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Public Involvement Techniques

Foreward  |   Table of Contents
Chapter 1  |   Chapter 2  |   Chapter 3  |   Chapter 4  |   Index of Techniques

2. Involving People Face-to-Face Through Meetingsskip page navigation

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2.B - Selecting an Organizing Feature for a Meeting
2.B.a - Brainstorming
2.B.b - Charrettes
2.B.c - Visioning
2.B.d - Small Group Techniques

2. Introduction
2.A
2.B
2.C

2.B.c - Visioning

What is visioning?

Visioning leads to a goals statement. Typically, it consists of a series of meetings focused on long-range issues. Visioning results in a long-range plan. With a 20- or 30-year horizon, visioning also sets a strategy for achieving the goals. Visioning has been used to set a long-range statewide transportation plan in Ohio, a statewide comprehensive plan in New Jersey, and a regional land-use and transportation plan in the Seattle, Washington, region. The Governor of Georgia, acting as "Chief Planner," used it to create long-range goals for the State. Central Oklahoma 2020 is a visioning project for a regional plan.

Priorities and performance standards can be part of visioning. Priorities are set to distinguish essential goals. Performance standards allow an evaluation of progress toward goals over time. In Jacksonville, Florida, a community report card is used to determine priorities; each target for the future is evaluated annually. In Minnesota a statewide report card was used to evaluate the current status and set up goals and milestones for the future. Oregon established benchmarks to measure progress toward its long-term goals.

Why is it useful?

Visioning offers the widest possible participation for developing a long-range plan. It is democratic in its search for disparate opinions from all stakeholders and directly involves a cross-section of constituents from a State or region in setting a long-term policy agenda. It looks for common ground among participants in exploring and advocating strategies for the future. It brings in often-overlooked issues about quality of life. It helps formulate policy direction on public investments and government programs.

Visioning is an integrated approach to policy-making. With overall goals in view, it helps avoid piece-meal and reactionary approaches to addressing problems. It accounts for the relationship between issues, and how one problem’s solution may generate other problems or have an impact on another level of government. It is cooperative, with multi-agency involvement, frequently with joint interagency leadership.

Does visioning have special uses?

Visioning uses participation as a source of ideas in the establishment of long-range policy. It draws upon deeply-held feelings about overall directions of public agencies to solicit opinions about the future. After open consideration of many options, it generates a single, integrated vision for the future based on the consideration of many people with diverse viewpoints. When completed, it presents a democratically-derived consensus.

Visioning dramatizes the development of policies to get people involved in specific topics such as transportation infrastructure. In Ohio, the Access Ohio program was designed to establish goals and objectives for development of transportation projects and programs. Other States that have used visioning to establish long-range goals include Kansas, Georgia, Texas, Florida, Iowa, Oregon, and Minnesota.

Who participates? And how?

Invitations to participate are given to the general public or to a representative panel. A broad distribution of information is essential. This information must be simply presented, attractive, and rendered important and timely. It should also include clear goals of participation and show how comments will be used in the process. (See Public Information Materials; Mailing Lists.)

Community residents participate through meetings and surveys. A typical method of involving local people is through a questionnaire format, seeking comments on present issues and future possibilities. (See Public Opinion Surveys.) A report card filled in with community opinions was used in Jacksonville, Florida. In Minnesota, opinions were elicited through small or large public meetings at locations distributed equitably throughout the state. In the Research Triangle region of North Carolina, participants drew pictures of their vision of the region’s future and of transit opportunities in words and pictures on wall-sized sheets of paper.

How do agencies use the output?

Visioning helps agencies determine policy. Through widespread public participation, agencies become aware of issues and problems, different points of view, and competing demands. Drafting responses to comments aids in sharpening overall policy and assists in focusing priorities among goals, plans, or programs. Visioning also helps bring conflicts to the surface and resolve competing priorities.

Who leads a visioning process?

A chief governmental official can lead visioning. In several States, the Governor has made visioning a cornerstone of State policy planning for infrastructure investments and State operational departments. The governors of Oregon, Texas, Iowa, Minnesota, Georgia, Florida, and New Jersey have fostered visioning for their States.

