Planning for the future of an organization

So many options - how do you choose where to focus?

When conducting organizational planning it is important to leave with a strategy prioritized both by importance and the likelihood of making some progress.  While all ideas are encouraged during brainstorming, some may be very difficult to accomplish, and others may not support the organization’s mission. 

Michael A. Dunn, Extension program leader in natural resources at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center and author of “A Facilitated Prioritization Process: An Application in the Forest Sector in Honduras,” describes how priority actions were ranked by consensus and “most doable actions” were suggested as result of an Extension-facilitated goal prioritization process. This same process can be used in many settings that involve stakeholder input.

As a Michigan State University Extension facilitator, I know that any good planning process needs to involve people who represent key stakeholder organizations and agencies. The goals of effective planning are to identify the most critical issues and needs, and then prioritize those issues that are most likely to be addressed effectively by the organization, and which align with the organization’s mission statement. This information is used to develop the specific plan and results-oriented objectives for the next three to five years.

While some participants have likely attended organizational planning sessions, others have little or no experience sharing ideas publicly. Outspoken people can tend to dominate group discussion, and often those with a lot to contribute but who happen to be quieter have little chance to talk. A Nominal Group Technique is designed to allow everyone an equal chance to have their ideas considered, generating a prioritized list at the end. Absolutely any idea may be suggested in this process.

To put the nominal group technique to work, invite each person at the table to brainstorm issues that are most important to them. A facilitator lists the ideas on flip charts for accuracy of thought, and to ensure all ideas are recorded. Each individual then writes which five items they consider most important for their organization’s desired future. They then divide 10 points between those five items, weighting each item’s relative importance; each item receives at least one point.

As an alternative, give each person five sticky dots, with an assigned value (1, 3, 5, 7, 10), who then determines where to assign the value.  After completing this privately, everyone posts their issue scores on the flip chart sheet. 

Total the points for each issue, and the rank order is established. The end product is the same – the prioritized list. Private voting helps prevent following “group-think” when identifying important issues. Public posting of point totals assures transparency of process since the results are clearly visible to all, plus, it makes adding points very easy.

MSU Extension offers educational programs and assistance to organizations in areas of strategic planning, board member professional development, conflict resolution, and many other topics!  To learn more about this and other programs, contact an expert in your area, visit or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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