Collective Visioning: How Groups Can Work Together for a Just and Sustainable Future by Linda StoutCollective Visioning: How Groups Can Work Together for a Just and Sustainable Future by Linda Stout

Collective Visioning: How Groups Can Work Together for a Just and Sustainable Future

byLinda Stout

Paperback | May 16, 2011

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It’s an unfortunate fact of social organizing that, despite even the best intentions, groups convened to effect positive change often fail to empower people from all backgrounds to speak up or to tap into a positive and inspiring collective vision. Longtime social justice crusader Linda Stout details a practical process that enables everyone—even those commonly marginalized—to work together with honesty, passion, commitment, and joy to create a positive, energizing, and sustainable vision and to make that vision a reality.

Stout shows, in practical terms, how to bring a group together, build trust, ensure that each and every voice is heard, create a positive vision, and develop an action plan that leverages everyone’s abilities to bring that vision to fruition. Used successfully by more than 120 organizations—and illustrated here by dozens of practical examples and exercises—this process creates hope for change, even among those who’ve stopped believing that change is possible. This comprehensive guide will serve as a template for anyone seeking to create a better, more just tomorrow.
Linda Stout is founder and director of Spirit in Action. She previously led the Piedmont Peace Project in North Carolina, which won the National Grassroots Peace Award, and is the author of Bridging the Class Divide.
Title:Collective Visioning: How Groups Can Work Together for a Just and Sustainable FutureFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:216 pages, 8.5 × 5.56 × 0.57 inShipping dimensions:8.5 × 5.56 × 0.57 inPublished:May 16, 2011Publisher:Berrett-koehlerLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1605098825

