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Imagine Chicago

Imagine Chicago is a Chicago-based nonprofit that facilitates and trains people in community visioning practices. Founded by Bliss Browne in 1992, the organization utilizes a three-step process of understanding what is, imagining what could be through collaboration, and creating what will be through action. Its community visioning and planning model incorporates Appreciative Inquiry (with an emphasis on intergenerational collaboration), Open Space Technology, the World Café, and asset based community development. This approach has inspired the creation of Imagine and other community planning projects spanning six continents. Learn more at imaginechicago.org and see a list of similar initiatives cited by NCDD members below.

Imagine Chicago “designs, manages and facilitates intergenerational and intercultural networks and partnerships which cultivate hope and civic engagement and harness imagination for public good” through the use of constructive questions, dialogue, curriculum and event design, and network formation.

Between 1992 and 2001, Imagine Chicago focused on developing programs targeted at renewing public education, revitalizing civic commitment, developing and connecting community leaders, linking spirituality and public life, and creating corporate community connections. It created a number of pilot programs encouraging intergenerational dialogue between established community builders, young adults, and local leaders about their hopes for the community’s future. In 1995, Imagine Chicago began partnering with public change organizations such as schools, community development organizations, cultural institutions and faith communities to facilitate a greater ability to take action with these initiatives.

Imagine Chicago’s role is currently focused on providing consulting services and master training classes to government, business, and community organizations; acting as a facilitator for conferences, business meetings, community events and strategic visioning processes; and offering personal or organizational executive coaching. Its consulting and training services cover topics such as civic and youth engagement, appreciative inquiry, strengthening collaboration, strategic visioning, event design and civic curriculum or project development.

A more comprehensive guide to Imagine Chicago’s Tools for Creative Facilitation can be downloaded at http://imaginechicago.org/docs/tools/ic_tools_details.pdf.

Similar Initiatives

A number of other community visioning and strategic planning initiatives have also incorporated dialogue and deliberation methods to achieve similar community improvement goals. In a listserv discussion in June 2010, NCDD members shared the following examples…

The Newark Collaborative, led by David Straus and colleagues from Interaction Associates, was one of the first truly large scale processes that offered meaningful engagement. (suggested by Bill Potapchuk)

Roanoke Vision Comprehensive plan (1985-1986), facilitated by Ron Thomas, Mary Means, and Maggie Grieve, was possibly one of the first adopted vision-based comprehensive plans. Thomas, Means, and Grieve also worked with projects such as Savannah 2020. (suggested by Ron Thomas and Bill Potapchuk)

National Civic League (www.ncl.org), with the assistance of John Parr, Chris Gates, and Derek Okubo, has led dozens of similar efforts around the country, including a significant early effort in Phoenix. (suggested by Bill Potapchuk)

Vision PDX (www.visionpdx.com/visionpdx), a recent citywide visioning process in Portland, Oregon. (suggested by Paul Leistner)

Orton Family Foundation (www.orton.org), which has developed similar projects in towns such as Golden, CO. (suggested by Stan Deetz)

Vermont Council on Rural Development (www.vtrural.org), an organization providing facilitation for community improvement, such as identification of priority areas for future action and access to outside expertise to support work on these initiatives. (suggested by Adrian Segar)

ACP Planning (www.acp-planning.com), a visioning and planning organization which provides a number of visioning workshops. The group is led by Gianni Longo, who has worked with visioning efforts for decades. Longo is known for his work with Carl Moore in Chattanooga, leading a successive pathbreaking process which resulted in an enormous amount of investment, a transformed waterfront, and significant commitments to tackle difficult social and environmental issues. (suggested by Francesca Polletta and Bill Potapchuk)

Minnesota Design Team (www.minnesotadesignteam.org), an all-volunteer, mostly rural vision base planning program. (suggested by Myles Alexander)

The Grand Vision (www.thegrandvision.org), a grassroots visioning process to determine the future of transportation, land use, economic development, and environmental stewardship in rural northwestern Michigan, including the town of Traverse City (population of 16,000) and the surrounding six counties. (suggested by Gilda Povolo)

Envision Carlsbad (www.envisioncarlsbad.gov), a recently completed year-long community visioning process in California utilizing many different types of outreach, such as five World Cafés in different geographic sectors of the community, a community-wide survey, and 100 stakeholder interviews. A Community Vision Report was written based on the input received from this city-sponsored project. (suggested by Sandra Holder)

New Orleans Master Plan and Comprehensive Zoning Project (www.nolamasterplan.org), a recently enacted citizen-led city master planning process. (suggested by Kevin Dillon)

And NCDD member Diane Miller pointed out that not all planning processes that include the word “Imagine” in their name use the Imagine Chicago format. For example, Austin just started their comprehensive planning process and the name they chose was “Imagine Austin” (www.imagineaustin.net). That process is not based on the Chicago process, although there are a lot of community engagement aspects to the effort.

This resource was created by Allyson Gasdaska, one of NCDD’s 2010 summer intern, based on internet research and content of a June 2010 conversation on the main NCDD Discussion list.

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