Also see:  The Visioning Process | Why Children Are Important | My History in Visioning and Leadership | Letters of Recommendation


Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a shared vision, the ability to direct individual accomplishment toward mutually desired goals. It is the incentive that allows common people to attain uncommon results. — Anonymous

Every enterprise, be it an author writing a book, an entrepreneur building a business of ecotourism, or a community planning for its future, needs to have the organizing context of a vision toward which to strive; this is particularly true of a community, which must create and work within a shared vision. As a strong organizing context, a shared vision has some distinctive traits: (1) it tends to focus a wide range of human concerns; (2) it is strongly centered in the community; (3) it can use alternative scenarios to explore a possible futures by depicting in words and images that which a community is striving to become; (4) its creation relies on the trust, respect, and inclusivity of interpersonal relationships; (5) it is ideally suited to, and depends on, public involvement; and (6) it is ideally suited to the use of creative, graphic imagery. Although a shared vision does not replace other kinds of land-use planning, it is the organizational context within which all other planning fits, a context that is all too often is forgotten.

The greatest single agent of failure to achieve one's desires, which I have seen over and over again, is not understanding the importance of a vision, how to create one, or a commitment to its implementation. This observation is especially true of communities. Therefore, prior to discussing the visioning process I use, it is necessary to understand something about the parts of a vision, which include: (1) understanding a vision, goals, and objectives; (2) the outcome of a vision is expressed in the negotiability of constraints; and (3) monitoring tests the effectiveness of constraints.


Although the word vision is variously construed, I use it as a strong organizing context in the form of a shared view of the future, which is based on its three separate, but overlapping, aspects: world view, perception, and imagination.



Our world view is our way of seeing how the world works; it is our overall perspective from which we interpret the world and our place in it. However, it can also be seen as a metaphysical window to the world, which cannot be accounted for on the basis of empirical evidence any more than it can be proved or disproved by argument of fact. "Metaphysical" simply means "beyond" (meta) the "physical" (physic), of which Albert Einstein said: "The more I study physics, the more I am drawn to metaphysics."

There are in the most general terms two world views: the sacred and the commodity. One need not be religious in the conventional sense to hold a sacred view of life, because a sacred view focuses on the intrinsic value of all life. As such, it gives birth to feelings of duty, protection, and love, while emphasizing the values of joy, beauty, and caring, which in turn erects internal constraints to destructive human behavior against Nature. "Sacred" comes from the Latin sacer, which has the same root as sanus, meaning "sane." A sacred view of life is therefore a sane view, which corresponds to the Sanskrit: sat, cit, ananda, or "being," "consciousness," and "bliss."

A commodity view of life is interested in domination, control, and profit and seeks to "gain the world" by subjugating it to the will of the industrial mentality. At the core of the commodity world view are several economic seeds, such as self-interest, the economy versus ecology dilemma, the growth/no growth tug-of-war, Rational Economic Man, and others. It is necessary with respect to a commodity world view to protect the health of the environment in the present for the present and the future through external constraints placed on destructive human behavior.

Eighteenth-century British philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke, considered the founding father of modern conservatism, understood well the need for external constraints on the destructive appetites of humanity when he penned:

Men [people] are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites…. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men [people] of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

If, therefore, we are going to change life, to improve it in any appreciable way, we must begin with attitudes, not facts. An outer change always begins with an inner shift in attitude, which Albert Einstein called "a new level of thinking." "The world we have made," Einstein said, "as a result of [the] level of thinking we have done thus far creates problems we cannot solve at the same level at which we created them." (To see how a world view affects people's vision in land-use planning, see: "Land-use Planning in Sustainable Development" Land-Use Planning.) top


Our perception is the vision with which we see the world and interpret whatwe see in that we create our own world both by our attitudes toward it andour perceptions of it, a point clearly made by Army Major Susan P.Kellett-Forsyth, one of the first female graduates of West Point: "It matters less what you read than where you live and where you come from, because that determines how you interpret what you read." Perception comes from "perceive," which is from the Latin percipere, to seize wholly. "It is one of the great marvels of consciousness," writes author Laurence Boldt, "that whatever situation we clearly perceive, we improve." (For a further discussion of this concept, see: "The Perpetual Consequences of Fear and Violence: Rethinking the Future" Fear and Violence.)

