Managing Issues: A Guide for Leaders of Rural Organizations
Cheri Vasey - Rural Community Advisor/OMAFRA; Lera Ryan - Rural Business Consultant/OMAFRA; Chuck Bokor - Rural Leadership Consultant/OMAFRA
Table of Contents
- Step 1: Identifying The Issue
- Step 2: Ranking The Issues
- Step 3: Analyzing The Situation
- Step 4: Identifying Specific Needs
- Step 5: Which Action Is Best?
Is your organization facing so many issues, that it doesn't know how to tackle them all? Has your organization been asked by its members to deal with an issue and isn't sure where to start? Should it get involved at all?
If your organization faces these types of situations and questions, then this Factsheet may be useful. It explains five key steps that your organization should follow to effectively sort out, address and resolve issues:
- identifying the issue
- ranking their importance
- analyzing the situation and the positions of stakeholders
- identifying specific needs and possible outcomes
- deciding the most appropriate action
Note: These steps may be adapted to better address "internal" administration issues like funding. However, the examples used refer to "external" industry or community issues which relate to an organization's mandate.
Step 1: Identifying The Issue
Issue: a matter of concern to a large number of people within an organization or community.
Potential issue: might develop if the conditions allow.
Emergining issue: beginning to receive publicity or awareness
Current issue: the problem is here, now!
For example, the management of municipal waste:
Potential issue: Some people began to wonder about the increasing amount of garbage being produced.
Emerging issue: landfill sites filling to capacity; environmental activists ring the alarm bell.
Other examples of current issues facing the agricultural industry:
- animal welfare
- pesticides in the environment
- global competitiveness
- land use
- low producer returns
Your local organization may face challenges like these:
- rural child care
- the proposed landfill site
- the downtown retail food outlet going out of business
- a rise in rural municipal taxes
An issue may be far-ranging or local, economic, social, or environmental in nature.
How Do Issues Come Before Us?
An organization either reacts to a situation, or it takes the initiative in searching out issues that should be addressed.
Putting Out Bush Fires: Reacting!
Often an emerging or potential issue will be brought to the executive by a concerned member, who will describe it and then demand action.
A second way that an issue comes before you is through a request from another organization which thinks that your group should get involved. The media is yet another source that will inform you of a crisis situation.
Taking the Initiative
When your group is ready to do more than "crisis" management, it should compile a complete list of current and emerging issues. For example:
- Ask a variety of group members to list the issues they think are most important to the organization.
- Attend public meetings to listen for community concerns which fall within your organization's mandate.
- Another Method: Develop a questionnaire to gather opinions of
not only members of your organization, but also nonmembers. These
surveys may be conducted in many different ways - some methods
are simpler than others.
- A personal interview is most effective.
- A written questionnaire must be designed and worded with a lot of thought so that the information gathered is exactly what is needed.
- Telephone surveys can cover a large area in a short amount of time but also require precise questions to get the information you need.
The resulting list may be used by the organization to do its long-term planning - where it wants to go and how it wants to get there. It is now ready to move to step 2.
The issue(s) that have been identified may or may not fall within your organization's mandate. Or there may be too many issues for your organization to handle all at once. Or your organization may not have the resources to address a particular issue. To be most efficient, therefore, carefully consider each issue, screening some out and ranking the others before going any further.
Screening the Issues
Ask the following questions of each issue to help you determine where it fits into the organization's priorities:
- Is this issue currently or potentially a concern of a large
number of people in our organization or community?
- Yes - go to question #2
- No - This is not an issue for our organization. Only one or two people seem to be concerned about it.
- Would some action by us effectively and appropriately resolve
- Yes - go to question #3
- No - This issue cannot be resolved by our organi-zation (we do not have the mandate or the finances to address it).
- Would our organization be the best group to take a lead role
in addressing this issue?
- Yes - Identify other groups who could assist you.
- No - Refer this issue to the group who could address this issue more effectively (perhaps offer your organization's co-operation).
- Do we have the necessary resources (experience, knowledge, time,
people, facilities, money, etc.) to respond to this issue?
- Yes - Identify available resources.
- No - Obtain the necessary knowledge or resources needed and continue, or refer this issue to an organization that is prepared.
- Do we have the skills to plan, implement, deliver and evaluate
the action required to resolve this issue?
- Yes - At this point, if the group is responding to a request, then it must decide if it will act (or not act). If it decides to act, proceed to Step 3. If it is developing a longer term plan, the number of issues that have passed these first screens may now be ranked according to their importance to the organization's future. Proceed to STEP 3 with whichever issue becomes the #1 priority.
