The Role of Visioning

Visions are like powerful lighthouses of a desirable future, guiding us on our way across uncharted seas. We hardly ever travel to the lighthouse directly but sail towards it only to pass by it on our way to other places. The point is not to create a fixed vision and spend decades working towards manifesting exactly that vision. As we are approaching what we have envisioned, the vision may have changed and evolved into something else. Nevertheless, visions can help us to make sure we are going in the right direction.

It is important to understand that in the process of creating a vision for a sustainable community, society, culture and civilisation we should not be restricted by what may be perceived right now as insurmountable obstacles to achieving that vision. The initial formulation of a vision has to be idealistic, creative, poetic, aesthetic, ethical, intuitive and imaginative. Rational reasoning from a particular perspective should not restrict the integrative and participatory process of creating the initial vision.

The value of creating a vision lies in the way it connects the future and the present. First, a vision helps us to put our current behaviour into context and perspective, and second, it “catalyses new actions and partnerships in order to move the community or organisation towards the future it wants” (Baxter & Fraser, 1994, p.4). Seaton Baxter and Bruce Fraser identify main characteristics of visioning which make it a uniquely useful process. These are summarised in the below:

Characteristics of the Visioning Process
(Adapted after Baxter & Fraser, 1994, pp.4–5)

  • Visioning operates on a long time scale. Thinking longer term than about 5–10 years is often a difficult exercise — even strategic planning is often not long-term but reactive and short-term. Visioning, however, generally aims to focus 25 years plus from the present.
  • Visioning is a participatory process. The vision should be a shared one and not that of an individual, as no one person can vision for the whole community of interests. Ownership of the vision, and hence the commitment to it, must be shared as widely as possible and this process is one of building consensus.
  • Visioning helps to identify prioritised or preferred outcomes. The vision answers the question “What do we want?” It is not simply a process of forecasting what is likely in the future. It must be the future that is wanted and this may differ from a forecast or likely scenario of the future. It is also different from “What do we want to avoid?” Negative visions are limiting as energy is directed towards preventing something from happening rather than building something new, and the energy and vision often last only as long as the threat persists (Senge, 1990).
  • Visioning requires and trains a holistic perspective. The vision must recognise the systemic linkages and interconnectedness of many of the aspects and forces that will affect the future and seek to integrate these. It is not a vision of a particular sector of the community.
  • Visions are untestable in the present. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ vision for the future as no-one can predict what the future will be or what is possible or impossible for certain. The process of visioning recognises the fundamentally unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of complex dynamic systems.
  • Visioning is a motivational and action-oriented process. The visioning process should lead to individual and collective action in order to move the present situation towards the future vision which has been developed. Real commitment to a shared vision will foster action and innovation.

Visions can inspire us, as we are positively moving towards a thriving, healthy and sustainable future.


This is an excerpt from the Worldview dimension of Gaia Education’s online course Design for Sustainability. If you would like to learn more about how to envision a future that actually works for you, then you should join our Worldview online course. If you do not have a vision to inspire you yet, we will show you how to start creating your own vision for you to thrive, not just survive.

In the Worldview course, you will also learn more about building up a more holistic worldview, developing a healthier lifestyle (food, body, care, friends, etc.), creating a deep connection with nature through personal experience, and much more!

Read more about the upcoming Worldview dimension starting 1 June 2020 here!

If you register by 18 May 2020, you are able to get a 10% Discount.

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