VOW Vision Plan: A Community-led Approach To Amplifying Unheard Voices

The past two years have been a time of reflection and transition within Voice of Witness (VOW) as we approached the end of our five-year vision plan. Entering 2022, we wished to explore equity and community-driven processes more deeply.

VOW engaged in a nine-month vision planning process, taking a deep look at our programs, operations, and culture. The new Vision Plan will serve as our guide over the next four years, and we’re excited to share a few highlights below.

Refreshing VOW’s Theory of Change

Social justice cannot be achieved when the firsthand perspectives of people marginalized by systems of oppression are decentered or missing from mainstream narratives, or are gathered through unethical, extractive processes.

We updated our Theory of Change to clarify these primary challenges that the organization addresses, as well as our areas of focus and key strategies for achieving our targeted outcomes.

VOW theory of change


Programming: From a product-oriented approach to a values-oriented and community-led approach

In 2020, what began as a simple act of checking in with VOW narrators revealed experiences that were not being reflected in media coverage of the pandemic. This evolved into the Unheard Voices of the Pandemic project, which brought these urgent stories from the margins into the mainstream. Being responsive to community needs without the constraints of our typical oral history book production cycle created space and freedom to reconceptualize our processes for developing new projects.

With this new Vision Plan, we recognize an opportunity to formalize and further prioritize structures that are relationship and journey-oriented rather than product-oriented. We commit to ensuring processes are community-driven and place narrators and community partners at the center of our work even more deeply and proactively, from conception to completion. These shifts include:

  • An exploratory year facilitating a series of meetings and deep listening convenings with our community partners to identify the urgent stories that they feel must be lifted up
  • Responding to partners’ needs on a collaborative timeline and creating space for more flexible storytelling project formats in addition to print books
  • Building in time and space for community-based organizations, practitioners, and educators to lead on project development upfront, throughout, and during post-launch advocacy
  • Creating more accessible project-based lesson plans, as well as Ethnic Studies resources, to respond to the growing needs of classrooms seeking these materials

These shifts will also lead to more timely and effective programming; by focusing on the issues and stories narrator communities identify as most pressing, the resulting projects will be more impactful.

Organizational Care

The impacts of the pandemic catalyzed necessary conversations around how we care for ourselves and each other. We identified the need for more structure and support for staff members, through increased mental health, wellness, and professional development resources while creating clear protocols for setting boundaries. We will continue to iterate on recently developed resources, including individual staff well-being plans and our BIPOC Crisis Response and Care Protocol.

VOW will also update our performance management and review system and formalize ways to increase collaboration, collective feedback, accountability, and transparency across teams.

Making Learning Visible

Over the next few years, VOW will engage in an inquiry process to reflect on how the organization is progressing on our vision, mission, values, and new theory of change.

In 2022-2023, we’ll undertake a program evaluation of current practices and identify updated metrics connected to our theory of change outcomes. In addition, the organization will begin a brand strategy and website redesign process to provide us with a set of tools for better connecting with our audiences and improving accessibility.

Fueling Our Vision and Growth
VOW vision plan

VOW will add new staff positions to deepen programmatic capacity across the editorial program, education program, community partnerships, and communications. We are also planning for the creation of a Community Story Project Fellowship.

To achieve our vision, we’re embarking on a growth campaign to raise $5.7 million by 2026 as part of this vision plan. These investments will ensure that our organization continues to grow at sustainable but ambitious levels, thereby deepening our impact in our work to center and amplify unheard voices.

While news of injustice regularly floods the mainstream media, so rarely do we get to hear from the people most impacted. There are so many stories that need telling, so many people that need to hear them, and so many students from historically excluded communities—our next generation of leaders and changemakers—who crave to see themselves reflected in their learning.

VOW’s work serves as an essential storytelling tool in the broader ecosystem of human rights, creating opportunities with communities to heal and strengthen through the oral history process, and forging space for these voices to be heard as a part of efforts to dismantle systems of oppression.

Voice of Witness is ready to make a deeper impact, but we can only do it with your help. Join us today!

Donate here or reach out to kathleen@voiceofwitness.org to start a conversation.

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