- No - Obtain the skills or resources required and continue.
Step 3: Analyzing The Situation
Stakeholders in the Issue
Stakeholders: those who are directly involved with or will be affected by either the issue or any action taken on the issue.
You must identify individuals or groups with a "stake" in the issue, economic or otherwise. Talk with them, or at least put yourselves in their shoes. You must understand their perspectives and incorporate their concerns and solutions into your action plan, to gain support and cooperation. Otherwise you may earn their direct opposition.
Several members of organization ABC came to its last meeting. They had garden produce to sell. ABC promotes urban/rural relations and has been involved in innovative methods of getting food from the farm to the consumer. The problem is the group is not large enough to set up its own store, and can afford only a limited amount of advertising. They're asking for help from ABC, suggesting that a farmer's market would be a worthy approach.
Once it decided to act, ABC started by appointing a committee of two or three key people to pursue the issue of getting fresh local produce to local consumers.
One of their first objectives was to understand the perspectives of all stakeholders.
To identify the stakeholders, a typical community's perspectives were considered: social, educational, economic, environmental, health, political, cultural, etc. Key people or groups with those interests at heart were interviewed for their opinions on the matter.
Stakeholders in this issue included the town council, various
farm organizations, the local craft association, market gardeners,
the chamber of commerce and the tourist information centre.
Each stakeholder brought a different point of view and suggestions for possible solutions to the issue.
Understanding Everybody's Concerns
Listed below are some of the questions that were considered in the ABC example. Notice the social, environmental, political and economic slants!
- What other organizations would support the idea of a farmers' market?
- Who are some of the key people in those other groups?
- What are their preferred solutions?
- Who would oppose the idea? Why?
- Would a farmers' market be seen as competition for existing businesses?
- Is there a need for an educational campaign to teach people good nutrition, safe handling practices, the value of fresh produce, etc.?
- Can a farmers' market contribute to the local economy?
- Would this new business boost traffic on weekends? What would be the implications?
- Would the number of people shopping in town be increased as a result, providing an increased income for some local businesses?
- Any environmental impact? How will the waste generated at this new site be disposed of?
- Are there any local policies or bylaws that would interfere?
Other Information Required
In addition to the concerns and suggestions from all stakeholders in the issue, other relevant information should be gathered at this time. For example:
- local demographics (who lives in the area?) are important if you want to know who will buy a product, use a facility, etc.
- global, North American, Canadian and local trends may have an impact on the issue at hand. For the ABC example, society is increasingly concerned about a healthy lifestyle: this trend may affect the way fresh produce may be promoted. Does international free trade impact on the availability of fresh produce in the rural community?
- similar situations in other areas: their approaches to the problem, and any successes or failures encountered should be studied. Why reinvent the wheel?
Step 4: Identifying Specific Needs
Need: the gap between what is and what can be, considering limitations such as time, money and resources.
By the end of Step 3, you should have a clear picture of the situation: what currently exists, and what people want. The resulting gaps point to a list of needs of the community/members you are servicing.
The following list of needs resulted from discussions with all stakeholders:
- Need for promotion of the town to tourists, area residents and industry (Chamber of Commerce).
- Need for a centre of recreational activity for youth in the municipality (Municipa Council).
- Need to increase shopping traffic for local businesses on Fridays and Saturdays (Chamber of Commerce).
- Need for local residents to market fresh produce during the summer months (Member of ABC).
- Need for urban residents to learn more about the agri-food industry (local farm organizations).
Step 5: Which Action Is Best?
Actual projects or activities, (sometimes expressed as needs by the stakeholders) were likely suggested while you were analyzing the situation.
One may have requested an educational program targeted to a specific audience; another, for you to lobby for legislation or reform; yet another, for you to plan a particular community building project. Consider them all and add your group's own ideas. The action you take should incorporate as many ideas as your organization's resources and commitment will allow, for greatest stakeholder support.
Joint ventures and easier fundraising efforts are only two of the many benefits which may result.
Following a series of meetings, proposals, discussions and compromises, a number of stakeholders collaborated in a major community project.
The result was a ball diamond with an open-air pavilion suitable for summer evening 'teen dances' and space for up to 40 local producers to sell their fresh produce on weekends. Pride in the accomplishment continues to flourish throughout the community. New projects are now being planned for the coming months.
Your organization or community group can respond effectively to issues that face it by following a step by step process of:
- identifying the issues
- selecting a priority issue
- analyzing the priority issue
- identifying the most important needs
- taking the action with the greatest impact
Focus on issues and your group will be able to better define its purpose, plan its programs and gain both credibility and profile in your community.
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