Identifying and describing issues is a systematic collection of
information about opportunities, threats, and challenges that currently
face a resource or most likely will in the future. Issues can be
things such as point-source pollution, use and access on private
lands, loss of jobs through transfer of development rights, increased
dollars from tourism, endangered wildlife habitat, etc.
identify issues requires knowledge of a community and its economy.
It also requires bringing together a diverse group of people including
landowners, elected officials, special interest groups, recreationists,
resource experts, and citizens. The process of defining issues is
both an excellent consensus-building activity and an important element
group needs to have a clear understanding of their purpose or mission
in order to better define what types of problems will or will not
There are many
tools and techniques that can be used to help identify issues including
group brainstorming, key informant interviews, and newspaper article
analysis. Getting on the agenda of pre-established meeting schedules
for local governments, civic or community groups is another idea.
Surveys and focus groups can be used to elicit targeted information
on issues. If a group brainstorming activity is organized with a
facilitator guiding the process, be sure that all of the participants’
needs and concerns are recorded exactly as intended and posted for
all to read and discuss. One of the challenges is to keep participants
focused and ask that they refrain from talking about solutions.
Look at the
list of issues and group those that are similar. Be sure to systematically
mark or label each issue so that no one’s ideas are dropped. Initially,
related issues should be grouped together to construct the broadest
possible set of concerns, encompassing all points raised by project
participants. If an issue does not fit under any particular theme,
the group must decide if it is important enough to become its own
category. Checking back with the originator to further discuss the
concern and making sure he/she agrees with the group decision is
important to gaining group buy-in to the process.
For each topic
heading, now have the group create statements that capture the essence
of the issues. Similar issues are combined into one statement. The
issues statements should describe current conditions that the group
wants to change. For example, "Inadequate historic site protection
is leading to the destruction of a number of nationally significant
historic structures and landscapes." Depending upon how many categories
there are, and the size of the group doing the work, it may be advantageous
to break up into smaller teams with each team assigned a category.
When the work is done, review the statements together altering words
and phrases as needed to that everyone agrees with what is stated
and how it is stated.
4. Do further
be thoroughly understood if they are to be used effectively to resolve
problems. Examining the causes and effects of a problem, its immediacy,
and its major elements are part of this process. Find out who is
concerned and how they are involved, the scope of any plans that
may affect a project, roots of the problem, what geographic areas
or resources may be affected, and the timetable for any actions
relating to the problem.
which issues to resolve
more about each issue, prioritize or rank the issues in the order
in which they can be feasibly and realistically addressed. Other
groups may best address some issues, some issues may be too controversial
or problematic, and some may relate to ongoing, long-term problems
that are difficult to resolve.
To help make
these determinations, consider these three factors:
Issues that are perceived to have the greatest impact on the resource
or community will garner the most public attention and support
for action. Issues such as dams and clear cutting forest lands
will have immediately visible impacts on resources, while issues
such as non-point sources of pollution and recreation use may
appear to be less dramatic issues although they may have a more
pervasive impact over time.
Attitudes toward the use of resources and concerns about the environment
differ. If the public does not readily respond to a problem, an
educational effort may be necessary. This approach can build support
and a constituency for resolving the issue.
Which issues are imminent or have already had impacts on the resources
or community? If surveys or focus groups are used as part of the
information gathering process, people can be asked to rank the
original list of issues according to which are more important
or should be addressed first.