Background In Canada, healthcare aides (also referred to as nurse aides, personal support workers, nursing assistants) are unregulated personnel who provide 70-80% of direct care to residents living in nursing homes. Although they are an integral part of the care team their contributions to the resident care planning process are not always acknowledged in the organization. The purpose of the Safer Care for Older Persons [in residential] Environments (SCOPE) project was to evaluate the feasibility of engaging front line staff (primarily healthcare aides) to use quality improvement methods to integrate best practices into resident care. This paper describes the process used by teams participating in the SCOPE project to select clinical improvement areas. Methods The study employed a collaborative approach to identify clinical areas and through consensus, teams selected one of three areas. To select the clinical areas we recruited two nursing homes not involved in the SCOPE project and sampled healthcare providers and decision-makers within them. A vote counting method was used to determine the top five ranked clinical areas for improvement. Results Responses received from stakeholder groups included gerontology experts, decision-makers, registered nurses, managers, and healthcare aides. The top ranked areas from highest to lowest were pain/discomfort management, behaviour management, depression, skin integrity, and assistance with eating. Conclusions Involving staff in selecting areas that they perceive as needing improvement may facilitate staff engagement in the quality improvement process.