Setting priorities

Health workersPlanning

For health or development workers, each day is likely to bring many problems and concerns that need immediate attention. However it is easy to let these immediate problems take over any long term planning. We all need to set priorities in our lives and in our work and try to make sure that these really do ‘take priority’ and take up most of our time. Otherwise we will look back over the past year and realise that we have not helped achieve any practical and long term benefits.

Common interruptions that take our time and attention may include:

  • reading the paper
  • visitors needing hospitality
  • friends and relatives needing help with transport
  • officials requesting assistance for their work
  • lack of fuel to make planned visits 
  • losing important documents or letters.

Rather than always dealing with the immediate, we all need to ensure we have a long-term vision as well and give this our full attention. Below are some ideas for a meeting that may help participants learn how to effectively set priorities.

Once people have tried these exercises and become familiar with the idea of prioritising, these skills can be used in any situation. Recording information is important for planning. People can list the problems or concerns of the people they work with, or of their organisation, clinic or school, either on their own or in pairs and combine these on a chart, such as the one below. People could then indicate which are the priority concerns. In this example, 25 people were asked to prioritise between three local problems in terms of how common and how serious they were. 

 
The issues with the highest scores indicate the likely priorities for action. But remember, we also need to seek God's priorities too! Share these skills with the wider community and encourage them to prioritise their own concerns.

Adapted from the Resource Manual for the Organisation and Training of Community Health Committees by Keith Wright, produced by UCBHCA, Box 325, Entebbe, Uganda.

Ideas for meetings

Divide people into pairs and read this story aloud.

 

You have just returned from the market and see your house on fire. The entire roof is on fire and there is nothing you can do to save the house. You have just two or three minutes to take out the five things that are most important to you. What would you take out?

  1. Give people a few minutes to decide which five possessions they would take out first.
  2. Ask several pairs to share with the others what items they have chosen.
  3. Then ask each pair to decide which item they would take out first and why?
  4. Explain that they have made a priority list. From all their possessions, they prioritised the five most important. Then they decided on their top priority and gave the reasons for this.

Try repeating this exercise in other ways. Here are some suggested situations.

  • You hear on the radio that a cyclone bringing severe winds and flooding will reach your area in one hours time. Think of your community and decide on what five actions you would take to save as much life and property as possible. Which would be the top priority?
  • The community health worker in your community is leaving to work in the town. The community needs to choose a replacement. What are the five skills and characteristics that you will look for when choosing a new health worker? Which is the most important?
  • Consider your work and work situation. What are the five things that you would like to see improved, changed or achieved during the next year? Which is the most important and why? What steps can you take to ensure you are able to achieve this?