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Brainstorm possible priorities

Getting to the most important priorities starts with generating a list of possible priorities. Brainstorming is an effective and simple way to come up with ideas in a group. Traditionally, brainstorming exercises start with a question or problem, and participants respond with whatever comes to mind. This is a great place to use your guiding question(s). A recorder writes down the comments made on a large piece of paper or whiteboard, so everyone can see them.

Choosing priorities is challenging. It’s not uncommon to feel like everything is a priority, but it’s important to recognize that your resources are limited and being selective about the number of issues to focus on will help you successfully make changes in your community.

The number of issues you can address will depend on the people power you have available. Strong, multi-sector partnerships with the commitment and capacity to tackle multiple areas may be able to organize multiple action teams around different health priorities. Other communities may choose to work on a single complex problem (e.g., teen pregnancy, high school dropout rate). Consider your readiness to apply a Collective Impact approach to coordinate work across teams toward a shared vision.

A few tips:

  • We recommend focusing on no more than five priority areas, but the number will depend on your resources and whether you can add to ongoing efforts in your community.
  • It is better to pick fewer priorities and succeed than to choose too many and find you can’t be effective in any of them.
  • The most important rule for brainstorming is not to evaluate ideas--the more ideas the better.
  • Consider an alternative to traditional brainstorming, such as having participants brainstorm individually before the group activity then later sharing them with the group or asking them to review the data and guiding question ahead of time and come prepared with their ideas of two to three issues on which to focus.¹
  • Record the ideas where everyone can see them, or alternatively, use the Affinity Diagram process to generate ideas on sticky notes and group them in categories.
  • Be sure you involve people from across your community in brainstorming, including employers, community advocates, health care and public health professionals, government officials, grantmakers, policymakers, educators, nonprofits, and others. Most importantly, include community members, including those who are most vulnerable and are experiencing the worst conditions for good health (such as members of low-income communities and youth).

1.    National Association of County & City Health Officials. Phase 4: Strategic Issues In-depth Guidance. In: Mobilizing Action through Planning and Partnerships (MAPP) Framework. Washington, DC: National Association of County & City Health Officials.

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