Path (Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope), is a planning tool that makes team members start by imagining and detailing the future to which the person in question aspires. The team then works backwards to arrive at what they believe should be the first steps to achieve the imagined future. It is a very results-oriented process, excellent for team building and has been used to mediate conflicts.

The PATH planning tool has its origins in the work of Jack Pearpoint and Marsha Forest, who first developed it in 1992 (Abbott, 2000).

The PATH planning tool can be used in a variety of contexts. It is used for person-centered planning by individuals. In organizations and companies it can be used as a strategic planning tool. Within communities, it can be used to support community development work.

A unique aspect of this tool are the visual images that are created along with a facilitation process that seeks to clarify and create a positive and hopeful “pull” towards an aspirational place: the future with clear and measurable objectives.

PATH and MAP (Making Action Plans)

According to Agnew et al (2004), PATH and MAP are techniques used by psychology and therapeutic services to work for a better future for people.

The research-based creative planning tools, PATH and MAP (Pearpoint, O’Brien Forest, 1993) are led by two trained facilitators who use process and graphics facilitation to create a shared vision of a positive future for individuals, families, teams and entire organizations.

PATH is a positive process that always looks forward, it is based on people’s ability to visualize positive futures and to plan backwards from a vision of the future or a dream. It enables focused listening, creative thinking, goal setting, and building partnerships.

MAP differs from PATH in that it allows you to tell the story of a person or team first, before drawing a line around it to represent the contention of the past and start thinking about the future. This process then listens to dreams, recognizes nightmares, and lists the gifts and strengths already present that can be harnessed in the action plan.

These tools can be used with teams or individuals of any age where it is necessary to plan for the future and think together about a certain challenge or issue, such as in times of transition and in review meetings.

The PATH: Realizing Life’s Opportunities

Dreams come to life with PATH, a person-centered tool used to develop better mornings. A plan for the future created through the PATH process is more than just a plan: PATH is an ongoing problem-solving process that is based on a small group of people who come together to support each other, brainstorm, and strategize.

  • Objectives are defined to identify hopes and dreams and to avoid worst-case scenarios.
  • The community chosen by the person is cultivated as a circle of support to ensure progress.
  • The role of staff, family and other team members is to enable and assist the individual in identifying and accessing a unique combination of paid and unpaid services to meet their needs.
  • It is also to provide support during planning and implementation.

Benefits of the PATH planning process

Participants find the following benefits when participating in a PATH planning process:

  • Creates a common understanding and support for a group or individual
  • Mediate in the conflicts of people who want to change the way they work
  • Launch a project or program
  • Tangible product that can motivate future actions

Understanding the PATH Process

The process ideally involves two facilitators: one to graphically illustrate the group’s thinking; the other to graphically represent the thought of the individual or group in each part of the process.

Facilitators guide the group to explore the short-term vision and goals, and then identify who will support them in realizing the goals and action steps to achieve them. The group or individual receives a visual and colorful record of the ideas that emerge from the process for future reference. This process can be followed up with a more thorough strategic planning process some time later.

The PATH process consists of 7 steps and it is as if the facilitators put seven different types of “containers” in front of the group and asked them to fill them out one by one. A typical PATH usually involves a group of between 5 and 10 people consisting of the scout (or target person) and his or her family, friends, and other professionals and support workers who know the target person well. A PATH lasts between 90 minutes and 2 hours (possibly longer with larger groups). Each step of the PATH process is associated with a particular conversation.

The 7 steps of the PATH Process

According to Abbott (1999), the 7 steps of the process are:

Creating the Dream – The Path

he begins by asking the explorer to think about what a good life would look like for him, what does it matter most to him when he thinks about his future? Other members of the group will be asked to base themselves on the vision and say what kind of future they would like to see for the browser. this is the longest step and sets the address for the rest of the path

One year from now – “Positive and possible”

In this step the facilitators ask the group to imagine that a year has passed since they created the vision. The conversation in step 2 is to look back on the “last year” and remember what has been accomplished in this time toward vision. This is a more realistic and more well-founded step: we are no longer dreaming. – All the stories and memories heard in this step should be possible (could have actually happened) and positive (we are only remembering the good times). Step 2 aims to give the group a better idea of what it might be like if they were really on the road to sleep.

Land on the Now

This step is intended to create a tension between the vision of a possible positive future and where the explorer is in relation to that future. The facilitators will ask you to talk about the facts and figures of the now. It’s a conversation about the starting point of the group.

The remaining steps now focus on the different types of actions needed to bring the positive future closer together.

Who we need on the trip

In this step the group is asked “who will we need with us on the journey?” into the positive future – it is an opportunity for the explorer to invite those present to sign up for their future, as well as to commit to that future. Facilitators will also ask the group if there is anyone who is not present and should be invited to join the group in the future, and names that are left will be registered for future invitations.

What is needed

In this step, the group is asked to identify and talk about what they will need to do (and not do) to stay focused on the path ahead, naming the skills and abilities they already have and can put into practice, as well as the knowledge and relationship skills they will need to develop.


This last step causes the group to identify the next steps, both large and small, that can be named now. The focus will move between the things that can be done tomorrow and those that can be accomplished in a week or a month. The facilitator will press for the specify of who, what, where and when the actions will take place. It will also be agreed when progress will be reviewed.

The PATH process ends with a round of words and reflections from the group on the work they have just done together and the finished PATH is photographed, removed from the wall, rolled up and presented to the explorer.

Unique Aspects of the Process

According to Agnew et al (2004), the Circle of Support is a term used to refer to a group of people who are connected to a PATH finder in some way and who are willing to contribute to the success of the PATH finder. These people can be family, friends, co-workers/volunteers, supervisors, teachers, neighbors, church friends, club or sports friends – anyone who knows the PATH seeker and wants to support him in his desire to move his life forward!

Backward planning is the term we use to refer to the fact that we first dream in the PATH process and then find out what the necessary steps are to achieve sleep. It’s smarter to know where you’re going before packing your bags for the trip.

Graphic illustration is the art of visually capturing key concepts, making connections between information, and providing an overall picture of the PATH process. Graphic illustration or recording helps to give visual meaning to the information, allowing participants to process and reflect on the meaning of their collective experience

  • Illustrates the different ideas, agreements and perspectives to put together a complete plan in a powerful way
  • Focuses the group’s discussions by highlighting key concepts and showing agreements and actions
  • It records data in a visual way that allows people to see the process far beyond the event
  • Captures a visual representation of the PATH finder “dream”
  • Creates a record of the planning process that reflects relevant information, participants, and results

Results of Road Planning

Creating or improving the future vision for the PATH applicant and their circle of support

Discovering additional ways to successfully include the PATH Finder in your natural and preferred communities

Increasing the quality of life of the PATH applicant through choice and empowerment

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Bibliographic References

Abbott M, Volberg R. 1999. Gambling and Problem Gambling in the Community: An international overview and critique. Wellington: Department of Internal Affairs.

Abbott M, Volberg R. 2000. Taking the Pulse on Gambling and Problem Gambling in New Zealand: A report on phase one of the 1999 National Prevalence Survey. Wellington: Department of Internal Affairs.

Agnew F, Pulotu-Endemann FK, Suaalii-Sauni T, Warren H, Wheeler A, Erick M, Hingano T Schmidt-Sopoaga H. Pacific models of mental health service delivery in New Zealand Health Research Council of New Zealand, 2004

You may also like: Pacific Health Models Applied to Personal Well-Being

PATH - Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope

PATH – Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope. Photo: Unsplash. Credits: Brooke Cagle

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