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A Framework for Establishing Priorities

Continuing educator usually face the dilemma of tooo many problems to work on, too much content
to teach, and too many clientele groups to reach with the time and resources available. So, we must
make decisions about program priorities. Priority setting is a continuous procces of decisios making
that takes place during all phases of programming including delineating needs, specifying goals,
identifying target audiens, defining available resource, and determining necessary action.
There are several major difficulties in making decisions about program priorities
First. Priority setting is not an individuao nor even a group decision-making process, but rather a
multigroup decision-making process. The challenge for programmer is to use decisions from many
individuals and groups in the final decisions about program priorities. For example, many different
individuals and groups are involved in deciding on a broad-based community program provided
through extension.
Second. Group decision making a vaery difficult. Boyle suggests thatrational decisions by groups in
program development are difficul. They are difficult because the group characteristics of
communitycohesiveness, and partisipation introduce emosional involvement among the group
members and may be influential in the ultimate decisions reached by the groupp. Thus, a totally
rational outcome can become the ideal to work toward rather than the assumption around which group
decision-making efforts are organized.
Third. It is often very difficult to obtain the necessary data to clearly identify akternatives for decision
making. Also, we sometimes lack the time and skill to effectively analyze and interpret data for use in
Fourth. In making decisions about program priorities, several categories of criteria must be used as the
standards of bases for decisions. Thus, the real challenge is to precisely identify the criteria and then
interrelate them in decision making.
As suggested earlier, the situation in which priorities are made is very complex, involving many
sources of influence, informations, criteria alternatives, resources, and cooperations. Following are six
broad categories that provide the basis for specific criteria and evidence for the decision-making
Society community
The larges society, with institutions, governmental units, prssure groups, trends, goals, and value,
provides a broad framework within which programming must be carried out also to be considered is
the spesific community, whith its economic, social, environmental, and cultural needs and desires: its
formal and informal power and social structures; the linkages among its various organizations; its
potensial for chage based on past traditions and values. This category provide the most general level
of inputs as we nmake decisions about priorities.
Continuing education has a long tradition of basing program on clientele needs. We all believe in and
support this tradition. However, the question is: what clientele and clientele needs? We need to look at

clentele in terms of subgroups within a comunity, for example, farmers, senior citizens, low-income
families, people in business and neighborhoods are specific clientele groups with various needs,
resources, and priorities. They can provide more direct information about priorities, but will often be
in conflict with one another. In some cases, the program budget will determine the clientele.
Programming decisions are made whthin political structure. We recognized the influence of
government at the town, country, state, and federal levels in establishing program priorities. The
perceptions of governmental unit should be utilized in our decision-making process. However, it is
importent thay political category does not become such a constraining program decisions are not
politically attractive, but we need to take risks and accept responsibility for infuencing the political
structure at various levels so that more rational decisions can be made. However, the questions Is it
politically feasible? is always relevant.
Organization statements of philosophy and mission provide insights to many questions about
priorities for programs and clientele. For example: does the organization support teh innovations?
Whar is the organizations programmning position with such controversial issues as family planing?
What kinds of program does the organization reward? How much flexibility and personal input does
the individual staff member have? What is the organizations position on programming with and for
institutions and agencies that affect families versus programming with individuals or groups of
individuals? Many other questions like these are addressed through organizational statements of
missions and philosophy. They are important as criteria for decision making about program priorities,
and they are important in conflict situations within the organization that cause frustations, inhibitt
objectivity, and stifle innovation in programming.
Many questions about resources must be answered in setting priorities: do we have a quality and
quantity of resources necessary to affect change through a program? Are we employing a new
personel to coincide with changing program priorities?
It is recognized that the most important resources are the available subject matter expertise and
teaching skills and that these quite freagent will set priorities based on the kind and quality of
specialist assistance available.
We often spread our resource so thin that we do not have a major impact in a problem. We often use
an Band-Aid instead of major surgery. Questiosn about availabitity of a variety of resources budget,
personnel, materials, staff assistance, and so forth become extremely important criteria.
We are interested in helping staff members see themself as educational leader. If we support this
concept, provisions for use of personal value and perceptions must be allowed in the decisionsmaking process. Continuing aducators are individual human beings with their own experience,
education, personalities, value systems, and perseptions about what is important and what sould be
done. Their different philosophies of education, whether they are self-directed or other-directed, how
they feel about clientele groups, how they view their roles as educators or technicians, are all
important considerations. The challenge is to provide opportunities in our programming structure and

staffing patterns so that individual values and beliefs can become another important influence on
decisions about programming.
The critical step in priority setting is establishing the criteria upon which decisions will be made. How
do we decide which criteria are important? Ultimately the programmer must make the decisions, but it
will be based on inputs from the six sources of influence that were just presented. It is important to
utilize these sources so that the final criteria selected reflect a balanced set that will be acceptable,
considering each source. For example, a client group might want a program that is also a high priority
for the programmer. However, if the programmers organization does not see that concern fitting in
with its philosophy or goals, the program will be thwarted. Or suppose the programer, client group,
and organization set criteria that are politically unfeasible within the community. Such an oversight
would result in a blockage of the program even through it is a high priority for several categories.
These example point out the critical nature of considering all aspects in setting priorities.
Several ideas about the six categories may help further clarify their use in establishing criteria for
priority setting.
First. The interrelationship of the categories. For example, the political feasibilities must be
considered along with personal desires and needs ao clientele, in making a specific decision about
programming with a low income group.

