Shared Learnings

Creating a Shared Vision: Why and How

  • Apr 01, 2016
Anndee Hochman

In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice queries the Cheshire Cat: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” The Cat answers, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

Your community—whether it be a health clinic or school, neighborhood or entire state—also needs a vision in order to plot its next move. Without a shared vision, communities may flounder or fracture, lose momentum or become snarled in multiple, competing agendas.

“A shared vision starts with a question: Where do we want to go together?” Sandra Bloom, associate professor in the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University, told MARC participants when they gathered in November 2015.

In order to develop such a vision, members of the community—health workers and clients, principals and students, administrators and families—must be able to talk across barriers of age, gender, identity, race, class and experience. A shared vision fosters inclusion, instills a sense of purpose, bolsters internal commitments and clarifies next steps. It inspires. It becomes a measure of progress.

“We set clear and achievable goals for change…We use a vision of a better future to motivate us to achieve those goals,” Bloom told the MARC group.

Communities establish a shared vision in a rainbow of ways: through public workshops, focus groups, community inventories and guided conversations. They may hire facilitators or use a graphic recorder to create an illustration, in real time, that captures their vision in a clear, visually appealing way.

Whatever the method, vision-making is a collaborative process that asks community members what they value, what they want, what they hope to change and what legacy they wish to leave for future generations.

It often begins with an imaginative journey:  Picture yourself walking through your neighborhood (school, hospital, residential treatment center) fifteen years from now. What does the physical space look like? How are people interacting with each other? How do they make decisions? How do they feel about their lives? How do they treat their elders? Their children?

Depending on the group’s size and composition (various ages, education levels, etc.), communities may hold separate visioning sessions for different sectors, then bring representatives of each group together to synthesize the results.

Facilitators can capture the fruits of such exercises in diagrams, sketches, quotes, models, photographic montages or written briefs. Groups and organizations may then post the vision statement in a prominent place, incorporate it into publicity materials, refer to it in meetings and use it to guide goal-setting and evaluation.

At the MARC gathering, Bloom invited participants to close their eyes and begin to develop their own shared vision: a world with no child maltreatment, no domestic abuse, no sexual assault, and no structural oppression due to race, sex or class—one in which any man, woman, or child can walk in safety down the streets of our towns and cities. She asked the group to envision the seven principles of Sanctuary made plain: in addition to nonviolence, they are emotional intelligence; social learning; open communication; democracy; social responsibility; growth and change. Imagine, she said, that “we have learned to live within the circle of life, consciously, respectfully, playfully, joyfully.” 


Want to set forth on an imaginative journey with Dr. Sandra Bloom?  Click on the slide below to see an excerpt from Dr. Bloom's keynote address at the MARC 2015 Convening in which she facilitated a shared visioning process aligned with The Sanctuary Model



Anndee Hochman is a journalist and author whose work appears regularly in The Philadelphia Inquirer, on the website for public radio station WHYY and in other print and online venues. She teaches poetry and creative non-fiction in schools, senior centers, detention facilities and at writers' conferences.