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)