When planning, define an overall goal, define near-term details, and allow long-term schedule flexibility.

The more complex the issue, the harder it is to anticipate what the final solution will be. To keep the process moving forward, leaders must diligently plan for the next steps while leaving room for learning along the way.

The Moment of Oh! - Core Principle: Take One Step at a TimeThe closer we are to something, the more details we can describe. In the picture to the left, it is easy to see grasses, rocks, and individual plants in the foreground. Farther in the distance, there are hills, and while we know there are individual plants and rocks in the distance, we cannot see or describe them. And there are many other things off in the distance that cannot be seen.

Both new problems and new opportunities will emerge with any complex issue. Communities must build enough flexibility into their plans to be able to respond to new information as it is discovered.

In addition people often think of public participation as a townhall meeting. These are the big steps or milestones along the way. While major events are essential to the decision process, the little steps between events provide the greatest opportunity to move the decision process forward. Each interaction, casual conversation, e-mail, and phone call—as well as every communication, including articles, announcements, website visits, and surveys—is part of the process that keeps the situation in the public’s eye.

Strategic one-on-one meetings and phone calls with interest group leaders are essential to understanding and arriving at a decision that is widely supported by the community. The time between events provides an opportunity to reinforce what occurred in previous contacts and prepare for future interactions.

When designing a community-decision process, there must be a clear overall goal. The level of detail in the plan must be relative to how much is known and must provide for the interactions and activities beyond the major public events.

Common Missteps:

• Create detailed plans for an unknown future.
• Treat midcourse corrections as a failure of planning.

Key Considerations:

• Have you defined an overall goal?
• Have you clarified the immediate next steps?
• Have you prepared yourself and others for mid-course corrections based on new discoveries?

— Previous book post: The Moment of Oh! – Core Principle: Make Decisions on Shared Facts

— Next up: The Moment of Oh! – Core Principle: Leave Tracks

Greg Ranstrom and John Blakinger are authors of the new  book The Moment of Oh! a guide to help communities make tough decisions.