To see wholly is to see in a better way; therefore, to perceive a problem clearly is to begin formulating its solution. To solve a problem or resolve a conflict, we need the wisdom to keep searching and the confidence of love to hold what we find up to the light of understanding. It is when we doubt our capacity to love and to create, which we then replace with fear and isolation, that we begin to distort our perceptions of the world. When our view of the world is based on the love and confidence of clear perception, the world becomes a better place. It cannot be otherwise.

Nevertheless, we are usually moved from avoidance and confusion to attention and clarity only when we perceive the necessity to do so. "Necessity," wrote Plato, "is the mother of invention." Necessity, in this sense, is simply the perception that a current situation has become intolerable and that something must be done about it, which means the perceiver is the one who must act.

Once necessity is acknowledged and accepted, we begin searching for a solution to our problem by examining our old perceptions, which forces us out of our current prejudices and conceptual limitations in such a way that we can sift through those old ideas and concepts that we have in the past overlooked and/or discarded. Fortunately, necessity has an intense urgency about it, without which we too easily and too often give up searching for a better way of being or doing.

"Of course," Laurence Boldt says, "necessity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder." No matter how deplorable a situation seems to an observer, the individual in the situation finds no reason to improve it until such improvement becomes a personal necessity. Until our discontent is moved to necessity and we demand a better way, we will accept that which is of lesser quality. Because we fear, and thus hate, the things that seem to trap us, we find no way out until we supplant our fear with love and its counterpart, confidence.

These notions call forward our individual and collective choices, namely, to yield to the comfortable blindness of ignorance or to summon our courage and make resolute our determination to search until we find a better way. It has been wisely said that anything will reveal its secrets if you love it enough. top


Imagination, or seeing that which can be, is the third aspect of vision. Even as we open our physical eyes and see the world as we think it is, with all its problems and opportunities, so we can open the eye of our mind and see the positive potential of realities as yet unseen. To open our physical eyes fully, we must learn to trust so we can accept what is, as it is through the eyes of love. To open the eye of our mind, we must learn to trust that what we see in our imagination we can bring forth in the physical world.

Whereas perception involves seeing that which already exists in the outer world, imagination involves seeing the inner world of possibilities that can be realized in the outer world. Albert Einstein penned it nicely: "Your imagination is your preview of life's coming attractions," to which William Butler Yeats added, "In dreams begin responsibility." Consider, therefore, that everything humanity has ever created (or ever will create), both tangible and intangible, began as a single idea in the privacy of someone's mind, be it this book, a religious order, or going to the moon. Our imagination is the source of our creative power and the driving force behind our choices—the prerequisites of a shared vision toward which to build. top


Defining a vision and committing it to paper goes against our training because it must be stated as a positive in the positive, something we are not used to doing. Stating a positive in the positive means stating what we mean directly. For example, a local community has an urban growth boundary that it wants to keep within certain limits, which can be stated in one of two ways: (1) we want our urban growth boundary to remain within a half a mile from where it is now situated (a positive stated as a positive), or (2) we don't want our urban growth boundary to look like that of our neighbor (a negative that one is attempting to state as a positive).

Further, to save our planet and human society as we know it, we must be willing to risk changing our thinking in order to have a wider perception of the world and its possibilities, to validate one another's points of view or frames of reference. The world can be perceived with greater clarity when it is observed simultaneously from many points of view. Such conception requires open-mindedness in a collaborative process of intellectual and emotional exploration of that which is and that which might be, the result of which is a shared vision of a possible future.

Although a vision may begin as an intellectual idea, at some point it becomes enshrined in people's hearts as a palpable force that defies explanation. It then becomes impossible to turn back, to accept that which was before, because to do so would be to die inside. Few, if any, forces in human affairs are as powerful as a shared vision of the heart. Consider Mahatma Gandhi's inspired fight to free India from British rule.

In its simplest, intellectual form, a shared vision asks: What do we want to create? Why do we want to create it? Beyond that, it becomes the focus and energy to bring forth that which is desired, because, as John F. Kennedy said: "Those who anticipate the future are empowered to create it," which is similar to Gandhi's statement: "The future depends on what we do in the present." It is also similar to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's statement: "The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today."

A statement of vision is a general declaration that describes what a particular person, group of people, business, community, agency, or nation is striving for. A vision is like a "vanishing point," the spot on the horizon where the straight, flat road on which you are driving disappears from view over a gentle rise in the distance.

As long as you keep that vanishing point in focus as the place you want to go, you are free to take a few side trips down other roads and always know where you are in relation to where you want to go—your vision. It is therefore necessary to have at hand a dictionary and a thesaurus when crafting a vision statement because it must be as precise as possible. Through it you must say what you mean and mean what you say.

