Effective Community Decision Making

Factsheet - ISSN 1198-712X   -   Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario
Agdex#: 057
Publication Date: 02/95
Order#: 93-043
Last Reviewed: 11/97
History: Reprinted February, 1997
Written by: Jane Muegge - Rural Organization Specialist/OMAFRA; Nancy Ross - Rural Organization Specialists/OMAFRA

Table of Contents

  1. What is a Healthy Community?
  2. Community Change
  3. Community Involvement
  4. Effective Decision Making
  5. Community Needs
  6. Methods of Initiating Action
  7. References
  8. Related Links

What is a Healthy Community?

A healthy community relies on a balance of economic, social, human and environmental factors to promote the physical, mental and social well-being of people who live and work in the community.

Community Sector Graphic

  • A human component gives us the "meaning in our lives."
  • A strong economic base provides opportunities to earn a fair living.
  • A social base provides essential services and opportunities to grow and interact.
  • The health and welfare of our community is delicately balanced on a sustainable and clean environment.

The following factors are necessary to achieve and sustain healthy communities. Is your community ready to face the future?

  • Community spirit.
  • A community vision to guide development.
  • Willingness to invest in the community.
  • Understanding the community's economic system in light of the changing world economy.
  • Leaders who can build partnerships.
  • Leaders with the capacity to seek information and make decisions.
  • Commitment to long term planning and action.
  • Strong communication networks.
  • Finding what is unique to a community
  • Being willing to be innovative.
  • An active core of community workers.
  • Organizing and maximizing human and financial resources.

Community Change

Changes are occurring throughout Ontario and Canada. All communities are experiencing change and need to make adjustments. Community leaders must be involved to help deal with and direct these changes. Community leaders and residents have a choice to either plan for change or to let it occur as it will. How involved are you - a person of this community - in bringing about planned change?

"Our moral responsibility is not to stop the future, but to shape it...to channel our destiny in humane directions and to ease the trauma of transition." - Alvin Toffler

Community Involvement

Community decision making has some basic beliefs and values:

  • every community has strengths, every community has problems and concerns
  • the people within each community have the ability to solve their own problems and achieve their own goals
  • nothing happens in a vacuum - decision making must suit the area where the challenge exists
  • the community must involve and have participation by all those affected at each stage of the process
  • communities need to identify their own needs, set priorities, plan for the future and take responsibility for their own future.

"Progress is impossible without change and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything." - George Bernard Shaw

People have the right to participate in decisions which have an effect on their well-being. It will be to their benefit to exercise that right - to collaborate in setting goals, in organizing themselves and mobilizing the resources to achieve these goals.

Initiators of Change

These are the people in the community who recognize the need for change and are willing to initiate action. They create a willingness and motivation for change in the community by building the necessary understanding, acceptance and commitment to change.

Effective Decision Making

The community decision making process involves the following:

  1. Examining the situation.
  2. Arriving at goals.
  3. Identifying key problems.
  4. Determining priorities.
  5. Identifying and analyzing alternative solutions.
  6. Selecting a course of action.
  7. Developing an action plan.
  8. Implementing the plan.
  9. Evaluating the outcome.


 Effective Decision Making Model

Key questions to use as a checklist during this process are:

  • Is everyone involved who needs to be?
  • Did everyone agree on the definition of the situation?
  • Was everyone clear on how the decision was made?
  • Were personal or value conflicts resolved to everyone's satisfaction?
  • Was the chosen solution realistic and reachable?

Community Needs

Once the decision has been made, you are ready for the next step - identifying needs. This can be done through a "needs assessment." It is a way of finding out:

  • What is needed?
  • How many have the need?
  • Who are they?
  • How important is it that this decision/need be filled?
  • What is already being done?
  • What else - additional ideas, changes can be done?
  • Who else is interested in doing something about this decision?

The information you collect can be of two types, "quantitative or hard data" (facts, figures and numbers) and "qualitative or soft data" (peoples' opinions and statements). Both types of information can help you take action.

