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Establishing a Vision and Mission



Establishing a Vision and Mission is a process of coming together to set direction and focus for the group's efforts. Participating in this process helps a group begin with the end in mind, and to stay focused on the results for which they are aiming. Establishing a vision - a statement of your dream or ideal conditions - and a mission - what you do and why - provides shared language and common purpose for targeted action and intervention.

Establishing a Vision and Mission is a key process to help groups assess, prioritize, and plan for change.


Clarifying a group's common interests -- its vision, mission, values, and principles -- is a process that builds a solid foundation for working together. It enables a group to describe why the effort matters and how it fits within a larger context. This process focuses on creating a sense of common purpose and synergy to bind people together for addressing their goals (Bergstrom, Clark, Hogue, Iyechad, Miller, Mullens, et al., 1995).

Although the functional mechanisms are not well-established, establishing a shared vision and mission may help to:

  • Generate common purpose, support and awareness for the effort (Fawcett, Francisco, Paine-Andrews, & Schultz, 2000; Hogan & Murphey, 2002; Holder & Reynolds, 1997).
  • Define what groups hope to accomplish by beginning with the end in mind (Hogan & Murphey, 2002; Shortell et al., 2002). By contrast, many well-intentioned but isolated initiatives are undertaken without a framework for understanding their contribution to an overall vision for change.
  • Generate and sustain community participation (Gottlieb, Brink, Gingiss, & 1993; Kegler, Steckler, McLeroy, & Malek, 1998; Kumpfer, Turner, Hopkins, & Librett, 1993; Mattessich & Monsey, 1997; Rogers, Howard-Pitney, Feighery, Altman, Endres, & Roeseler, 1993).
  • Reduce conflicting agendas and opposition (Fawcett, 1999; Foster-Fishman, Berkowitz, Lounsbury, Jacobson, & Allen, 2001; Herman, Wolfson, & Forster, 1993).
  • Identify allies (Johnston, Marmet, Coen, Fawcett, & Harris, 1996; Mattessich & Monsey, 1992), and
  • Minimize time costs and distractions from appropriate action (Hogan & Murphey, 2002; Nezlek & Galano, 1993; Shortell et al., 2002). By first identifying outcomes and then referring to them regularly when things get "off course," the effort stays more focused and more vital. Orienting the group to a shared vision and mission, rather than simply on rules and regulations, helps it focus on "the results we all seek."

In addition, periodic renewal of the vision and mission, such as an annual review, may help a partnership adapt to emerging community concerns and create opportunities to address them (Bibeau, Howell, Rife, & Taylor, 1996).


Several studies with collaborative initiatives suggest the importance of community participation and clarifying a specific focus for the effort. For example, in one study of 10 local North Carolina Project ASSIST coalitions targeting smoking prevention, researchers reported that the process of articulating a vision for the coalition was an important factor associated with project implementation. Investigators conducted interviews, observations, document reviews, and surveys of staff and coalition members. Data indicated that coalitions for which the vision was specified had higher levels of implementation than coalitions that were lacking a local vision (e.g., less than 5 versus more than 10 prevention activities per year). By contrast, staff-dominated coalitions where members did not seem to share a vision generally had medium levels of implementation. Coalitions dependent on state-level staff for direction and leadership had the lowest levels of implementation (Kegler, Steckler, Malek, & McLeroy, 1998).

Similarly, initiatives that define a clear and specific focus (e.g., increasing childhood immunizations) bring about much higher rates of change than diffuse efforts that lack specific mission (Fawcett, Francisco, Paine-Andrews, & Schultz, 2000). For example, a comparative study with five coalitions in Massachusetts found that collaborative partnerships with a targeted mission (e.g., to reduce adolescent pregnancy) facilitated five- to six-fold higher rates of community change than initiatives with no particular focus or targeted mission (Francisco, Fawcett, Wolff, & Foster, unpublished data).

In addition, several studies of community-driven initiatives that lacked specific direction suggested the need for such focus. For example, from 1987 to 1992, the Kaiser Family Foundation funded 22 U.S. sites to mobilize communities broadly around health promotion and disease prevention issues such as substance use, teen pregnancy, heart disease, cancer, and injury prevention (Wagner et al., 1991). After five years of a range of activities to address such diverse outcomes, investigators found little evidence of positive changes resulting from interventions (Shortell, 2000; Wagner et al., 2000).The vision and mission may have been too broad for bringing about targeted changes in behaviors or particular health outcomes (e.g., Shortell). As a result, community attempts to target so many issues may have resulted in a diluted intervention that was unable to move population-level outcomes. Accordingly, research suggests the value of including establishing a shared vision and mission as part of a memorandum of collaboration for improvement efforts (Fawcett, Francisco, Paine-Andrews, & Schultz, 2000).


At present, much of the information available on Establishing a Vision and Mission does not explicitly manipulate or test this process and its effects on community change and improvement. Although this process has been identified in several empirical and experiential reviews as a key ingredient for advancing change, there is a need for more systematic evaluations of its effects. Such research would provide a better understanding of the factors that enable communities to come together and address shared problems and goals.

Some key questions for further research include: (a) What kinds of technical assistance activities are effective for helping a group clarify its vision and mission? (b) How can mission statements be geared to address needs of specific sub-groups who may present cultural or other contextual differences? And (c) Under what conditions does establishing vision and mission advance community change (e.g., project activities may not be guided by expressions of value and purpose)?


Based on research and experience, we recommend Establishing a Vision and Mission as a key process to advance community change and improvement.