Public Involvement Techniques
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 problems 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
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 regions future and of
transit opportunities in words and pictures on wall-sized sheets
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
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
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
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
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
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:
of Management (Futures Agenda)
Community Council (Quality Indicators for Progress), Jacksonville,
Planning (Minnesota Milestones), St. Paul, Minnesota
of Transportation (Access Ohio), Columbus, Ohio
Board (Oregon Shines/Oregon Benchmarks), Salem, Oregon
Regional Council (Vision 2020), Seattle, Washington
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For more information about the TPCB program, contact Michelle
at FHWA (202-366-9206) or John Sprowls
at FTA (202-366-5362).