Create vision in a downturn

Vision – a concept that both businesses and residents alike probably use regularly. Where are we now? And where do want to go? What is our real? Our ideal? As we move toward the future, are our practices aligning with that vision?

It seems simple: a vision moves us forward – individually; collectively; as residents; as businesses; as a city, a province or a nation. Vision defines the steps in which to get there. However, how do we continue to have vision when confronted with the challenges of an economic downturn?

In many cases over the past two years, the media has reported on hard-hitting stories including the 35,000 layoffs in the Alberta oil and gas sector, the increasing provincial debt load and an obvious polarization among Albertans. Unfortunately, the economic downturn has been the centre of attention of media for months now, providing a narrative of a dim future for Alberta, one that creates cloudiness around vision. So it comes to mind for me that in every challenge lies opportunity. The opportunity presents itself when we come together collectively as a community – businesses and residents – to continue to create a vision for a brighter future, even in the direst of economic times.

“A downturn provides the opportunity to refocus, redefine and readjust to new realities, and better prepare for the future”

As a City department, Economic Development recognizes the need to be a leader in creating vision in this downturn. Because of this, we have come together with multiple stakeholders and City departments to undertake a 10-year Integrated Economic Development Strategy. The strategy will create a long-term vision for our department and, in turn, the community.

To combat the fatigue of ‘bad news’ related to the downturn, we began designing our strategy by asking five simple questions (Steven Ames, “The New Oregon Model: Envision – Plan – Achieve,” Journal of Future Studies, November 2010), which have helped us in creating a collective vision even in these challenging times. The questions are: Where are we now? Where are we going? Where do we want to be? How do we get there? Are we getting there?

These five questions can be a useful tool for anyone. This simple concept can be used to help individuals and businesses wade through the realities of the downturn. It can assist in coming together to approach the downturn head on, to seek out new markets and new industries, to diversify, to create efficiencies and to find new ways of doing things. It can assist in finding new career passions, in accomplishing life goals and in creating a sense of place and an authentic identity. It can help identify a community’s shared beliefs and ideals, and define its preferred future. It can clarify gaps in services that are intended to move the vision forward. It can stir up innovation and entrepreneurship, creativity and social capital.

Sure, it doesn’t take a downturn to ask these questions, but I think a downturn provides the opportunity to refocus, redefine and readjust to new realities, and better prepare for the future. This can be a time to awaken leadership qualities in a community, and to promote the need for active partnerships and open dialogue amongst governments, institutions, businesses, residents and non-profits.

The concept is simple: a vision is something, collectively created and defined, that moves us forward. So, as a community, where are we now? And how will our vision create a bigger, bolder and even better Airdrie.

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