This study attempts to understand to what extent the actual priority setting in the municipalities of Türkiye as a developing country aligns with idealised rational models based on theoretical principles and successful cases in developed countries. For that purpose, the study examines the cases of priority-setting process of service provision in Turkish municipalities through an exploratory qualitative research method involving focus group meetings with the representatives of 30 municipalities and field observation in two municipalities. The findings reveal key aspects of the prioritisation process, including approaches taken by the municipalities, citizen and stakeholder engagement, the role of managers, criteria used for the assessment of alternatives, and evaluation methods. The analysis identifies two distinct patterns, that is the idealised rationalist versus pragmatic, in all the key aspects examined. These findings contribute to a better understanding of what aspects of idealised rationalist and pragmatical decision-making processes are distinct from each other, and to a more comprehensive international perspective in public organisations, especially in which top manager such as the mayor is elected into office in developing countries. The study cautions against uncritical acceptance of oversimplified rationalistic as well as universalistic assumptions behind priority-setting models and advocates for a more substantiated and contextualised understanding of decision-making processes. Points for practitioners: Adopting a priority-setting approach (technique, method, or criteria) necessitates considering the unique conditions and challenges of one's organisation and the local context. It is imperative to blend theoretical principles with practical realities to achieve optimal decision-making and superior outcomes. Priority setting in public organisations of developing countries diverges from idealised rational models used in developed countries due to contextual factors like culture and limited resources. Policy advisors from international organisations and developed countries should endorse knowledge and experience sharing that acknowledges both ideal and practical realities. Concurrently, practitioners in developing countries must critically assess the applicability of advised models to their specific context before adoption. If the mayor takes a dominant role in the priority setting that outweighs institutional strategies and priorities, effective prioritisation among alternatives may be hindered. To rebalance power, it is crucial to foster an organisational culture that embraces participative decision-making and professionalism and implements mechanisms such as auditing, transparency, and accountability.