Which picture describes your current situation?

"Don't just sit there, do something!"

John O’Brien, Jack Pearpoint & Lynda Kahn 2010

Handout - PATH

by Stefan Doose

What is PATH?

PATH is a planning process with a support group for people who have an idea of ​​how the situation should be in the future, but who still need to clarify how they can achieve their project. The PATH process starts with the common values ​​and visions of the planning person and their support group, draws a desirable future, describes the current situation and then looks for supporters and ways to strengthen the path, describes important intermediate steps and ends with a concrete action plan for the next month. The PATH process can be used for individuals, families, projects and organizations.
PATH was developed by Jack Pearpoint, John O‘Brien and Marscha Forrest in the USA in the early 1990s. PATH was initially an abbreviation for "Planning Alternatives Tomorrows with Hope" - loosely translated as "planning another tomorrow with hope", but is now only used in the short form by the authors. The English word "path" also means way. PATH comprises 8 steps that are graphically recorded on a large poster:

What are the steps in PATH?

Welcome and Introduction

The person planning the meeting or a trusted person opens the meeting by warmly greeting the participants in the support group and briefly explaining the occasion and the objective of the PATH process.
Each person in the support group introduces themselves and answers the question: "Why is it important to me to be here today?"
The person who moderates (the moderator) and the person who draws, paints and writes (the draftsman) introduce themselves and explain their role and the course of the process as well as the PATH discussion rules .

1 »Locate the North Star

The personal north star describes what guides the person planning in life, their values, goals and ideals. The image of the North Star describes a point of orientation that seafarers and explorers used to travel further in the right direction on rough seas or in confusing terrain.
This step gives the support group the space to see and hear what is important to the planning person in life. The moderator sits down next to the person planning and explores the North Star with her. For example, the following questions can help:

"What is most important to you in your life?"
"What values ​​and ideals do you want to pursue?"
"What does a good life mean to you?"
"What drives you, deep down inside you?"
"What positive difference would you like to make in the life of other people, for your family, your place, your country or the world?"
"What should people remember about you when you are no longer there?"
"What gives you energy and orientation again when you are discouraged and feel lost?"


You should take your time for this step. Usually this is a phase in which the person planning is developing their thoughts and the support group listens quietly and attentively. The planning person can also get a trusted person for support and ask the support group for suggestions. The draftsman paints and writes, makes notes on a sketch sheet next to the poster. When the person planning is done with their narration, the draftsman summarizes the most important topics and asks:

"What is the most important thing about your North Star?"

The draftsman now develops a picture for the north star with the person planning on the poster. The planning person is involved as much as possible and maybe even paints with: What exactly does it look like? Can you paint that? "Keywords can be added to the pictures. Sometimes very impressive pictures are very simple.
At the end of this phase, the moderator asks the support group for appreciative feedback. It is not about criticizing the planning person's ideas or making suggestions for improvement.

2 »Create the vision of a positive, possible future

"What exactly will it look like if the person planning leads a good and satisfying life that corresponds to their values ​​and ideals in the North Star and allows the community to participate even better in their gifts?"


This step is about creating a vivid picture of the possibilities that the support group and the person planning can create over the next one to two years. The image of this positive and possible future should be so vivid that you can hear, smell, taste, touch, feel what it will be like.
That is why you travel with a time machine into the near future in one to two years and then describe in the present tense which positive changes have become possible thanks to the hard work of the planning person and the support group, what makes the current situation so satisfactory and what the most important ones Success factors and steps were to get there.

"If life has no vision that you long for, that you want to realize, then there is no motive to make an effort."

Erich Fromm

This picture of the positive and possible future should be an invitation to discovery and action for those involved. It doesn't have to be a construction drawing with the smallest details. As the future plan becomes reality, the final form will be shaped by unexpected things in both positive and problematic ways. However, it is astonishing what pull images of a positive future have and how much of what has been planned together is often achieved.
The moderator, the draftsman and the person planning go to the large target group. The draftsman writes "positive and possible" in the upper edge of the circle and asks the person planning when the situation should have changed. The planning period should be at least one year and generally no more than two years. This can be, for example, the point in time when a student has left school for some time and is completing a professional qualification. In adults, it can describe the point in time when someone found a new job or moved. The person then writes a specific date on the circle.
For example, the moderator says:

"It is now ... (Date) and ... (Name of the person planning) had a great year. We want to reflect on the significant changes that have happened. What's new and good in your life because you and your support group were guided by the North Star last year and worked hard? "


Starting and ending with the planning person, the moderator asks the support group what has changed. In this phase the person planning comes first, but then the support group can make further suggestions. Everything must be possible in a positive way and with human strength and match the north star of the person planning. Apparently contradicting points can also appear there. The planning person will then choose what is most important to them. In case of doubt, it also decides what should be recorded.
The draftsman clusters key terms and images that belong together in a circle, leaving the space in the middle free. The moderator helps the support group and asks about the details of the change and stimulates the senses: "What can people see, hear, feel or even smell that has changed positively."
After a number of possibilities have become visible, the moderator asks the support group to listen quietly and attentively again. She then asks the person planning to take a deep breath, look at everything, and then say which options seem most vivid and most important to her.
The draftsman and the person planning then work for a few minutes to create a suitable image for the changes in the center of the circle, which reflects the core of the positive changes for the person. If there is more than one change that is significant for the person making the plan, space can be created in the middle for up to three images. They should remind the person planning and the support group what is to be created.

"If you don't have a goal in mind, you can't get a path behind you"

Ernst Ferstl

3 »Describing the present

The moderator asks the person planning to carefully look at their images of the positive and possible future. If it fits, she can also touch them and tell them what it feels like to live in such a future. Then the moderator asks the person planning to go to the left together with the draftsman and take a journey back in time to the present.

"Change can only take place if we are aware of the current situation."

A person overwrites the first column with "Now" and today's date. The moderator briefly summarizes the vision of the desired future and then asks for a sketch of the present:

"You want a future in a year in which ...
If you want to go there, let's see where you start from today.
If we take a snapshot of the present: Where are you in relation to the vision of the future today? "


The planner begins and the other members of the support circle help to add more details and important points. This is a quick collection of important facts. The draftsman no longer paints detailed pictures, but simply lists points that may be supplemented with small notices.
At the end, the person planning can be asked whether they have a metaphor or an image for their current state and whether they feel the tension between the present and the desired future.

4 »Finding supporters

There can be no movement towards a positive future without the commitment of people. After the support group has seen the north star of the person, experienced the vision of a positive future for the person and felt the tension in the current situation, the personal question now arises as to who is actively involved in achieving the positive future for the planning person with his or her possibilities wants to participate.
The moderator invites the person planning to take a step back and look at the whole poster. She points to the empty space between the present and vision and says:

"Going from the present situation to your positive future vision will take some hard work and effort.
There will be good things and problematic things along the way.
You will have to convince other people to support you, but it is your future vision that you want to achieve. Are you ready for this journey? "


If the person planning says "Yes", they can choose a pen in the color of their choice and enter their name in the second column of the poster under "Supporters".
The moderator asks the planning person who from the support group they would like to have on this path to their positive future. She asks them to invite them one by one. Those who say "yes" take a colored pen and write it down. Any honest answer "yes", "no" or "I am not ready to make up my mind" is helpful for the process, as it is now a question of gaining clarity about the supporters for the process.
After the members of the support group have been invited to participate in the implementation of the plan, the moderator asks whether any people who are not present should still be invited to participate in this process. Your participation should be positive and appear possible. The draftsman notes their names and circles them.

5 »Develop strength

The way to realize the positive vision of the future will require strength. The planning person and the support group therefore consider in this step how they can strengthen themselves: What skills, resources and connections do they already have, which ones do they still need to develop?
The moderator invites the person planning to take a step back and look at the poster: the vision fed by the North Star, the current situation and the supporters. Now, with the help of the "Get stronger" poster, a short brainstorming session will be carried out with the entire support group to find out what skills and resources are already available in the respective areas and what is still needed. It is about the areas:

  • People and relationships: who do we know?
  • Organizations, clubs and groups: where do we belong? Where are we a member?
  • Know-how: What information, knowledge and skills do we have?
  • Systems: What can the existing systems do for us? What legal rights do we have?
  • Personal Energy and Health: What can we personally do to stay fit and strengthen ourselves?

Key words are briefly written down. After the brainstorming, a few key points are selected and entered on the PATH poster in the "Develop strengths" column.

"If we believe in our strength, we get stronger every day."