In contrast to a vision, a goal is a general statement of intent that remains until it is achieved, the need for it disappears, or the direction changes. Although a goal is a statement of direction, which may be vague and is not necessarily expected to be accomplished, it serves to further clarify the vision statement. A goal might be stated as: My goal is to create a successful ecotourism business.

An objective, on the other hand, is a specific statement of intended accomplishment. It is attainable, has a reference to time, is observable and measurable, and has an associated cost. The following are additional attributes of an objective: (1) it starts with an action verb; (2) it specifies a single outcome or result to be accomplished; (3) it specifies a date by which the accomplishment is to be completed; (4) it is framed in positive terms; (5) it is as specific and quantitative as possible and thus lends itself to evaluation; (6) it specifies only what, where, and when and avoids mentioning why and how; and (7) it is product oriented.

Consider the previous goal:  My goal is to create a successful ecotourism business. Let's now make it into an objective:  I will have a successful ecotourism business by my 25th birthday. The stated objective is action oriented:  I will have. It has a single outcome:  a successful ecotourism business. It specifies a date:  my 25th birthday, and it is framed in positive terms:  I will have. It lends itself to evaluation of whether or not the stated intent has been achieved, and it clearly states what, where, and when. Finally, it is product or outcome oriented—to have a successful ecotourism business. (For a more in-depth discussion of this section, see:  "Vision and Leadership in Sustainable Development" Vision and Leadership.) top


The vision of some future, desired condition, by its very nature, elicits the singular social constraint (the fixed point around which everything else turns, like the hub of a wheel) that must be met if the terms of the vision are to be fulfilled. A constraint in this sense means being restricted to a given course of action or inaction, which in this case connotes something that restricts, limits, or regulates personal, human behavior.

A vision does not, in and of itself, create a single constraint, where there was none before. It cannot because everything in the world is already constrained by its relationship to everything else, which means that nothing is ever entirely free. What a vision does is determine the degree to which a particular socially chosen constraint is negotiable. In addition, a vision forces a blurring of all interdisciplinary lines in its fulfillment because the power of the vision rests with the people who created it and those who are inspired by it, not those whose sole job is to administer the bits and pieces of everyday life, as important as they might be.

What does "negotiable" mean here? It means to bargain for a different outcome, to cut the best possible deal. Can we, for example, negotiate with Nature to give us sunnier, drier winters without flooding when we deem the winters too dark and wet? Can we negotiate for more rain during winters we deem too dry? Well, we could try, but it would be to no avail. Nature does not negotiate; therefore, some of the conditions Nature hands us are nonnegotiable; we cannot cut a "better" deal, one more to our liking.

Our challenge, therefore, is to learn what is negotiable and what is not. Beyond this, we must learn to accept with grace that which is not negotiable and learn to account for and accept responsibility for the price of that which is negotiable, because negotiability is not free. When we negotiate, we trade one set of behavioral freedoms for another in that we impose a particular constraint on ourselves through a vision in order to alleviate or free up some other potential constraint in the future—the desired outcome of our vision. But if "freedom is not linked to morality," contends Mikhail Gorbachev, "it is not freedom. It is permissiveness. It is just self-seeking, rather than freedom." Hence the question is: What does the creation of a shared vision do to the negotiability of our self-created, self-imposed theories, rules, and regulations?

A shared vision determines, by its defined outcome, the degree of negotiability that can be afforded to those of our self-created, self-imposed theories, rules, and regulations that are in question. In other words, a vision determines the negotiability of any particular social constraint, and the constraints with which we have to deal in everyday life are, in a human sense, social because they are behavioral, be it how one interprets the rights of private property, how one conducts oneself in church, or where someone chooses to build a house (for example, in the floodplain of a river or on high ground).

Because a community's visioning process is a public one, it gives the people the right to comment on all aspects of the process (from creating the vision itself through its implementation and monitoring), which in effect places control of the process directly in the hands of the people, should they choose to accept responsibility for the outcome. It is the responsibility for the outcome that demands an understanding of and exacts the accountability for how people accept the social constraints dictated by the vision. And because people are ultimately responsible for their own behavior, they require a mechanism through which they can measure the appropriateness of their performance, which is the express purpose of monitoring. top


Although the word "monitor" is variously construed, its meaning here is to scrutinize or check systematically with a view to collecting specific kinds of data that indicate whether you are moving in the direction you intend. Monitor has the same origin as "monition," which means a warning or caution, and is derived from the Latin monitio, "a reminder."

