Vision or mission statement?

People and places; distributed and owned

I’ve written before about the importance of mission statements.

Something I see regularly is confusion between ‘vision’ and ‘mission’ statements.

A definition:

Vision: What we want to achieve. Setting out an ideal future state eg. what will the council of the future and local services look like?

Mission: How we set out this vision so people can help us achieve it. How we plan to deliver and manage change eg. how we intend to design and deliver the council of the future.

I then think about these on different levels.

People and places

Firstly, people and place-based vision.

This is the vision for a region or city; thinking broadly about people, economic, work and health outcomes eg. this is where the focus should be when we talk about ‘smart cities’ (people and place-based outcomes supported by emerging ‘smart’ technologies).

I think it makes most sense to start with a clear and usable ‘people and places’ based vision if your focus is transformation and digital (or, to put it differently, transformation in response to emerging technologies and the shifting expectations of service users because of technology).

Starting here makes us ask important questions about the types of organisations we need to design as part of a much bigger vision for a place and in support of people and communities. In local government, it forces conversations around the role of a council and the local authority in future public service provision and community support .

Ideally, a vision can start this big while still remaining service-oriented ie. focussed on understanding and meeting user needs in the places where we live and work.


At a service level I think this is then more about setting out a clear mission for organisations and teams.

A mission is the vision distributed and owned by people.

This is the direction that delivers the transformation and delivery of future services. In local government this means service areas like adult social care, transport and housing.

At a service level you might also find it useful to define a vision for these types of service areas, but I’ve found that the wider context of people and places makes for more useful conversations and future planning.

Next steps

With any ‘vision’ and ‘mission’ statements the real question is how well they help make real change happen.

Making your future vision and the mission statements you set out measurable is as important as the language you use and how they’re communicated to a wider audience.

A useful and usable vision and clearly articulated mission statement(s) should ideally be part of every digital strategy.

If you want to fundamentally rethink how organisations and services work, and reimagine what the future of services could look like, start with people and places.

This raises challenging questions. For example, it’s extremely hard to work on the transformation of a government service without first questioning the role of policy and the role of government.

The direction you set will always demand context, so that’s the best place to start.

Further reading: Melanie Cannon has written a guide that includes how to write a clear mission statement.

This blog post is also published on Medium.

Ben Holliday is an experienced designer, leader, writer and speaker. This is his blog (started in 2005). You can follow all of Ben's blog posts by subscribing to the RSS feed, or follow him on Twitter for more regular updates.