Second. These categories can be seen as constraining and driving forces interacting against each other
in the decision-making process. Figure 13.2 shows how driving forces within a community, personal
feelings, and clientele needs are restrained by criteria related to resources, organizational, and political

The third way to using these categories is as screens, at which point a decision may be made to go or
not to go with a program because of a judgment baed on criteria within one of categories. Figure 13.3
illustrates this idea.

Foresta and Mulcahy suggest six steps for priority setting. Each step invoves decisions on what needs
to be done and an order of what should be accomplished first to get results. The steps the suggest are:
Understanding the priority-setting situation
Identifying the possible priorities
Identifying criteria for selecting priorities
Determining the relative impotance of priorities
Reflecting n priorities: consequences and timing
Commitment to action on priorities

A community resource development agens experience in programming illustrates the above process.
She described working with a planing group concerned with lack of total community commitment to
the citys problems. Most concern were dealt with by splinter groups. The commitee was concerned
about providing an educational forum for the community. But, as she started, first the group needed to
understand their role and set priorities before the could even deal with the complex situations.
Through various sources (suveys, community government, newspaper articles, and the like) the
commitee members recognized and described numerous problems. At the beginning each one wanted
to have their idea dealt with in a program. They listen drug problem, divorce rate, teen-ages
pregnancies, child abuse, teen-age crime, misuse of property, heart attacks and other medical
problems, among others. Realizing that they needed to focustheir efforts, questions were raised to help
direct them. What problem was mentioned most frequently by local citizens? Could they consider a
larger category that encomppased several of the problems listed? What resources could they organize
and obtain that might help?
After discussing of various criteria, they decided that several alternative priorities could be grouped
under stress on family. A structure was established to deal with social, ethnical, and legal concerns. It
was decided that other alternatives listed at the beginning, such as medical problems, werw beyond
the programs scope.
The commitee proceeded to ask questions on timing: What would they achieve? Who would be most
dynamic in helping the community as a whole focus on the priority set? Has neede information been
included? After decisions in program design, action was taken in to phases. One phases was an
awareness, understanding phase. The second phase was programming that would be over a more
extented time and include various activities.
Priorities are what is important or valuable at the present time. Programming situations often have a
number of priorities at any given time, so it is necessary to decide which priorities are most important.
Although scientific facts can help us decide on priorities. The personal value of the programmer and

others involved in programming determine their relative importance. Thus, conclusions about
priorities are based on certain human assumptions. Forest and mulcahy also suggest that we will need
more information about two things:
The probability if the priority alternative actually happening, if selected. Is the alternative acceptable
to people with the most influence on our jobs? Are barriers. People, lack of time or interest, conflict
with other ongoing programs, or lackk of resources likely prevent it, even if it is very important?
The consequences of priority alternative, if selected. We need to know what will happen to people we
work with, to ourselves, and to the community if we choose a particular priority. On the other hand,
what will happen if other possibilities receive higher priority? Will neglecting a possibility brinng dire
consequences in the future? Answer to these questions are not easy to obtain. The programmer will
have to rely on personal judgment along with facts ang imputs from others involved.
Obtaining information as basis for making decisions on priorities is not always easy. A number of
appropriate methode and techniques discussed earlier in chapter 10 are also applicable for priority
setting. Methods such as the critical incident, surveys, advisory commitees, and group techniques,
such as brainstorming, nominal group techniques, and discussion, are all appropriate for obtaining
information and ideas relevant for priority setting.
Such techniques are important not only for information but also for legitimization and support of the
priorities arrived at. It is essential for the programmer to involve the people and groups that can
influence the ffectiveness of the program. If they have input into the priority-setting process, their
support is much more likely.


Once criteria and priorities have been examined, it is important to explore the future consuquences of
the decisions. Two aspects must be explored according to Forest and Mulcahy:
What must be done first
How much time sould be blocked out during the outcoming week, montj, or year to get the job done
They suggest the following examples:
Readiness of people (knowledge, attitudes, anthusiasm)
Calendars and accesibility of backup resources
Interrelationships with othe programs at sometime or other
What part of the problem needs to bel solved first
The complexity of the problem and how much time it needs
Potential payoff and future consequences of undertaking or neglecting a priority
What other activities are needed to precede the major activity

One time has been allotted to the priorities, the timing and sequence of activitiesmust be considerea in
oder to achieve the priorities. One way of determining sequence and timing is to work backward from
the perceived goal.


An idea outlined by forest ang mulcahy includes several critical concepts related to commiting
outselves on the priorities identified.
1. commitment. The programmer must be commited to the priority goals set. Without this
commitment the programis unlikely to secceed.
2. communication. The programmer must make clear her prioritycommitments to others who have an
interest in the program or in other programs. A public statements about goals is a sign of commitment.
3. resources. One of getting commitment to priority goals is to get resources allocated to them. These
might include money, resource people, eeting place, scheduled of events, and the like.
4. action. Actions taken in connection with a priority item suggest a commitment to that priority. The
involvement of other people in the priority program, arrangements for facilities, and resource people
and others are all actions that indicate commitment to priority goals.
5. flexibility. Flexibility is an important concept, especially for creating priorities for programs bulit
on probless in need. Emergency situations often arise that need immadiate attention. The programmer
must be able to respond these needs if they are within the scop of her mission and that of the
institution. Some time must always be left in a schedule for such emergencies. Some priority needs
cannot be seen or do no, exist at the time major program priorities are being set. Flexibility allows for
unexpected priorities

This chapter emphasized the need for the systematic approach to priority setting. The materials
developed by Forest and Mulcahy are excellent and can be used in any programming situation. The
basis for establishing criteria was focused on. Six genera categories were suggested as beingrelevant
in the decision-making process.