With respect to social-environmental sustainability, monitoring means to keep watch over and warn in case of danger, such as straying from a desired course. Monitoring is to highlight and so remind us of activities that we already know are too harsh and could offend the system; on the other hand, it is to help us conserve the options embodied within the system for ourselves and future generations, but this requires the ability to ask relevant questions because monitoring is dependent on questions.


Learning how to frame good and effective questions is paramount not only for crafting a collective vision for the future but also for the process of monitoring what is necessary to achieve the vision. A question is a powerful tool when used wisely because they open the door of possibility. For example, it was not possible to go to the moon until someone asked: Is it possible to go to the moon? In that instant, going to the moon became possible, despite the fact that no one knew how.

To be effective, each question must: (1) have a specific purpose, (2) contain a single idea, (3) be clear in meaning, (4) stimulate thought, (5) require a definite answer to bring closure to the human relationship induced by the question, and (6) explicitly relate to previous information.

In a discussion about going to the moon, one might therefore ask: Do you know what the moon is?" The specific purpose is to find out if you know what the moon is. Knowledge of the moon is the single idea contained in the question. The meaning of the question is clear: Do you or do you not know what the moon is? The question stimulates thought about what the moon is and may spark an idea of how you relate to it; if not, that can be addressed in a second question. The question, as asked, requires a definite answer, and the question relates to previous information.

A question that focuses on "right" versus "wrong" is thus a hopeless exercise because it calls for human moral judgment, and that is not a valid question to ask of either an ecosystem or science. If, however, one were to ask if a proposed action was good or bad in terms of a community's collective vision, that is a good question.

For example, a good short-term economic decision may simultaneously be a bad long-term ecological decision and thus a bad long-term economic decision. To find out, however, You must ask: Although this is a good short-term economic decision, is it also a good long-term ecological decision and hence a good long-term economic decision? An answer to anything is possible only when the question has been asked.

In essence, questions lead to the array of options from which you can choose. Conversely, without a question, you are blind to the options. Learning about the options is the purpose of monitoring. In turn, to know what to monitor and how to go about it, you must know what questions to ask because an answer is only meaningful if it is in response to the right question. top


Because the future is fraught with uncertainties, the best monitoring and the best adjustments (target corrections) based on that monitoring provide several preplanned actions, such as: If A happens, I will do B; if C happens, I will do D; and so on. Otherwise, we monitor only outcomes and merely hope corrective actions will be found in time should the results be undesirable.

An example might be the assumption that placing fish ladders in dams will sustain the migration of salmon and perpetuate their survival. Over time, however, we learn that the reservoirs created by the dams (in addition to a host of other human activities) also affect the survival and migration of the salmon. Therefore, monitoring a single variable, even a seemingly reasonable one, such as counting fish, may do nothing to clarify the issue or save the fish, which was the purpose of the fish ladders. We must therefore accept and remember that things are inevitably more complex than we are able to foresee, which is the very reason we need to monitor in the first place.

Good monitoring has six steps: (1) crafting a vision, goals, and objectives; (2) preliminary monitoring or inventory; (3) modeling your collective understanding; (4) monitoring implementation; (5) monitoring effectiveness; and (6) monitoring to validate the outcome.

Step 1. Crafting a vision and goals: Crafting a carefully worded vision and attendant goals that clearly and concisely state your desired future condition is the necessary first step in monitoring so that you know what you want, where you want to go, and what you think the journey will be like. The vision and its goals form the context of the journey against which you measure (monitor) all decisions, actions, and consequences to see if in fact your journey is even possible as you imagined it and what the consequences of the journey might be.

Step 2. Preliminary monitoring or inventory: Preliminary monitoring is to carefully observe and understand the circumstances you begin, with, which means taking inventory of what is available in the present. Taking inventory requires the following questions: What exists now, before anything is purposefully altered? What condition is it in? What is the prognosis for its future? Here it is important to understand and remember that, even though preliminary monitoring may require multiple questions, the outcome is still a single realization.

Step 3. Modeling your collective understanding: By modeling, I mean configuring current knowledge of your community project (such as the initiation of ecotourism) into a conceptual model as an explicit map of your understanding. Such a map can be augmented by one or more computer models. Although it is critical in this exercise to assume at the outset that such a map represents your best understanding of the project in question, it is equally critical to have the necessary humility to assume the map is flawed and your understanding incomplete. In this way, the viability of the vision, its goals, and objectives, as well as the model itself, are continually tested and improved. As the model is improved, so is your knowledge of the how your project is likely to function. (For an in-depth discussion of what I am talking about, see: "Evaluating Sustainable Development: Giving People a Voice in Their Destiny" Evaluating Sustainable Development.)

