Priority-setting can be difficult because it requires developing consensus among community members with different opinions and views on how community issues should be addressed. Cornell University Cooperative Extension identifies four barriers to priority-setting and offers suggestions for minimizing the barriers.
The "human problem" and the difficulty of getting people to focus on key issues, decisions, and conflicts:
- Start by striving for consensus on what you are trying to accomplish by priority-setting. Why are we doing this and what are the stakes?
- Actively recognize that there is strength in differing viewpoints and don’t place viewpoints in value order.
- Build in time to allow people to reflect on information presented, digest it, and modify decisions.
The "process problem" and the challenge of managing information and ideas during a priority-setting process:
- Be very specific in defining priorities to minimize multiple interpretations.
- Make key information available prior to decision meetings.
- Beware of taking too much time to analyze information (analysis paralysis) and/or rushing to meet deadlines.
The "structure problem" and the difficulty of priority-setting across different issue areas:
- Cultivate open communication.
- Carefully nurture relationships throughout the planning process.
- Keep focus on current priorities, not precedent.
The "institutional problem" and the challenge of translating priorities into action:
- Build on existing strengths in implementation.
- Create well-defined implementation plans.
- Individuals responsible for carrying out key tasks must be committed to implementing changes.
Visit the Cornell University Cooperative Extension (2008) for more information on priority setting resources, including selected background information and techniques.