Cameron  Fraser IAF Methods

Visioning with Artifacts

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This is an approach to creating a long term vision for an organization or group using artwork created by the group as a source of inspiration for brainstorming.

This approach creates a more robust Vision document, compared to a Vision statement, which is usually expressed in a sentence or two.

The value of this approach is in the use of visual stimuli as a starting point for Brainstorming. It seems to be particularly productive, increasing both the quantity of ideas and variety of thinking. 

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To create a shared vision of the future as context for more detailed planning


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  • Paper: plain, coloured and/or construction paper
  • Markers of various widths and colours
  • Straws
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Play Doh
  • Stickers
  • String
  • Glue
  • Small toys
  • Etc.


1. Choose the strategic timeframe

Negotiate the timeframe most appropriate to the type of enterprise. For example, a mine might think about a 20 year time period because that's reasonable given the amount of ore in the ground, where a high tech firm may choose a much shorter time frame because of rapid change in the industry. Regardless, try to avoid statements like, “Well, in our business, we can only plan for a year at a time.” and encourage the group to think long term

2. Describe the future environment

Brainstorm, in global terms, what the operating environment for your organization will be at the end of the strategic timeframe.

3. Describe the future organization

Brainstorm, in global terms, what the organization will look like at the end of the strategic timeframe. This list should be kept quite short...perhaps 5 to 10 ideas... to avoid constraining the primary brainstorming session.

4. Explain visioning

Divide the group into smaller teams...2-4 participants per team...and ask each team to create a picture or a sculpture of their vision of the organization X years in the future.  It's OK to have teams self select but the facilitator should specify size.

(A caveat: Teams can be larger or smaller but, because of how the brainstorming is gathered, the more teams there are, the longer the whole process takes.

5. Supply the tools

Provide the participants with a variety of arts and crafts supplies. 

6. Create

Give the participants time to create whatever they want that represents their vision of the future. The role of the Facilitator in this step is simply to encourage the creative effort (regardless of the quality of the "art").

7. Record Brainstormed messages

As with any art, the individual creations are open to interpretation. This is the source of the brainstormed ideas. 

  • Bring the large group back together and display their work. 
  • While having the creators remain silent, have the other participants generate ideas from what they see in the creation.
  • The facilitator records the brainstormed ideas, possibly using the tag line "When I think about our future, and look at this creation what I see is..." or, simply, "I see..."
  • When the other participants have finished their interpretation, the group of creators can add in the missing messages intended in their work. (Inevitably the other participants see things in the art that the creators had not thought of, and miss some things they had.)
  • Repeat each of the previous steps until all of the pieces of art have been interpreted by the group.

8. Synthesize themes

After each piece has been interpreted, and each group has presented, have the group look for common elements in the brainstormed list, and identify categories or themes. These are generally expressed as a short title. 

While there is no specific number of themes required, fewer than five may result in them being too generic and more than (roughly) ten may result in them being too specific. Remember that this is high level thinking.

9. Define Themes

Clarify the theme by creating a short explanation of the the intent behind it. This can be done using a tag line such as:

  • This Theme is primarily about....
  • In the year 20XX we will...
The titles and their defining statements collectively become the vision


This roots of this approach are more than 50 years old but you can find modern expressions of some elements of it in tools such as Lego Serious Play and various brainstorming card decks using images. I first learned the approach from Paul Cormier of RANA International, but I have been unable to identify the original authors of the method. It may have a connection to the work of George Prince at Synectics in Boston during the 1960s and 70s.

The method does has two characteristics that are sometimes seen as barriers to participation:

  1. The Creative element of it can result in some not seeing it as serious work, focusing on the "arts and crafts" element, and not understanding that that is simply a means to an end. (The "art" in and of itself, is unimportant.)
  2. This approach is time consuming when used properly. It can easily result in a group generating 200+ brainstormed ideas.

Combine the time pressure with resistance to the creative approach, and it can be difficult to get acceptance of this method, but it has been worth it. In general, there is an argument for spending extra time on something as important as a shared vision, since it established the context for more detailed planning.

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