Step 4. Writing an implementation plan: Write a plan of how you propose to to achive the vision and its attendant goals within some scale of time in which all the particulars, including objectives, are laid out. An objective is a specific statement of intended accomplishment. It is attainable, has a reference to time, is observable and measurable, and has an associated cost. The following are additional attributes of an objective: (1) it starts with an action verb; (2) it specifies a single outcome or result to be accomplished; (3) it specifies a date by which the accomplishment is to be completed; (4) it is framed in positive terms; (5) it is as specific and quantitative as possible and thus lends itself to evaluation; (6) it specifies only what, where, when, quantity, and duration and avoids mentioning "why" and the "how;" and (7) it is product oriented.

Once you have determined your objective(s), you not only will be able to but also must answer the following questions concisely: (1) What do I want? (2) Where do I want it? (3) When do I want it? (4) How much (or how many) do I want? (5) For how long do I want it (or them)? If a component is missing, you may achieve your objective by default, but not by design. Only when you can answer all of these questions concisely do you know where you want to go and the value of going there, and only then can you calculate the probability of arrival. Next you must determine the cost, make the commitment to bear it, and then commit yourself to keeping your commitment.

Step 5. Monitoring implementation: Monitoring the implementation of you project on the ground asks the following question: Did we do what we said we were going to do? Although this type of monitoring is really just documentation of what was done, it is critical documentation because without it, it may not be possible to figure out what when awry (if anything did), how or why it went awry, or how to remedy it.

Step 6. Monitoring effectiveness: Monitoring to assess effectiveness means monitoring to assess the implementation of your objectives, not the goals or vision. Recall from our earlier discussion that a vision and its attendant goals describe the desired future condition for which you are striving. They are qualitative and thus not designed to be quantified. An objective, on the other hand, is quantitative and so is specifically designed for quantification.

Monitoring to assess effectiveness of an objective requires asking: Is the objective specific enough? Are the results clearly quantifiable and within specified scales of time? Monitoring the effectiveness of your project (system) with the aid of indicators provides information (feedback) with which to assess whether you are in fact headed toward the attainment of your desired future condition (the condition of your collective vision), maintaining your current condition, or moving away from your desired future condition.

Monitoring for effectiveness means the systematic evaluation of indicators that are relevant to achieving your vision. A good indicator helps a community recognize potential problems and provides insight into possible solutions. What a community chooses to measure, how it chooses to measure it, and how it chooses to interpret the outcome will have a tremendous effect on the quality of life in the long term. (Again, for an in-depth discussion of what I am talking about, see: "Evaluating Sustainable Development: Giving People a Voice in Their Destiny" Evaluating Sustainable Development.)

Indicators close the circle of action by both allowing and demanding that you come back to your beginning premise and ask (reflect on) whether, through your actions, you are better off now than when you started: if so, how; if not, why not; if not, can the situation be remedied; if so, how; if not, why not; and so on.

Step 7. Monitoring to validate the outcome: Monitoring for validation of the outcome is considered by many to be research. This type of monitoring involves testing the assumptions that went into the development of your objectives and the models on which they are based.

Monitoring for validation may require asking such questions as: Why didn't the results come out as expected? What does this mean with respect to our conceptual model of how we think the system works versus how the system actually works? Will altering our approach make any difference in the outcome? If not, why not? If so, how and why? What target corrections do we need to make to bring our model in line with how the system really works?

Validation is a necessary component of any monitoring plan because this is where you learn about the array of possible target corrections. In addition, monitoring for validation may have wide application for other projects (such as might form auxilliary components of ecotourism).

Because outcomes of a shared vision are uncertain, human activities encompassed by a vision can be thought of as tentative probings into various aspects of Nature and are best taken one step at a time and tested at each step. Through such testing, one hopes to detect potentially adverse and unpredicted effects at an early stage so that deleterious activity can be corrected to the best of one's ability before serious, widespread, or irreversible damage occurs. top


  • Vision and Leadership in Sustainable Development

  • Evaluating Sustainable Development:  Giving People a Voice in Their Destiny

  • Social-Environmental Planning:  The Design Interface Between Everyforest and Everycity

  • Letters of Recommendation



    Chris Maser
    Corvallis, OR 97330

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