Effective Community Decision Making
Table of Contents
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.
The following factors are necessary to achieve and sustain healthy communities. Is your community ready to face the future?
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 decision making has some basic beliefs and values:
"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.
The community decision making process involves the following:
Key questions to use as a checklist during this process are:
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:
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.
How can we gather information to carry on with good decision making? There are several methods including:
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Nominal group is a formal meeting of individual members that proceeds as follows:
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