Like many other local communities in the early 21st century, the greater Eau Claire area of Wisconsin faced growing financial pressures and public service challenges that were compounded by local institutions that were increasingly narrow in scope and operating in silos. Local community governance and public problem-solving was detached from everyday people, with limited public roles for residents, and diminished capacities of communities to act collectively.
In March 2007, an ad hoc group of civic leaders from the government, business, education, and nonprofit sectors convened a meeting to discuss how the greater community could work together more effectively. Partnering with the National Civic League, a multisector collaboration was formed to fund, design, and implement an inclusive, citizen-centered approach to community visioning and strategic planning. Over 500 diverse community stakeholders were invited to participate in a visioning process with a mission “to engage our community for the common good.” Centering on the twin concepts of building civic problem-solving skills and embedding organizational collaboration, stakeholders prepared a Clear Vision Community Report and Plan in July 2008 that identified 125 action strategies for the future of the greater Eau Claire community.
Recognizing that system wide problems yield only to engagement and collaboration, Clear Vision operates on the premise that effective local democracy begins with conversations people have about the common good and the choices they make about the kind of community they want. Using a civic organizing framework developed in partnership with the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College, Clear Vision expands the community capacity for effective participatory citizenship and collaborative institutional decision-making by government, business, and civil society.
Central to the Clear Vision model is an approach to dialogue and problem-solving that draws on core concepts (public life, power, public relationships, diversity, self-interest) and core civic skills (values, house dialogues, one-to-one relational meetings, power mapping, public evaluation, action planning) that empower people to reclaim active public lives and accomplish more effective public problem-solving.
In 2010, Clear Vision incorporated as a 501[c]3 nonprofit organization with a board of directors comprised of diverse community membership with a purpose of convening, nurturing, and supporting community problem-solving and engagement. Its aspiration is to become an international model for 21st-century civic action and local democracy.
Civic work groups using the Clear Vision approach have been successful in addressing issues of capital funding, community services, environmental education, community gardens, bicycle safety, and most recently, approval of a $50 million downtown revitalization project supported by two public referenda.