Reflections on a Year of Extension Program & Staff Development Work

By Diane Mashburn, Instructor-Program Planning, Evaluation, and Accountability, Program & Staff Development, University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture

In terms of Extension years, most people still view me as a newbie. I have been working for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture for almost six years. Up until last May, I was a 4-H agent in a rural county in Southeast Arkansas. May 1st marks the one year anniversary of a huge change in my Extension career, moving from the county to Program and Staff Development. In Arkansas, I am tasked with providing the leadership for our state reporting system, as well as the creation of the NIFA Report of Accomplishments and Plan of Work. When I have told those in other states about these responsibilities, I have gotten a number of different reactions, anything from “bless your heart” to simply laughter. At that point, I knew I better get to know others in Extension Program & Staff Development (PSD) and get their numbers programmed into my phone, quick.

In doing this I learned about the National Association of Extension Program & Staff Development Professionals. I attended our annual conference in hopes of learning from others who are more experienced in the areas of evaluation and accountability. While in San Antonio, I definitely had my eyes opened to how broad a field we work in, despite being a subsection of the ever growing field of Extension. I had the wonderful opportunity of picking the minds of some of our seasoned Extension professionals, as well as sharing some of the experiences I had just in the short amount of time in PSD up until that point. Seeing how other states approach the same task, such as reporting and accountability, has given me such an appreciation of what we do in PSD and the hard work so many people have put into getting us to where we are today. It is fascinating to me to see how we are all working towards the same end goal of improving the lives of people, yet take very different paths.

Since then I have continued to take advantage of opportunities to learn from others, both in Arkansas and out.

As I celebrate my one year anniversary of being an “Instructor for Program Planning, Evaluation, and Accountability,” I want to share a few lessons I have learned about working with people in evaluation and accountability, including:

  • No matter how much you understand how important evaluation is, not everyone understands that.
  • One size (or method or explanation) does not fit all, especially when working with both Extension and Experiment Station faculty!
  • Sitting in your office yelling “Really??” at an email is not going to help someone improve their ability to report accurately. Bite your tongue and calmly pick up the phone to offer assistance, no matter how many times you have talked them through turning off the pop-up blocker…
  • Do not let “that’s how it’s always been done” be an excuse for not at least attempting to improve.
  • At the same time, do not ignore why “that’s how it’s always been done,” as there is lots to be learned there as well.
  • Feel free to ask questions and get opinions and feedback, but at the same time realize everyone’s idea may not work for your situation, program, or state.
  • Take advantage of every learning opportunity you have, no matter how long you have been with Extension.
  • Utilize your previous experiences and unique perspectives you may bring to the table, as those help bring about some of the best solutions.

Are You Trying to Measure and Articulate the Value of Community Engagement?

By Nancy Franz, Professor Emeritus, School of Education, Iowa State University

I recently presented in the share fair at National Association of Extension Program and Staff Development Professionals (NAEPSDP) on this topic. The presentation was based on an article I was asked to write for the Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement in 2014 to share lessons learned from 100 years of measuring and articulating the value of Extension work. Over my 35 years with Extension, I’ve seen changing value expectations for Extension engagement from providing private value for learners to now also having to show the public value of those efforts. I’ve also seen changes in how we measure value including hiring evaluation experts, training all Extension educators to evaluate the impacts of programs including use of the logic model, and an increased focus on using evidence-based programs and implementing them with high fidelity. Finally, I’ve also experienced changes in how we articulate the value of Extension engagements as public funding for our work dwindles. As a result, we are creating a portfolio of educational projects and develop fewer comprehensive educational programs.

The lessons I believe we’ve learned as expectations about our value change include the need to:

  • Provide professional development opportunities for staff on measuring and articulating public value
  • Include the perspectives of economists, program evaluators, communicators, and community members in measuring and articulating public value
  • Develop public value statements and stories for substantive programs to share with stakeholders
  • Share resources and ideas through Kalambokidis’ public value blog and the Extension Public Value Network Facebook group
  • Engage early adopters in measuring and articulating Extension’s public value
  • Start with program evaluation at the beginning of a program or project rather than waiting until the end
  • Address issues with programs rather than focusing on ongoing educational activities
  • Include the ability to measure and articulate public value in position announcements, job descriptions, and performance reviews
  • Adopt planning, reporting, and promotion and tenure/performance review systems to better capture public value data
  • Designate a public value champion in the organization for strong support internally and externally

Three new articles (published and in press) that may help you with measuring and articulating Extension’s public value:

Measuring and Articulating the Value of Community Engagement: Lessons Learned from 100 Years of Extension Work by Nancy Franz in the Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement 18(2)

Public-Interest Values and Programs Sustainability: Some Implications for Evaluation Practice by Eleanor Chelimsky in the American Journal of Evaluation 35(4)

Programming for the Public Good: Ensuring a Public Value Through the Cooperative Extension Program Development Model by Nancy Franz in the Journal of Human Sciences and Extension (forthcoming, June 2015)

Upcoming series: Reflections from NAEPSDP2014

Happy New Year from the eXtension Evaluation Community of Practice (CoP)! As you may know, this year has been declared as the International Year of Evaluation. This blog and this CoP can be one venue in which we celebrate advances in Extension Evaluation as part of the worldwide celebration of and emphasis on evaluation.

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To begin the year, we bring you a short series of reflections on the recent conference of the National Association of Extension Program and Staff Development Professionals (NAEPSDP), which took place in San Antonio in December. The conference was a great learning and networking opportunity.

In this short series, we will hear from Nancy Franz (Professor Emeritus, School of Education, Iowa State University) and Diane Mashburn (Program Planning, Evaluation and Accountability Coordinator, University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension).

I hope there excellent insights will prompt some good comments and discussion. Also, feel free to use the comments section to suggest future topics you would like to see addressed in this blog. We want to ensure that you find this blog useful and interesting. Let us hear from you!