«ARTICLE Can Vision Motivate Planning Action? ROBERT SHIPLEY & JOHN L. MICHELA Introduction Many planning exercises today begin with visioning or they ...»
Planning, Practice & Research, Vol. 21, No. 2,
pp. 223 – 244, May 2006
Can Vision Motivate Planning Action?
ROBERT SHIPLEY & JOHN L. MICHELA
Many planning exercises today begin with visioning or they express a vision at
some stage. There are jurisdictions that actually require a vision statement in plans.
There are no exact agreed-upon deﬁnitions, but generally a vision describes a desired future and can take a simple form or can require an entire, complex document to describe. However, there has been very little critical study or followup evaluation of plans to establish the efﬁcacy of visions and to examine visioning from either a practice or theoretical perspective. Do visions actually exert a motivating inﬂuence? Here we preview the results from what may be among the ﬁrst attempts to conduct controlled experimentation aimed at understanding whether and how visions have their intended effects in planning. The experiments focused on how visions are communicated and acted upon and draw on a number of theories and approaches from organizational psychology.
Ofﬁcial plans at all levels of many organizations and governments call for the expression of a vision. In some planning jurisdictions, for example in the UK, vision statements can be a statutory requirement (Roberts, 1996; Peel & Lloyd, 2005). Very few planners have not heard of these words, but what do the terms vision and visioning really mean, where did they originate, do they actually help us reach planning goals, and if so, how do they work?
Here we set out ﬁrst to describe brieﬂy when and how visioning came into planning practice and what are its roots. Next we will explain what planners seem to be doing when they undertake visioning and create visions and we will describe some of the problems that appear to be occurring in practice. We will then provide some theoretical analysis that might help explain how vision and visioning function as motivating stimuli in planning. For a better understanding of the roots of visioning practice, and for analytical approaches, we will look to the ﬁelds of social and organizational psychology. Finally we will outline the results from what may be among the ﬁrst attempts to conduct controlled experimentation on visioning in the planning milieu. The experiments focused on how visions are communicated by presenters and engaged by members of the community receiving the communication. This work shows that seemingly minor variations in what is presented in a vision can have a demonstrable Dr Robert Shipley & John L. Michela, School of Planning, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, N2L 3G1, Canada. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org ISSN 0269-7459 print/1360-0583 online/06/020223–22 Ó 2006 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/02697450600944715 Robert Shipley & John L. Michela impact on the motivation of participants. This implies that careful attention to what is included in visions and the visioning processes can be expected to improve outcomes in signiﬁcant ways. These insights are intended to help planning practitioners carry out more effective visioning and to ﬁnd better ways of achieving their goals.
What is Visioning and Why do Planners do it?
There are no exact, universally agreed upon definitions for the terms vision and visioning. In 1999 Shipley and Newkirk surveyed a wide range of planning documents and literature from several countries and outlined 10 different nuances for each of the terms vision and visioning. All were used relatively indiscriminately, that is without cognizance that their meanings varied considerably.
There were cited cases where writers used the words vision or visioning several times in the same planning documents or even in the same paragraph, each time with a different meaning.
Nevertheless, we can say that in the most generally usage, and for our purposes here, a vision in planning is a statement of a desired or even idealized future state and/or the image or picture of that goal (Strange & Mumford, 2005). These statements range from one sentence to entire, relatively complex documents.
Visioning, on the other hand, is generally seen as the process of arriving at a consensual vision. This is often undertaken as a participative, community based activity sometimes seeking the involvement of virtually the entire population (City of Vancouver, 2005). Visioning is also used as an approach for engaging more select groups such as politicians or community leaders. The process takes place in a wide range of settings ranging from individual agencies such as university departments, companies and NGOs, all the way to local governments and even at the regional or international levels (Nadin, 2002).
Where did this practice originate and on what logic, tradition, or theory is it based. When an article entitled ‘Visions of things to come,’ appeared in the Journal of the American Planning Association in 1993 (Klein et al.), it talked about visioning as a ‘new’ approach that promised to revolutionize planning for the better. At the time the term was indeed relatively novel. There was a remarkable progression from the time in the mid-1980s when visioning was completely absent from the planning lexicon until the point in the mid-1990s when many of the articles in US, Canadian, UK and Australian planning journal issues featured visioning (Shipley & Newkirk, 1998).
The word vision was a slightly different matter. Iconic planning personages ´ from Baron Haussmann and Ildefons Cerda through Ebenezer Howard and Frank Lloyd Wright and up to Jane Jacobs, have often been referred to as visionaries (Ward, 2002). They have commonly been seen as figures possessing vision, in the sense of a clear and vivid picture of the kind of future they wanted to see and were advocating. So the concept of a visionary plan, such as Howard’s famous schematic diagram of the Garden City, was well established in the planning gestalt from the early part of the twentieth century. However, until the 1980s this concept of the visionary was strictly associated with individuals possessing special insight and creativity. They stood in the tradition of religious visionaries whose special Can Vision Motivate Planning Action?
gifts were considered to be divinely inspired (Shipley, 2000, 2002). It is a fairly long jump from that idea to visioning as participatory community planning.
It is true that the idea of fostering community involvement in planning had been growing steadily from its beginnings in the popular social ferment of the 1960s when Jane Jacobs set out a kind of manifesto about why ordinary people should have a say in the shaping of the places where they live (1961). This was reinforced by the work of the Marxist urban thinkers in France such as Lefebvre and Castells (Ward, 2002) and various theories about how best to involve people in planning developed in America from Davidoff (1965), Forester (1982) through to Innes (1996) and Healey (1998) in the UK. This work has continued in Australia, the US and Canada through the writings of Sandercock (1998).