ISBN - 13:9781605098821


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introduction Creating a Different Future This book is for all of us looking for a different, more fulfilling, and sustainable way to work that creates real and lasting change for ourselves and future generations. In Collective Visioning, you will learn how to create a vision with others of the world you want to live in and how to work together to make it happen. This is a guide to how to change your community, your organization, your faith group, your school, and beyond. I know collective visioning works for many different kinds of people and organizations because I’ve used it with so many different groups: small gatherings of junior high school students in New Orleans after Katrina, urban immigrant communities, activists in Iowa, hundreds of churches and spiritual gatherings, students at Ivy League universities, networks of educators, and folks working (with stunning success) to get out the vote in North Carolina, among many others. In my work for justice over the past thirty years, I have seen many amazing accomplishments. In the chapters to come I will tell you the stories of how some of them happened. At the same time, I know that many things have continued to get worse for many people and that there is greater poverty, homelessness, and economic and environmental crises than we’ve seen in many decades. Yet I hold enormous hope about creating a future that works for us all. Understanding the value and power of collective vision-ing for the future of our communities and our world is critical to our ability to inspire others to move to action. Many of us who have worked for change have been focused on problems and creating strategies and plans to address these problems. By always focusing on the problems, we get locked into patterns of negativity and critique, not allowing ourselves the ability to look at the bigger picture or set goals that inspire and help us and others through the hard work of change. Our focus is on what we are against rather than what we are for. People who join in the struggle for change often come from a place of anger and fear. This makes emotional sense given the urgency of current problems, but it isn’t sustainable for the long haul. Authors Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson point out in their book, The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World, that the majority of people in this country hold positive values: a concern about the environment, peace, homelessness, hunger, and poverty. At the same time, their research found that a lot of these people are turned off by movements on both the right and the left, which they see as extremist, negative, and judgmental. As a result of these perceptions, many people who care about the environment and social justice stay away from organizations in favor of individual actions such as volunteering, carrying a cloth bag to the grocery store, recycling, donating food, or working for a food bank on holidays. While all of these actions are important and worthy, we need efforts that inspire people to address the larger root problems we face. When people vision together, they get excited and become much more invested in creating the future of their dreams. They begin to take more ownership in their organization, school, or community and take on responsibility for the plan they create together. They begin to say “we” and “our” and feel that they are a critical part of the process. They volunteer to do more and are more accountable than is usually seen in groups that are not grounded in a collective vision and action plan. People develop a deep sense of community and connection. The work comes from a place of joy and hope. In Spirit in Action, my current organization, we have experienced this many times in the work of building networks. It’s amazing to see how many people step forward to help when times get tough. They also help each other, sharing resources and skills. These are much more connected and deeper networks than most. Those in a group share a sense of being part of a community, a family, even though people in most of our networks are scattered across the country. When we ground our work in a collective positive vision, the process builds a strong and connected community. Not only are we more successful in winning the issues, we transform ourselves, our communities, and beyond. We look at what we need to do in a more cooperative, resourceful, and inclusive way than when we are focused on just fixing problems. While we take into consideration urgent and current issues, our ongoing action, based on a collective vision, is strategic and intentional. Not only does visioning guide our work, it inspires and motivates people to stay in it for the long haul despite the hardships. It leads us toward lasting, proactive, positive action for change. We need to work together to come up with a collective vision for what is possible, identify seeds of hope already planted, and then learn how to make real and lasting change. We need to acknowledge and heal from our fears—the fear of others, of global warming, of terrorist attacks, and of losing our identities—and learn how to transform these fears into real action for change. Most of us will need to relearn what it means to live in a community, that is, a diverse community that goes beyond our usual circle of friends or those who think just like us. If we understand what we can gain from being part of deep, connected, and diverse communities, we can learn how to work in a way that is joyful, fulfilling, and life sustaining. I’ve witnessed this kind of work, and sometimes I’ve been part of making it happen. I want to make it easier for you to be part of it, too. When people vision collectively, their achievements are amazing. For example, • In North Minneapolis, people have a vision of reclaiming and rebuilding their neighborhood from a place of violence and decay into a place of community involvement, beauty, and safety. Their vision is to have all children born in the community be prepared for college when they graduate from high school. Not only are people from the community committed to this goal, but also elected officials (including the mayor), artists, businesspeople, and many others are working together to make this vision a reality. They have already bought many foreclosed homes and rebuilt them as sustainable green homes and have rebuilt businesses owned and controlled by community people. They have also created a youth art center, an arts park, a youth-run bakery, and a community theater with youth involvement and training. • A poor community in Tallulah, Louisiana, fought for over ten years to close down one of the most abusive, oppressive prisons in the country—a prison that incarcerated young people. After community members won this important fight, the state immediately voted to reopen the prison as an adult penitentiary. Not until the community members turned to visioning—“What do we want instead of a prison?”—were they successful in getting the state to vote to close down the prison with the idea of turning it into a community college. • Children in New Orleans changed the way new schools are being rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina to include community gardens, green space for outdoor classes, restorative justice circles, and cafeterias that serve healthy food and have hand-washing stations. I will tell you more about how collective visioning worked in New Orleans and Tallulah later in the book. Imagine if these examples were all seeds. What could happen if our whole country worked together collectively to grow these seeds into nationwide and worldwide actions? Imagine if we could mobilize to elect leaders dedicated to real democracy, leaders who truly represent us and what we care about and are accountable to us, the people, rather than corporate power and money. I started Spirit in Action in January 2000 after an extensive listening project with activists from all over the country conducted in 1998–99 by Peace Development Fund while I was the executive director there. We asked people who worked on many different issues at every level what was needed to build a powerful movement to create a just and equitable world. When we started Spirit in Action, we continued this exploration and began to identify clear issues that needed to be addressed. We decided to search for answers about three powerful issues people had identified. The first issue was that we activists were really good at talking about what we were against but not good at talking about what we wanted to build—the kind of world we wanted to live in. We lacked a collective vision that we could all rally around and work together to create. The second issue was all the ways that people get divided—by race, class, age, gender, sexual preference, and religious or spiritual beliefs, as well as by competition for turf, credit, and funding. People felt that we needed a new way to learn to work together and that the ways we were doing antiracism and anticlassism work needed to be more inclusive. We needed to work to heal divisions rather than polarize people. The third issue was what I identify as “spirit” or “heart.” I use the word “spirit” in the broadest sense. People talked about what motivated them to work for justice. Many were motivated by religious and spiritual beliefs. Others were moved by parents or other people they’d known who had deeply influenced them. Some had experienced or seen injustice in their lifetimes and, as a result, felt called to work for a different kind of world. All of them came into this work from deeply held heart or spirit values, but often they felt isolated because they were unable to express those values. People felt uncomfortable about sharing their whole selves in diverse groups. Many also felt that we often didn’t have time to work in a way that allowed us to bring our whole selves into the work. As a result, many felt disillusioned and angry and often spoke of burnout. Many people we talked to felt that there