Methods of Initiating Action

How can we gather information to carry on with good decision making? There are several methods including:

  • a review of population statistics
  • a review of the community resources and services
  • a survey of community leaders
  • focus groups
  • public meetings
  • brainstorming
  • nominal groups

Each of these are explained in the following sections.


A wide range of statistical data concerning the demography and economy of your community is available through your municipal, provincial and federal governments, as well as many agencies and institutions in your community, just ask. You can pull the information you need from these. Numbers are interesting, but remember, they are just part of the community picture and are not always the best indicator of the decision to take.

Community Survey

A community survey is usually a standard questionnaire that is widely distributed throughout the community. It can be handled through the mail, by phone, or in face-to-face interviews. Keep in mind your potential target groups - the people you especially want to reach. It is almost impossible to make a community decision that will meet the needs of everyone. You will want to collect your information noting differences across age groups and sex (i.e., seniors, young mothers, pre-schoolers, school age children, teenagers, young men, etc.).

Community Leader Interviews

Key informants are the people in your community who are seen as leaders - people with a better than average understanding of issues or community dynamics. All people should be asked the same set of questions.

Focus Groups

This is simply a group interview. An experienced discussion leader meets with six to 12 people whose experience relates directly to the decision. Questions are raised and participants are given a chance to present and discuss their opinions. Their reactions are then analyzed.

Public Meetings

This is a discussion with many people. Public meetings or forums allow two-way communication between the group interested in this decision and other community members. This is an excellent way to reach a very large portion of your community.


Here, creative thinking takes precedence over practicality. The concept is to review all possible ideas, regardless of how impractical they may seem. This gets many new and novel ideas before a group for discussion. It moves people to think beyond normal day to day and conventional techniques that have failed to come up with a solution.

Nominal Groups

The Nominal group is a formal meeting of individual members that proceeds as follows:

  1. Each member silently expresses his or her ideas about the problem and alternative solutions in writing without any consultation with other members.
  2. At the end of the time period (about 10 to 15 minutes), each member shares his or her views with the other members in a highly structured round-robin fashion. When a member's turn comes up he or she may share only one idea per round.
  3. As each member expresses an idea, a recorder writes down the idea on a flip chart or board. The process continues until all ideas are listed, with no reference to whom the ideas belong.
  4. All ideas on the board are then discussed with respect to their merits, feasibility and all other qualities.
  5. The group then votes silently on the ideas (usually ranking the ideas in order of preference). The pooled outcome of the individual ranking or rating determines the group's choice.


Community Action Pack: 1A - Healthy Communities *The Process, 1B - Assessing Community Needs. Health and Welfare Canada.

Community Development in Perspective. Christenson, James A. and Jerry W. Robinson, Jr. Iowa State University Press, Ames, Iowa, 1989.

Community Involvemen. Co-operative Extension Service, University of Georgia, College of Agriculture, Athens, Georgia.

Community Involvement: How Do You Get It? Dunn, Douglas. Co-operative Extension Service, Q120-123, University of Arizona, June/77.

Community Leadership - A County Perspective. Co-operative Extension Service, University of Georgia, College of Agriculture.

Economic Development Bulletin #1: A Framework for Local Initiatives in Economic Development. Bryant, Christopher R. and Richard E. Preston.

Family Community Leadership. Extension Services, Western Rural Development Center, Oregon State University.

Group Methods and Techniques. Rohs, F. Richard. Co-operative Extension Service, MP 187, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, July 1984.

Motivation In Community Groups. Robinson, Jerry W., Roy A. Clifford and A. Christine Willis. North Central Regional Extension Publication, No. 36-8. University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois, February 1975.

Skills Program for Management Volunteers: 4A - Leadership, 4B - Short & Long Term Planning. Fitness Canada.

The Subtle Art of Influencing Difficult People. Jay Gibson Associates, Guelph.

Related Links

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca