The first step usually involves asking participants to make themselves comfortable and close their eyes. They are then asked to spend a few minutes quietly thinking their own thoughts. Sometimes a facilitator will take them on a hot air balloon ride above their community and into the future. Or they may be asked to simply go for a walk and imagine a newspaper headline 20 years from now. In each case, the facilitator will also ask them something along the lines of: "What would your community be like if you had the power to make it the way you wanted?”
Participants are then asked to formulate pictures in their minds as they travel through the physical space. The questions a facilitator asks can be both abstract and quite detailed. For instance, “How are buildings and public spaces arranged? What do they look like?” They might also be asked where people are, what they are doing, and how they are interacting. Questions could focus on topics like workplaces, transportation or the natural environment. In every instance the goal is to help participants actually “see” what they hope for.
This technique has been used in many real-life situations with great success!
Following this exercise, the facilitator will slowly bring participants back to the present day and into the room again, asking them to keep the features that they just saw in their minds. Then, in small groups, participants will be asked to talk about what they saw using key words or phrases that capture their image of a Healthy Community. The facilitator may even provide some guides or categories like housing, health care, crime rates, and/or public engagement.
In each case, group members will be asked to make short, clear and positive statements about how the community will be in the future. The statement will be in the present tense, like a newspaper headline. Statements may include things like: “There are lots of bike trails”; “You can walk safely at night” and “Transportation is efficient and affordable”. These statements will be generated until they run out of ideas or time.
These will be read aloud as a large group and then members will be asked to highlight the major differences between the present and the future that they have created. People may express that some things are impossible to achieve. The facilitator will remind them that 50 years ago it was difficult to imagine some of the changes that have taken place today, such as the existence of the internet, and that anything could be possible.
When today's problems seem overwhelming, visioning presents an opportunity to move beyond them and focus on a positive idea of the future.
Next the facilitator will work with the group to gather elements of the vision under common themes, and find areas of consensus. These vision statements could then be made into a list of ideas or even presented in a graphic form. Some communities have had the ability to hire an illustrator to draw images as participants spoke, such as the one below from Haldimand-Norfolk. Maps, photos and other images can also be added after the fact.
Simply articulating a vision can be a powerful tool for making a Healthy Community a reality. The next step after any visioning process is to develop a plan to achieve that vision. In Healthy Communities processes, visioning is usually followed by community-wide priority-setting and decision-making.
If you would like help hosting a Healthy Communities Visioning session in your community, be sure to request a service from HC Link!