CopperMoon, CARC, CopperMoon Advanced Retreat CenterI can’t speak for all of us, but I need Plans, or Goals, or *something* to help me prioritize All The Things that we want to do here at CopperMoon. I can work all day long, but if I don’t feel like I am moving in some useful direction, just doing things is not very satisfying.

A few years ago, we conducted our first planning session with the help of Joe Shirley and Spring Chen of Resonance Path Institute ( Through the course of one day, Joe and Spring guided us through several exercises which energized our creative minds. Then, we addressed the question of “What, how, and who is CopperMoon in 2020?” In answering this question, we each spoke as a voice from the future, from the year 2020, to us, here, in the “past.” It was a marvelous exercise, and reading our answers from that is still exciting.

There are many ways to generate ideas for a group or organization. I used to be a fan of traditional brainstorming, but that has fallen out of favor, and for some good reasons. This year, we may try storyboarding or brainwriting in our planning session. Whichever tool we use, we usually end up with a long list of ideas from the sublime to the ridiculous (‘cause that’s how we roll!). Now what? How do we go from a long list of ideas to what we want to focus on?

One Kind of Rudder

Working in the military medical field years ago, I learned a prioritization tool formally called the Criteria-based Priority Matrix. That is the last time I’ll go there ~ I promise. This is the short version:

  1. Generate a list of ideas
  2. Develop a set of criteria
  3. Put the criteria and ideas in a grid
  4. Everyone rates the ideas against the criteria with a weighted scale
  5. Analyze the scores to get your priorities.

It’s like magic, and it’s much easier than it may appear. Let me explain each of these steps further.

The Criteria

To prioritize our list, we develop a set of criteria that are important to us and the work that we’re doing here. In the past, our criteria have been:

  • Vision integrity ~ Does this hold the space, and help us change wisely?
  • Us/Family ~ Does this nourish us or help us grow?
  • Participant community ~ What benefits does it bring to attendees, presenters, visitors
  • Support community ~ Does it positively impact our network, friends, Sweeties, Loves?
  • Services ~ Does it contribute to or support services we offer (retreats, workshops, presentations, workshops)?
  • Earning ~ Does this help improve the effectiveness of our website, or create or enhance revenue streams?
  • The Planet ~ How does this serve the planet?
  • Learning ~ Does it increase our knowledge or ability to learn?
  • Physical space ~ Does it positively impact the property, facilities, and/or safety?
  • The Grid and Rating

Then we form a grid. All of our ideas go down the left-hand column. All of the criteria go across top row. Now we’re ready to make the magic happen. In the row to the right of each idea, we enter a 0, 1, 3, or 9 for each criteria. This number represents our individual estimation of the correlation between the idea and the criteria. Zero is no correlation, 1 is weak correlation, 3 is mild correlation, and 9 is a strong correlation. The selection of these numbers is not random. I don’t remember the full explanation, however what I do remember is that this rating system causes the highest priorities to rise to the top quicker than using consecutive numbers. This may sound cumbersome, but is really pretty easy with a decent spreadsheet program.

CopperMoon, CARC, CopperMoon Advanced Retreat Center

A snippet of my rating worksheet from 2016

Spreadsheet Magic

With everyone’s scores entered, we can start to do interesting things with our list. First, I tell the spreadsheet to total each row for each member of the group. Next, I tell the spreadsheet to add up all of the scores for each idea from all of the members. Now I can sort our ideas by the score and have the highest scoring at ideas at the top of the list.

CopperMoon, CARC, CopperMoon Advanced Retreat Center

Priorities rise to the top after sorting

BLAM! There are our highest priorities at the top of the list; our rudder to steer the good ship CopperMoon by. In the interest of space, I’m only showing the top of our 2016 priority list.

I can also sort on each individual to see their priorities better, or categorize the ideas, such as property or retreat center, to easily create a priority list for each category.

Fine-Tuning the Rudder

We’ve come to learn that this prioritized list still needs some post-spreadsheet human analysis and reflection. For example, this year we may apply a Cost filter to our priority matrix. Using the example above, building the Studio and the organic swimming pool are high cost items in terms of money and time, compared to rainwater collection systems and the composting station. We may end up sorting high cost, high time commitment items into their own list, so we tackle those one at a time, while still pursuing the high priority items off the other lists.

Now, a rudder helps you keep going in the direction you want, but it doesn’t lock you into a course of action. Just because we have a prioritized list does not lock us into anything. Further down the list are items that are Low-Hanging Fruit – tasks or projects that do not require big investments of time or money. Installing the sauna stove, building high-tunnel greenhouses, and building the Fabulously Advanced Recycling Toilet (FART) are good examples of Low-Hanging Fruit from last year. These items were completed before some higher priorities precisely because the Cost factor was lower for them. Priorities change also. The composting station, while near the top of our 2016 list, became top priority now that the first of our tiny houses is built.

So, that’s how we steer the ship (not kayaks) up here at the end of the road. I’d be happy to explain this in more detail if anybody is interested. There are, by rough estimate, bazillions of planning methods. How does it work for you or your group?

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