A vision for visioning…

A week ago I spent the day with 16 staff and volunteers from 4 sustainability organisations that all share the same faith background. We came together to vision for a sustainable faith community here in the UK and possibly internationally.

Having read and blogged about Donella Meadows paper on visioning in the run up I was determined to create a space for visioning, and not just for slightly more creatively framed strategy (which is what I think a lot of visioning days offer groups). Here’s a few things that emerged from this group that seem relevant to the wider world:

Visionaries without vision?

Those of us who work on issues such as sustainability are probably viewed as visionaries in our communities, and not without good reason. We work, day-to-day, to bring a message of a more sustainable world closer to reality. Visionary stuff, surely? And yet we can struggle when asked what our vision is. My faith based group definitely didn’t find it easy to vision. I noticed that encouraged to use colour, movement, pictures, most fell back on words. Encouraged to lift their eyes to the horizon they chose detailed examples from the foreground all of which highlights the difficulty that visioning presents us with.

Visioning is was hard work for most of us and there’s a danger that the struggle leaves us feeling unfulfilled and dissatisfied. So do we need a vision for visioning? How do we support a creative and dynamic vision for the future?

Come over to the dark side

In this particular visioning, denial, fear, the bleak future and a recurring reference to the ‘dark side’ all reared their head and at moments dominated.

That we, as a community of change-makers working to support others through their own struggle for sustainability can be overwhelmed by the weight of issues like climate change is telling. That we put on a brave face and project positivity is a potential problem because it means we’re working from an inauthentic place. If we need authentic action to make genuine and lasting change (and it makes sense that we do), then do we need to stop being  positive when we’re not feeling it and do the work necessary to vision beyond the bleakness? Or do we admit that we don’t have that vision and use our skills as trainers and facilitators to work with people as peers and to find a way through the darkness to a collective vision together?

Teaching new dogs old tricks

One of the disappointments of the day for some people was that they felt that there was a lack of new thinking. What emerged for many was a restatement of the radical founding vision of their faith. This got me thinking. Isn’t this true for many groups and organisations? Isn’t the struggle not for a constant supply of new thinking but to stay true to the initial vision and articulate it in a way that’s relevant for each new generation?

Isn’t the same true of many social change organisations? By their nature they tend to start from a vision, but over time begin to drift – mission creep, institutionalisation diluting radicalism and so on. People split away and new organisations are formed, often claiming a greater connection to the original vision, and so it cycles. For many organisations this can take years. Climate Camp is a useful case study because it’s shown us this dynamic at work in just 5 years. The founders have gone from articulating a clear vision to leaving the movement in droves because they feel that the movement is no longer true to their vision. But was the founding vision articulated to each new generation of climate camper? If so was it articulated in a way that inspired. Or was it simply assumed that the vision was clear to all, and shared by all? I generalise, but there’s some learning in there somewhere for all organisations.

And as for us facilitators – do we have a clear vision? Do we need to have an inspiring vision of what visioning can offer a group and movement or is that an obstacle to their visioning? Do we need to regularly reconnect with our founding vision for a piece of work, whatever its nature (and for our work as a whole) and successfully articulate that as the meeting or workshop unfolds?