Managing Issues: A Guide for Leaders of Rural Organizations
Table of Contents
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:
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.
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:
Your local organization may face challenges like these:
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:
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:
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.
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!
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:
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:
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:
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.
For more information:
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