Setting priorities, with the input of the
community, is an important step to better understand the issues of an
area and to identify what goals are
achievable. The process opens dialog, builds consensus,
and teaches people how to work together.
Just the Facts
To set priorities is to give an item within a category, group, or list a
certain rank. Ranking can be by importance, or by some other defined system of
order or values. A vote, perhaps using an Audience
, or multiple-choice opinion survey
discussion, or a lone individual can determine the ranking.
When understanding a project, it is helpful to establish priorities for
issues to address and for goals to accomplish. For issues, the highest priority
often is assigned to the resource that will potentially be most directly
affected. Potential loss of recognized historic properties or recreational areas
are readily identifiable by project participants. Threats to these can generate
project interest and motivate either participation in the process by interested
parties or project opposition. Ranking of issues may sometimes be influenced by
perception or political reasons rather than actual importance. Other issues,
such as non-point source pollution and stormwater runoff, may receive lower
ranking simply due to complexity even though they may have a more pervasive
impact over time.
Goals are often prioritized based on the availability of resources to
address them or degree to which the project may influence objectives or external
pressures such as pending legislation. Like issues, timing is also a
consideration. Some goals will need to be worked on over a period of time while
others can be achieved relatively quickly.
How To Do It
1. Get a list
Based upon group discussions, there
should be a list of issues, goals, tasks, or some other items. The list should
be refined to the point where similar information and ideas are grouped under
one theme and everyone present is in agreement with the wording of statements
and expression of ideas. All of this preparatory work should be posted on walls
that participants can see it, especially if time has elapsed between meetings or
workshops.2. Rank the items
If the group is less than 10 people, and the list is manageable, have each
person write down on his or her own piece of paper how they would rank the
items. Then randomly select one item and have each person take a turn sharing
his or her recommendation for its ranking and why. A facilitator or recorder
captures comments on a flip chart
everyone has spoken, review the list and see if there is agreement about the
ranking. If there are some whose ranks are completely opposite that of the
majority, check back with those individuals to further discuss the ranking or to
make sure they agree with the group’s decision.
For larger groups, give all of the participants an equal number of colored
dot-stickers. Ask everyone to come forward and place their dots on the top three
or five items, depending upon the size of the list, as they see it. When done,
count the dot-votes and see if there is a natural consensus. Discuss the top
items, then rate the remaining items by counting their dot-votes and discuss
rates for any items without dots.
Another alternative is to use dot-votes in multiple steps. Participants
vote their way through the entire list using different colors of dots: first
step is to vote for top three using another a color (blue); second step is to
vote for top one within those three using a second color (green); third step is
to vote for top one outside of that first group of three using a third color
(yellow); and so on.
If the group is especially large and so is the number of items, divide into
each assigned to a category. Subgroups discuss and decide upon ranks within that
category. Everyone reconvenes and reports their recommendations. The end result
is a number one priority in each of the different categories. Or, have the whole
group select an overall priority across the categories.
Alternatively, priorities may be ranked anonymously by various sized groups
using KYTC's Audience
with wireless keypads.
Determining what matters most to individuals, a community, or a
Use It If...
- You want the group to focus.
- You desire to form consensus among a number of people about a multitude of
problems or challenges affecting a project or about what their vision is for the
- You plan on building a strong public involvement campaign. Identifying and
prioritizing issues launches goal setting and prioritizing and that leads into
creating doable action agendas.
- You need action. There’s a clear, single threat that needs to be fought
against, not multiple ideas.
- You have not developed consensus about what the purpose is for a
Priorities can be set and reset anytime according to
needs, resources, and opportunities.