Where then did the notion of visioning as a form of public participation in planning come from? What few planners realize is that across the disciplinary divide, over in the field of business management and organizational psychology, quite different ideas had been developing through the same middle years of the twentieth century. The concept of vision was being discussed, but it was seen quite clearly as a function of leadership and not as a component of participative plan
making. One can follow the trajectory of growing interest in visionary leadership:
The Social Psychology of Organizations (Katz & Kahn, 1978); The Leadership Challenge: How to Get Extraordinary Things Done in Organizations (Kouzes & Posner, 1987); ‘From Transactional to Transformational Leadership: Learning to Share the Vision’ (Bass, 1990) and Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (Collins & Porras, 2000). Vision is featured in the earlier books but actually becomes part of the title in the later works. Strange and Mumford (2005) have documented the growing theoretical, experimental and field research literature that has attempted to understanding visionary leadership and the importance of vision as a means for leaders to motivate followers, employees and colleagues.
Since there is virtually no recognition or citation of this business management and organizational behaviour literature in the writing of planning theorists or practitioners through the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s, the existence of this field of research in those disciplines still does not explain the import of the notion of visioning into planning. What was available to planners were a series of popular books and instructional videos by people like Peters and Waterman, In Search of Excellence (1982); Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline (1990), The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook (1992) and Stephen Covey’s admonitions about achieving personal success through vision (1996). All of these well known communications both appear to have drawn heavily on the more scholarly work that preceded them and clearly influenced the practice of many people in private business and public administration. They are often the sources of inspiration cited by planning practitioners when asked about their models for visioning (Shipley et al., 2004).
The notions of vision as an inspirational factor in corporate leadership apparently melded with the ideals of public participation in the hands of well meaning and energetic planners (including those in the public sector and their private consultants) who had learned about the visionary Ebenezer Howard in their planning texts and had read a Peter Senge book or seen a Stephen Covey video.
Notwithstanding the fact that the practice of visioning in planning had virtually no Robert Shipley & John L. Michela theoretical basis or observed track record—keeping in mind that Peters and Waterman and the others had reported primarily on the success of visionary leaders in corporations—the idea of participative visioning in planning took off (Shipley, 2000). Beginning in places like Chattanooga, Tennessee, taking root in communities like Hamilton, Ontario and prospering as far away as Sydney, Australia, visioning exercises, where whole communities were invited to participate in the creation of a vision that would inspire future planning, were in full swing by the mid-1990s.
These efforts led to some books that were well thought out and more or less set out systems for visioning in planning. A Guide to Community Visioning was published in 1993 (Oregon Chapter of the APA) and The Community Visioning and Strategic Planning Handbook appeared in 1997 (Okubo). Such books are generally step-by-step manuals that suggest beginning with an environmental scan or stocktaking of the challenges facing a community, an invitation to imagine an ideal or desired future—the vision—followed by the formulation of a plan to achieve the desired goals. The order of steps and the emphasis varies but the pattern is similar in these and other comparable works. It is universally accepted by those promoting and engaging in visioning that both the process and the vision statements will have a motivating effect.
If there is any doubt that visioning is significant factor in planning today we have only to turn to Peel and Lloyd’s account of current events in Scotland. They report that, ‘the recent allocation of £90 million as part of the Building Better Cities Growth Fund required Scotland’s six principal cities to prepare a cityvision. This was based on the perceived necessity of shared visions in providing a clear framework to guide development’ (2005, p. 1).
Some might say that there is really no difference between these vision-based plans and the old style strategic, structural or official plans. A plan is a plan. As for visioning, some have held that it is simply anther name for participation. With all of the thought, effort and genuine aspiration that have gone into visioning, however, it is likely a mistake to simply dismiss these concepts. In its essence visioning does represent a different approach to planning than existed before the end of the last century. What then is that essence?
To a large degree the plans of the city makers, infrastructure builders and housers of the early and mid-twentieth century were seen as solutions to problems.
In the years after 1945, it was thought that, ‘when combined with wider reforms, especially in housing and social welfare, urban planning could provide the physical basis for a better life’ (Ward, 2002, p. 395). If the problem was traffic congestion then the solution was more and more expressways. For run down housing, slum clearance was the solution. A return to the notion of thinking about what the end result of a plan would look like was certainly appealing. Creating an ideal world rather than just dealing with the current dilemmas was attractive, but letting brilliant designers loose to impose their visions was also problematic after the experiences with urban renewal and expressway building. If there were going to be plans based on pictures of the desired future, then ordinary people and planners under the influence of Jacobs, Davidoff, Forester and Healey wanted to be part of dreaming up those futures. How exactly these good ideas were going to lead to truly inspirational and motivating urban plans was not clear.
Can Vision Motivate Planning Action?
What are the Problems with Visioning?
In spite of over 20 years of visioning and plans with a stated vision there has been very little follow-up evaluation of results or critical study of the efficacy of visions and visioning. In the last half dozen years, enough difficulty and discontent has manifested itself to cause researchers to begin a serious evaluation of visioning. In the late 1990s Amy Helling examined visioning projects being conducted in the US state of Georgia. She scrutinized the process being used and offered some helpful guidelines (1998a) and at the same time conducted research on the differences in motivation when employees were either given time off to participate in visioning or did it on their own time (1998b).
In the UK, William Neill was also beginning to ask harder questions than had previously been posed about vision-based planning in his article, ‘Whose City? Can a Place Vision for Belfast Avoid the Issue of Identity? (1999).