Agencies also lead visioning projects. Statewide agencies led new visioning projects in Maine and Hawaii. Regional agencies led visioning projects in Jacksonville, Indianapolis, and Seattle.

What does visioning cost?

Visioning costs vary. The chief items are staff time and materials sufficient to set up and carry out the program. Staff people should include a leader committed to the process, a community participation specialist who is well-versed in the applicable policies, and staffers who can interpret and integrate participants’ opinions from surveys and meetings. Meeting materials are minimal but can include large maps and newsprint pads and markers to record ideas. If forecasts of information are developed or if alternative scenarios are to be fleshed out, research and preparation time can be extensive.

How is it organized?

A specific time period is scheduled to develop the vision statement. The schedule incorporates sufficient time for framing issues, eliciting comments through surveys or meetings, recording statements from participants, and integrating them into draft and final documents.

Visioning staff members are typically assigned from existing agencies that are familiar with issues and essential contacts to be maintained. In Minnesota and New Jersey, staff was assigned from the State planning office; in Jacksonville, Florida, from the Community Council/Chamber of Commerce; in Ohio, from the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Is it flexible?

Visioning is extremely flexible in terms of scheduling and staff commitments. Scheduling takes weeks or months. Staff is temporarily or permanently assigned to the project.

Preparation for visioning is crucial and touches on many complex issues. Advance work is essential to give time for staff to prepare the overall program, agendas, mailing lists, questionnaires, and methods of presentation and follow-up. (See Mailing Lists; Public Opinion Surveys.) The visioning program should be carefully scheduled to maximize local input and response time prior to selecting final policies.

How is it used with other techniques?

The visioning process involves many techniques of public involvement. In the Seattle area, the visioning process on regional growth and mobility futures included the most extensive regional public involvement effort ever conducted in the area: symposiums, workshops, newspaper tabloid inserts, public hearings, open houses, surveys, and community meetings. (See Conferences, Workshops, and Retreats; Public Meetings/Hearings; Open Forum Hearings/Open Houses; Public Opinion Surveys.)

Visioning leads toward other public involvement techniques. As a policy umbrella, it can precede establishment of a civic advisory committee and guide its work in reviewing individual projects or programs. (See Civic Advisory Committees.) It leads to brainstorming sessions or charrettes to solve individual problems. (See Brainstorming; Charrettes.) Visioning is often the basis for public evaluation and implementation; it led to performance monitoring of State agency activities in Oregon, Minnesota, Iowa, and Texas, followed by reports to the public.

What are the drawbacks?

Time and staff requirements are significant to maintain contact with numerous community participants and carry the program forward. The numbers of participants varies from 100 community leaders in Jacksonville to an estimated 10,000 residents in Minnesota. Listening to participants can consume several months’ time. Full-time effort is required of staff when the process is in motion.

The staff needs patience to deal with so many diverse views and individuals, time and schedule requirements, and complex issues and interrelationships. Finally, visioning is a one-time event and remains on a generalized policy level; there is a substantial risk that the resulting document will not satisfy all interest groups.

When is visioning most effective?

Visioning is of maximum use at an early point in the establishment or revision of policies or goals. Used in this way, it demonstrates openness to new ideas or concepts suggested by the public. For maximum effect, a visioning project should have the active support of elected officials, agency heads, and community groups.

Visioning is useful:

  • To set the stage for short-range planning activities;
  • To set new directions in policy;
  • To review existing policy;
  • When integration between issues is required;
  • When a wide variety of ideas should be heard; and
  • When a range of potential solutions is needed.

For further information:

Iowa Department of Management (Futures Agenda) (515) 281-3322
Jacksonville Community Council (Quality Indicators for Progress), Jacksonville, Florida (904) 356-0800
Minnesota Planning (Minnesota Milestones), St. Paul, Minnesota (612) 296-3985
Ohio Department of Transportation (Access Ohio), Columbus, Ohio (614) 466-7170
Oregon Progress Board (Oregon Shines/Oregon Benchmarks), Salem, Oregon (503) 373-1220
Puget Sound Regional Council (Vision 2020), Seattle, Washington (206) 464-7090

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