Developing Your Project Vision

Establishing a project vision is one of the most important steps in the pre-project development phase. Without a strong, shared vision, it is difficult to gather the momentum needed to get a project off the ground. This guide provides an overview of how to go about understanding your own needs as well as the needs of others, developing a project narrative, and testing and refining your vision.
Introduction
A great project starts with a great vision, and behind every great vision is a great idea. However, the process of incubating an idea and transforming it into an extraordinary and compelling vision is not always as straightforward as it may seem. For a project to be successful, the vision must not only reflect the values and mission of the organization driving the project, but it must also resonate with each of the stakeholders involved. This notion of a shared vision is the hallmark of all Artscape projects and is fundamental to building and maintaining momentum throughout the project. Developing a clear vision from the outset can also lead to success later on when important decisions need to be made about the direction of the project. 
 
This section provides some useful information on how to not only achieve a shared vision, but how to carry it through the life course of the project.

 
Vision-Driven Development
A defining factor for not-for-profit creative placemaking projects is that they tend to be vision-driven rather than profit-driven. While profit-driven projects base their success on the bottom line, vision-driven projects more often measure their success on whether the vision for the project was achieved. It is for this reason that a great amount of thought and care should go into defining what that vision will be – especially where various stakeholder interests are involved.

 
Process of Discovery
The purpose of the vision in creative placemaking projects is to set goals that are achievable; appeal to your internal needs and aspirations; appeal to a broader range of needs, constituencies, and interests; build on the cultural and creative assets of your community; and that have a multi-dimensional impact. This can make developing an effective and compelling project vision seem like a rather daunting task. It is important to remember, then, that developing a vision is intended to be an iterative process. The vision will most likely evolve from its original manifestation as different stakeholders and research findings begin to inform its development. Think of it as a process of discovery! From discovering the opportunity to creating a business plan, the vision will take form at every stage in the process.
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Discovering the Opportunity
Before you begin to write your project vision, there are a number of steps that you can take to ensure that your vision is more than just a great idea. Taking the time to research and plan a project vision so that it has a strong foundation and is compelling for potential stakeholders is crucial to the success of the project. 

 
Identifying the Project Drivers
A good place to start the process of discovery is by identifying the project drivers. Every project has its own unique social, cultural, political, geographical and strategic contexts. By identifying the imperatives driving the project, you can start to understand what those contexts are, what the opportunities are and how to begin leveraging those opportunities.  
 
At times the impetus for the development of a cultural facility project will be space- or site-specific:
 
  • A space in search of a use
  • A response to crisis or major change
  • A response to a perceived need
  • A group in search of a space
  • An historic landmark needing to be saved
  • A development in search of an arts component
Click here to read more about this and other factors influencing site selection in What Should I Consider when Selecting a Site?

 
Understanding Your Needs
Throughout the course of the project, the vision is an excellent tool to help make decisions that are in line with the original project goals. While the project goals will likely serve a variety of stakeholder needs, first and foremost it is crucial that the vision for the project is consistent with your organization’s strategic plan. Consider whether the opportunity will fulfill the goals of your organization and whether the opportunity will add value to your organization. At Artscape, we monitor the “fit” with organizational objectives and assess the project’s chance of being realized throughout the pre-project development phase using a criteria for success matrix. 
 
Click here to read How Do I Know if a Project is Right for My Organization? and to download a New Project Assessment Matrix Template.
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Understanding How Your Needs Intersect with the Needs and Interests of Others
Once you have ensured that the project goals are aligned with your own organizational goals, it’s time to start identifying potential stakeholders for your project. Stakeholders are all those who need to be considered in achieving project goals and whose participation and support are crucial to its success. It is important to note that stakeholders are not only those with a positive interest in the project, but anyone who may negatively impact the project as well. Therefore, early identification of all potential stakeholders will limit any surprises you may encounter down the road and is crucial for ensuring project success
 
Most importantly, from the outset you will need to ensure that the evolving project vision responds to the particular identity, assets, resources and needs of the community it serves and reflects the particular economic, social and environmental realities of each neighbourhood. 
 
There are a number of ways to identify and engage potential stakeholders. Some of the tools that Artscape uses to engage stakeholders are: Cultural Asset Mapping, Vision Charrettes, Community Meetings and a Requests for Expressions of Interest (REOIs).
 
Click here to read more about Community Engagement.
Click here to read more about Requests for Expressions of Interest.

 
Developing a Compelling Project Narrative
Now that you have done all of the necessary research, you can begin to draft a preliminary vision statement. Here are some points to keep in mind in order to write a compelling vision:
 
  • Consolidate and synthesize the research. For the vision to have any power, it must consolidate ideas from the research and consultations with project stakeholders (i.e. the vision charrette, the REOI, and the cultural asset mapping) so that it communicates a shared vision. 
  • Identify a problem that needs to be solved. For a vision to be compelling there must be a problem that needs to be solved. By providing a clear understanding of the opportunity that exists to address the problem, as well as a solid plan for how the project will do so, the vision is more likely to garner attention and stimulate inspiration. 
  • Design for a multidimensional impact. Succeeding with a vision-driven project is only possible if that vision is shared by all stakeholders and project partners. Achieving a shared vision means meeting a variety of needs and interests. When addressing how the vision will solve a problem, consider how your needs intersect with the needs of others, and how that can translate into a multidimensional, or diverse impact for the project. Some sectors to consider including in the project vision are: arts, community, environment, youth, diverse populations, local, regional, international, market, rent geared to income (RGI), and below-market renters.
  • Clearly communicate the goals for the project. A good vision will provide answers to the core questions that individuals have about the project and will provide a tool for making decisions in the future. The completed preliminary vision statement should signal an end to the planning phase and inspire everyone involved to prepare for the next phase with the confidence that the project can succeed. By defining the goals clearly upfront, a plan may be put in place to move forward on the project.
     
Testing and Refining the Project Vision
It’s important to remember when drafting your preliminary vision statement that it will likely evolve throughout the course of the project. Understandably, you’ll want your vision to be as fully formed as possible at the outset, but further analysis, design and building restrictions, as well as operational setbacks, are liable to impact the vision for the project. 
 
As you move towards more detailed analysis and planning for the project, a number of tools will allow you to test and refine the project vision. A preliminary project feasibility study, especially if conducted in the early stages of pre-project development, will serve to test the project vision. Sometimes, it may require some refinement as a result of market testing, an assessment of available capital funding or proposed operational models, for example. An architectural feasibility study may identify as-yet-unforeseen spatial and technical challenges, opportunities and costs which, again, may mean that the vision needs to be adjusted. 
 
However, when the results of the project feasibility study are positive, the next step is to create a business plan which describes exactly how you intend to achieve your goals and realize your vision. The business plan will guide the decision-making processes through the design and development process and will create a framework for dealing with the inevitable unforeseen circumstances and challenges that lie ahead.
 
Once under development you will be ready to select tenants in preparation for the transition to operations. Your tenants and, if relevant, your own programming, will bring the project to life. At Artscape we increasingly include project specific selection criteria in our Call for Proposal documents. This allows our tenant selection process to identify individuals and organizations who are a good fit with the vision and who can clearly identify how, as tenants, they would help to animate the project.   
 
Click here to read more about Feasibility Studies and to download a Feasibility Study Template.
Click here to read about Tenant Selection and to download a Call for Proposals Template.
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