Mahatma Gandhi

6 »Find out the most important steps

The aim of this step is to consider what should be achieved in about half of the planned period in order to realize the vision of the future. The aim is to identify the two to three big steps that are crucial for success. They are supplemented with two to three actions each.
The moderator invites the person planning and the support group to go back on a journey through time:

"We are now back in the future time, about halfway to realizing our vision for the future, and things are going well.
There were ups and downs and we struggled with some difficulties, but we had a clear view of the North Star and had the courage to reflect on what really matters in our vision of the future.
We now want to look back with the support group halfway through and tell each other how we got this far. "


The moderator reminds you to rephrase the points in such a way that things have already happened and asks about the most important points that are responsible for good progress on the way to the goal. The person planning starts to talk, the support group adds, the draftsman makes notes on an extra sheet of paper.
After a number of points have been identified, the two to three most important points are selected and transferred to the poster. Some space is left between the points so that two to three related actions can be added at a time.

7 »Organize next month's work

The month after the first meeting is a critical period for the planning person and the support group. It is a matter of establishing the first detailed agreements among those involved, involving other people and obtaining information.
The planning person sits down in the circle of chairs again. The moderator asks:"What needs to be done before we meet again in about a month so we can get off to a good start on our vision for the future?"
The draftsman briefly repeats the notes from the "Developing Strength" section and the most important steps. Starting with the person making the plan, the support group identifies goals for the first month. It is important to explore new territory and to plan at least one step in the first steps that will bring the planning person into contact with new people and organizations.
Once a few goals have been identified, the facilitator asks the person planning which goal he or she would like to work on personally. Then the person planning asks who can support them. The goal and next to it the names are written on the poster. Now the members of the support group are asked whether they can offer the planning person to work on other goals and whether they want to do this together with someone. Offers that the planning person has accepted are written down and it is agreed how the planning person will be informed of the results. It doesn't depend on the set of goals. Two to three goals are usually enough. Unless there is a large, active support group.

8 »Agree on the next steps

The aim of the last step is to make agreements so that the planning person and the support group can immediately start implementing the future plan and start working together.
The moderator now asks each person in the support group to think about something they will be doing in the next 24 to 72 hours that could help them move a little closer to the vision of the future. This can be something small and simple, e.g. informing someone about the planning meeting or establishing a contact.
The planning person begins to consider which step to take first. The moderator asks if she would like to ask someone for support. She asks the person planning who should ask her how the first step went. The other support group members now make their offers and the person planning says whether they would like to accept the offer. The draftsman notes the actions in a table "what who is doing by when" under "next steps".


The moderator now asks to look at the PATH again and asks for suggestions for a title for the PATH. If a suitable suggestion comes up that pleases the planning person, it is written by the draftsman via the PATH.
Finally, the moderator asks all participants in the support group to give a brief appreciative feedback or a feeling about the PATH meeting. The draftsman notes these terms at the bottom. The planning person has the short final word.

What does PATH require?

PATH is an intensive planning process that requires an experienced person to moderate and a second person to draw, paint and write (graphic facilitator). The people should have familiarized themselves with the method in detail beforehand. The participants in the support group should be as open, appreciative and supportive as possible.
PATH lasts at least two and a half hours up to half a day.
The room should be large enough for the group and have at least 2.50 m long free wall space or partition for the poster and sketch sheets to the right and left of it. The chairs are in a semicircle around the poster.

More information and materials

PATH process - simply explained

Sources of this guide and in-depth literature in English

O’BRIEN, John, PEARPOINT, Jack & KAHN, Lynda (2010): The PATH & MAPS Handbook. Person-Centered Ways to Build Community. Toronto: Inclusion Press.

O’BRIEN, John / PEARPOINT, Jack (eds.) (2002): Person-centered planning with MAPS and PATH. A workbook for facilitators. Toronto: Inclusion Press.

You can find these and other methods of person-centered thinking in:

DOOSE, Stefan: "I want my dream!" Personal planning for the future. New perspectives and methods of person-centered planning with people with and without disabilities.

GÖBEL, Susanne (2014): "Point, point, comma, line - it will certainly be a picture!" Graphic representation as an important element of personal future planning. Mainz - Elements of it also in:

HINZ, Andreas; KRUSCHEL, Robert: Citizen-centered planning processes in support groups. Practical manual for the future. Düsseldorf: publisher self-determined life