had to be another way to work—a way that was inspiring and fulfilling. Spirit in Action was formed to begin to find answers about those three issues from other organizations and many individuals. Some of the answers we found are in this book. My own spiritual practice came to be about listening. As a lifelong Quaker, listening to spirit led me to listen to what people needed, to what people weren’t saying, and to the people who had no voice in the groups I was a part of. Eventually, I was listening to as many people as I could, including my friends and family of different political back-grounds—from extremist left to extremist right, and the many in between—to friends who were Buddhist, Quaker, atheist, Pagan, Fundamentalist Christian, Conservative Christian, Progressive Christian, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim, and agnostic. I even listened to people who had been members of the Ku Klux Klan. I realized that, deep down, most of us share many of the same fears and values. We all hope for a better future for our children and generations to come. It is no secret that I am a spiritual person and very progressive in my political views. All of my friends know this, and I often have loving conversations with my conservative friends about our different beliefs. We learn from each other in powerful ways. My uncle Ed once started a conversation with “Well, I know you believe differently than I do, but I still love you, and I want you to read and think about this article about the war.” I said, “I love you, and I will read or think about this, but I would like for you to read and think about something I send to you.” We agreed to do that. My aunt Carolyn and uncle Ed talked with me about this book when I was first thinking about it. After we talked, they sent me several Bible verses about the importance of visioning, like this one, Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” So why am I writing this book about collective visioning at this time? Because I’ve seen people join together to make incredible changes in their communities and lives. I know that if we work together we can create a different world, not only in our lifetimes but for generations to come. In this book I want to • Tell stories of goals that have already been accomplished • Give you guidelines on how to vision a collective future in order to create a just and sustainable world • Help you learn how to start building deep and collaborative connections with others to work together for your visions • Offer guidelines about how to build a stronger and more diverse community • Empower you to work from a place of inspiration and joy During the 2008 Obama campaign, I saw thousands of people, especially young folks, working for change because they had hope for the message of a different future. The message of hope and change energized and moved thousands of people to take action, many for the first time in their lives. While it would be wonderful to think that electing the “right” president or other government official would solve all our problems, unfortunately we have a political system that is so driven by big money and corporate power that even people we have elected who share our values of justice and equity and want to make change often come up short of what they promise. It’s easy for us to sit back and blame or resent the government, but the truth is, until a majority of people believe they have the power to create that kind of change, we will continue in the same way, with corporate power and money driving the policies that affect our lives. We are now living in a time of great change and upheaval in our society. We see a level of decay of infrastructure, schools, jobs, government, and community we have not seen in decades. We have become a nation of individualists, reduced to protecting and building for ourselves, rather than for the good of the whole. We instinctively know how to be in community and to support each other—we saw examples of this after the September 11th bombing of the World Trade Center in New York and after Hurricane Katrina. At the same time, we saw examples of our divisions and fear of others in these catastrophes, divisions that oppressed people because of their race, ethnicity, class, and religion. The challenge is to figure out how we can build a sustainable culture of working together in a way that embraces all of the diversity that is our ultimate strength. Many people feel helpless about making change in their lifetimes. The truth is that we all have the ability to make these changes, but only if we learn to understand the “other” and to act on what we really want for ourselves, our families, and the earth. In order to create a different future, we must first create a collective vision and learn to work together effectively to make it happen. The popularity of self-help “visioning” books reflects a population hungry for hope and positive vision. However, the concepts in many of these books inspire people to create a vision for what they want personally. This moves them to an even more isolated, individualistic, and materialistic place and the belief that if you are not becoming wealthy or getting the perfect job, it’s your fault for not thinking positively enough. There is a place for individual visions in my work, and I’ve included a chapter about them in this book, but when you begin to join your vision with those of others, true excitement and change begin to happen. I believe that this alternative message is what people are eager for—one that breaks our isolation, builds community, and most importantly, gives us hope for the future. In this book, you will find that I often use the words “we” or “us” instead of “I” or “me.” That is because so many people contributed to the formation of these ideas. Many of the ideas come from knowledge that has been with us for ages. Much of my methodology comes from Spirit in Action’s first experimental Circles of Change. These took place all over the country, with twenty-seven trained facilitators. Hundreds of people who participated shared their knowledge and insights with us. Our methodology also came from many organizations that had information, insights, and strategies that we learned from. I list many of those in the resources at the end of the book. We also have a strong team of staff, volunteers, and consultants who have come together to help create the work we do today. When I first started using visioning for myself and in my own community, I was not aware of the decades of research by sociologists, historians, futurists, and others about visioning. If you, like me, think you might find having a historical perspective and information on academic research about visioning useful to help you understand more deeply the role it can play in social change, you can find more about this work on my website. In addition to our own collective knowledge, it’s important to remember that we stand on the knowledge of many others who have passed their wisdom down to us. I have read about visioning in indigenous cultures that predate Christianity. I have learned from my elders and peers. Even more, I have come to learn from the young activists in my life. They inspire me, challenge my thinking, and make me want to work for a better world for them to inherit. Because of all of these people and what they have taught me, I have taken on my biggest challenge: to write another book! I have learned so much and have so much to share. I hope you will find this work as inspiring and exciting as I do—and will believe, like me, that you, too, can help change the world. This book will help you see the importance of collective visioning in working together to create a healthy and sustainable world. And it will give you concrete steps for how to do it. First, in chapter 1, I explain what collective visioning is and how it is done and give you guidelines for how to lead a collective visioning exercise. In the next three chapters, I give you information about how to build trust and gather a diverse group of people to do collective visioning together. I help you with strategies for how to find the leaders in communities other than your own, how to create a truly welcoming and inclusive space, and how to best prepare people to work together. I offer ideas on how to use personal visions as a way to move toward collective visioning. I explore the power of storytelling in healing divisions and building trust. In chapter 5, I take a look at how change happens and at ways to develop people’s skills and willingness to work together by using different strategies to reach toward the same vision. In chapter 6, I help you use the collective vision to develop a plan for action. In chapter 7, I look at ways to sustain work for change in the long haul. I look at cultural shifts around power and positive focus, the broad cultivation of visionary leadership, and strategies for holding the vision and continuing to act while facing setbacks. Throughout the book, I give you exercises, tools, guidelines, and suggestions for how you and your community can create your own models for change. Feel free to adapt and use what fits for you and your community. Leave out what doesn’t. Visioning is not the only action that creates change, but it is a critical first step. As an activist and organizer for justice, I believe that we have to leave behind many of our old ways of doing things and work collaboratively toward collective vision and action. Collective Visioning is an invitation to vision, dream, prepare, and work for a just and sustainable world.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Creating a Different Future
Chapter One: How Collective Visioning Works
Chapter Two: Laying the Groundwork for Collective Visioning
Chapter Three: Personal Visions
Chapter Four: Storytelling to Build Trust and Community
Chapter Five: Same Vision, Different Strategies
Chapter Six: Creating a Roadmap: Vision to Action
Chapter Seven: Grounded in Vision for the Long Haul
Conclusion: The Next Step: Hope, Vision & Action
About Spirit in Action
About the Author

