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Discussing Complex Issues

When an Association addresses issues affecting the neighborhood, typically members have an open informal discussion about issues. A systematic approach, like the one illustrated below, can sometimes be used to help focus the discussion, identifying and addressing "root causes rather than symptoms" of an issue. The following guidelines represent time-tested ways to make group decisions.

  1. Identify the Issue: Be as specific as you can in describing the issue. If your true problems are not identified, you may not find the right solution. For example, there might be a issue about the appearance of the neighborhood. The symptoms may be poor landscape maintenance, dilapidated homes, or junk cars left around, etc. However, the true problem is that properties are not being maintaining.
  2.  Clarify the Issue: Explore all aspects of an issue. You may discuss how a problem manifests itself as noted above. Who are the key players involved with or contributing to a problem? Are there any legal aspects to be considered? Etc.
  3. Analyze the Cause(s): To effectively look for solutions, you must understand the causes of the specific issue. It is important to ask is "Why". "Why are the properties not maintained?" One response might be that many of the properties in that area are owned by absentee landlords. After identifying a potential cause then follow that cause to its source, asking," Why does the presence of absentee landlords affect the way properties are maintained?" Keep asking "Why" until you have thoroughly explored the origins of all of the potential causes.
  4. Search for Alternative Solutions: Remember that multiple solutions can apply to most problems. Look at all of the "causes" that you have identified and discuss solutions that may eliminate or alter any cause. Be sure to consider all community "assets" in this discussion. Be creative! No matter how "far fetched" an idea may seem, share it. A "crazy idea" may trigger the start of a very realistic solution.
  5. Choose One or More Good Alternatives: At this point, identify the criteria that the solutions must meet and then discuss the pros and cons of the proposed alternatives. For example, one set of criteria applied to potential projects for the City's Empowerment Zone application included: (1) ease to accomplished ("piece of cake"); (2) maximum results for minimum financial investment ("biggest bang for the buck") and (3) what will benefit the most people.
  6.  Develop an Action Plan: Decide what actions are necessary to execute the chosen solution(s). Again be thorough and make sure everything is covered.
  7.  Establish Commitments: Define who will be responsible and set a completion deadline for each action. One person should commit to over all follow up (like a project manager).
  8.  Follow Through by Evaluating Results: Include updates at subsequent Neighborhood Association meetings. Try to track changes by doing periodic comparisons (like measurements of success). For example, you might note that 5 out of 10 neglected properties have been cleaned up. If the results are not what you want within the desired timeframe, you may periodically re-evaluate and possibly revise your action plan.
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