One of the three core values I mention on my website is Vision, but I don’t mean my vision. I certainly have one, but I don’t think that my vision for the future of Brighton is the only one that counts, and I want my vision to reflect yours as much as possible. That’s why I think it’s really important that we change our approach to the whole concept of vision.
Typically, during an election the candidates will use their public events and communications to cast a vision that they hope will resonate with the public. People compare them, and support the candidate whose vision aligns best with their own. Then for the next four years, the politicians who were elected will refer back to that vision, and to the support that they had – never mind that a lot of things have changed, that they spend most of their time dealing with issues that didn’t fall within that vision, and that this vision changes every four years.
In our age of polarized politics, which has managed to divide us even at a municipal level much of the time, politicians and elected officials are limited in their ability to unify a community around a common vision. And having a new vision cast every four years doesn’t allow for long-term planning and progress. What I propose instead is an ongoing series of Community Visioning sessions, a type of democratic process that brings the community together to collectively imagine our future. This process is collaborative rather than competitive: everyone can contribute to it, and it doesn’t pit us against each other. Because it comes from many of us, it will also be a more inclusive vision, and one that lasts beyond the tenure of whichever of us currently serve on Council.
The expertise to facilitate this kind of collective visioning exists in Northumberland County. I’m part of a social enterprise called Community Driven Strategies that uses Futures Thinking, Systems Thinking, and Design Thinking tools to help communities and nonprofits visualize their present reality and imagine their preferred futures, so that they can make choices today that help them reach those preferred futures. I know that it can be done, and that it can help government to actually engage the community instead of just consulting it – but I’ll talk more about consultation and communication in a future post!
The goal for this is not a series of vision statements or documents that can become a series of strategic planning documents that will periodically help us set goals and initiate projects. Rather, I’d like to see a “living” document, a visualization, that anyone can see – and that anyone can see themself in. A systems map.
Systems maps take complex institutions, structures, issues, etc., and visualize them in terms of the relationships between their elements. A common systems map is an ecosystem diagram: we can see which creatures live here, and which ones eat the others. A thorough ecosystem diagram would also include which creatures eat which plants, or pollinate them; the impacts of weather events or wildfires; and how humans interact with the ecosystem.
I took a course on Human-Centered Systems Thinking this year from the design firm IDEO, which focused on how to use systems maps to address social issues. The key is to “zoom in” to the human level, by engaging with stakeholders directly and getting their input, even letting them lead the generation of a systems map; and then “zoom out” to the bigger picture to see how those stakeholders interact with the system in question. I think that we can do that as a community, and that doing so will bring us greater unity as we cast a common vision together.