Editorial Reviews

“To listen to Linda Stout is to be inspired, to gain new hope that a fundamental transformation of our culture is not only possible but may be much nearer than we expect.”   —Dr. Ron Miller, President, New Visions Foundation “This book encourages us that real love is about caring for all people, not just those who look and sound like us.” —Rev. John H. Vaughn, Director, Twenty-First Century Foundation “Stout has suffered the fates, encountered troubles, and defeated them. In short, her life has been devoted to a world of grace, peace, and beauty.” —Studs Terkel, author and radio broadcaster “This inspiring and practical guide to community organizing should be read by everyone involved in the struggle for justice, democracy, and equal rights. Linda Stout knows how to bring people together to be agents of change. Read this book and find out how you can do this too.” —John Shattuck, President and Rector, Central European University, and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor “Linda Stout’s book represents decades of profound experience activating ordinary people to do extraordinary things! She inspires people to take action toward the kinds of future they truly want, to experiment with expanding their sense of empowerment, build a cohort group for support, and get on with changing their world. Stout knows we proceed from ‘the dream’ outward into activism. She is a true master of inspire, inform, and activate. Collective Visioning is where it all begins.” —Christina Baldwin, coauthor of The Circle Way and author of Storycatcher “The peace movement is too intellectual. There needs to be a book that speaks to regular people. Linda has taken the research we did and made it real and accessible.” —Elise Boulding, cofounder, International Peace Research Association, and author of Cultures of Peace “Linda’s book is urgently needed now. Many congregations are starting to engage in appreciative inquiry and visioning processes to identify hopes and dreams but lack the tools that can translate these into concrete action.” —Susan Leslie, Director, Office for Congregational Advocacy and Witness, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations “Now more than ever our world needs to make use of Linda’s heartfelt and innovative approaches to engage people of all backgrounds—including those whose voices are not often heard—in creating futures that work for all. Buy this accessible, straightforward guide today and make a difference tomorrow.” —Amanda Trosten-Bloom, Managing Director, Corporation for Positive Change, and coauthor of The Power of Appreciative Inquiry “Linda’s soul is well endowed with a generous, optimistic, and creative sense of the capacity for enlightenment and change for each fellow mortal, no matter what social class or ethnicity each represents. She offers opportunities for our democratic process to work, indeed, flourish, giving us hope in a climate so laden with negativity. Her book is most timely when we hunger for new approaches to solving so many problems eroding our communities.” —Loring Conant, Jr., MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School