Participatory methods

Vision Factory


A Vision Factory is a combination of World Cafés for the future development of complex topics, e.g. urban development or restructuring of companies. It starts with several target group specific World Cafés in order to consider their specific requirements and opinions related to the topic of interest. Target groups are e.g. specific population groups living in a city (seniors, migrants, children…) or departments of a company. Based on the results of these World Cafés, guiding questions for the “main event” (Vision Factory) are defined.

For this event, representatives from all target groups are invited to discuss about the topic under consideration of the specific requirements.

Result is a vision of the future for the respective topic with a longer time horizon (5-20 years).



After the definition of the purpose, the target groups have to be determined. In this context, you also have to decide on a maximum number of participants for both the target group specific events and the main event. The former ones should have 10-20 participants, the latter one up to 100. The implementation of target group specific events should consider the respective characteristics of the groups (e.g. larger font sizes and easy to understand explanations for seniors, English language for migrants having problems with the national language…).

Consider different communication channels to invite target groups (e.g. letter invitation to seniors, Social Media for children…). Keep in mind that there could be potential for conflict between different target groups at the main event.



See “Resources needed” for the method World Café.

Since the number of participants of target group specific events is low, only 1-2 discussion tables and corresponding resources are necessary.




Facilitator should be a department or organization with know-how and experiences in organizing and moderating workshops, dealing with different target groups and analyzing/interpreting the results of a World Café. Social scientists are very well suited for such events. The moderation of the event is crucial. It is recommended to charge a professional moderator (as the café host) with the overall moderation of the events (World Cafés + Vision Factory).


Pay early attention to the reason for organizing the Vision Factory. Based on this, you can decide which kind of target groups are relevant and which parameters are important to achieve your desired result of the method. It is very important to find and frame topics or questions that matter to the identified target groups. The Vision Factory conversations are about discovering and exploring powerful topics/questions. Usually you have to deal with a complex topic. Thus you may split it in sub-topics. To each sub-topic you assign one discussion table at the main event. Define also what kind of results you want to receive from the method. This has impact on the definition of guiding questions for the target group specific events.


Regarding the timeline you should plan with 3-6 months for the implementation of the method. During this duration, the target group specific World Cafés and the Vision Factory have to be implemented. For the organization of a single event please refer to the method World Café regarding timeline and logistics. The difference of the Vision Factory compared to the single World Cafés is the longer duration (4-6 hours). Depending on the target groups and the organizer, the Vision Factory should be planned for a Saturday or Sunday.


Provide a kind of guidelines/screenplay for the moderator(s) and table hosts. Also templates for documenting the discussions are helpful. Define guiding questions for the participants to support a logical progression of discovery throughout several discourse rounds. Well-defined questions focus the attention of participants to what really matters. Open-ended questions are recommended. Good questions should invite inquiry and discovery rather than advocacy and advantage. They need not to imply immediate action steps or problem solving. A question is a good question if it continues to surface new ideas and insights. A powerful question is simple, clear and thought provoking, focuses inquiry, surfaces unconscious assumptions, opens new possibilities.


The invitations for the events have to be formulated. Name your Vision Factory in a way appropriate to its purpose. Give a brief summary to potential participants about reason for the respective event, target(s) and why they should participate, followed by date and location. If necessary, adapt the invitation text to different target groups. Invitation should be sent out 4-6 weeks before an event. A reminder to registered participants should be distributed 1 week before an event. Use appropriate channels for the invitation (e.g. Social Media, letter invitations, email invitations). The organization that initiated the Vision Factory should also invite (e.g. municipality, company…). This may differ from the organization that actually runs the workshops (e.g. service provider).


See “Create the Environment” for the method World Café. Since the number of participants of target group specific events is low, only 1-2 discussion tables and corresponding resources are necessary.



For the realization of the target group specific World Cafés see the section “Realization” of the method World Café.

In contrast to the method World Café, participants of the main event could choose their main (sub-) topic of interest when registering for participation. At the beginning of the main event, the participants are allocated to the discussion tables with the chosen topic. Participants do not change the table topic but stay at “their” topic for the complete event. Guiding questions resulting from the target group specific World Cafés are shown (related to the specific table topic) written on cards at the table. Each table has a co-moderator from the organizer (no table host from the participants).

The Vision Factory starts with a welcome from the organizer and an introduction by the moderator to the participants.

In the first round (ca. 30 minutes), the requirements of the topic are discussed at each table. The goal is a poster with clustered requirements and challenges related to the table topic. This is the starting point and basis for the development of the vision. Participants discuss and write down the requirements and challenges. The co-moderator of the table explains the task, moderates the discussion and clusters the written input.

In the second round (ca. 1 hour), the participants make a journey into the future. They discuss and write down imaginations and concrete ideas about the ideal state in the topic area. The achieved future will be illustrated by examples. The participants should agree on 3 to max. 5 key messages (vision cores). These vision cores summarize the ideas and stand as guiding themes above them. If necessary, participants may use glue dots for prioritization.

In the next round (ca. 1 hour), the visions are concretized and visualized by the participants. The participants transfer the vision cores to a table poster. They discuss how these  participants transfer the vision cores to a table poster. They discuss how these visions could be achieved. The participants then make a selection for further processing, regarding the most important points and actions. On the table poster, they should clarify the areas where they want to visualize something. Then the participants should divide into (two / three) groups. Each group takes on a specific visualization task (by handicrafts, drawings…). Then they prepare the results for plenary presentation and discussion and select a participant to do so. The result is a large table poster / collage with the vision cores, on which the most important points and actions for the subject area are to be seen, with reference to which needs / wishes are met here as well. Possibly also connections between these actions, points of conflict and first recommendations for action (in the sense of a back casting, i.e. based on the desired future condition, think of ways and instruments that could lead there).

Afterwards, during a larger break (ca. 1 hour), participants can visit other topic tables, have a look at the clustered ideas and vision cores and leave comments via post-its.

After the break, a plenary presentation and discussion of the tables´ results takes place (ca. 2 hours). The discussion covers the identification of special features, overlaps and synergy potentials as well as potential points of conflict. In addition, further suggestions, concerns and criticisms should be collected. The participants should also comment on how they would contribute to achieve the vision cores.

At the end of the event, the moderator gives an outlook on what will happen to the results and what the future course of the project looks like.



For each event: Documentation via photos of all drawings and writings on writable tablecloths and of post-its on the flipcharts. Participants can place large post-its with a single insight on each on a black board, wall etc. at each table. The table hosts may group insights from the post-its of their tables into “affinity clusters” so that related ideas are visible. Also possible: to place a person at each table who logs the discussion history and results in a document.

Since the number of participants of target group specific events is low, only 1-2 discussion tables are necessary. The group conversations at the main event may also be captured by a graphic recorder who draws the ideas on flip charts or a wall mural rising text and graphics to illustrate the patterns of conversation.



This method has been developed in the context of a German project and has been used only one time (for this project in 2015). No further literature, guidelines or manuals are publicly available.


SHOWCASE Vision Factory

Multidisciplinary Science Center, VAS COUNTY