Three new articles in the October 2011 issue of the Journal of Extension focus on the effective design and assessment of Extension master volunteer programs:
In Reasons for Volunteering as a Mississippi Master Gardener, authors, Wilson and Newman, summarize a survey of 400+ volunteers. Their results suggest that these participants volunteer to learn more about horticulture, and help those in need. They are less inclined to volunteer for ego-driven or career-related reasons.
In Assessment and Evaluation of the Utah Master Naturalist Program: Implications for Targeting Audiences, author, Larese-Casanova, summarizes a study of the differential outcomes of a watersheds training model for professional and amateur naturalists. His results suggest that amateur participants consistently learned more and more positively rated the course than their professional counterparts. In the words of the author: "Demographic, assessment, and evaluation data were each in their own way particularly useful in determining program success. However, by using these three data sets together, a greater understanding of the effectiveness of the program was achieved."
In Evaluating Peer Impacts of a Master Forest Owner Volunteer Program, authors, Broussard Allred, Goff, Wetzel, and Luo, describe a study of participant and peer-to-peer outcomes of participation in an Extension volunteer program. Results suggest that participants were able to better manage their wooded property, promote community stewardship, and serve as leaders. Peer outcomes included information-seeking and goal-setting behavior, and changes in management activity. Authors conclude: "The results from the surveys demonstrate that local peer-to-peer programs can positively influence woodland owners in their communities as well empower the volunteers themselves."
These studies add to the rich base of research that informs the design, delivery, and evaluation of Extension master volunteer efforts. ESE programs like the Minnesota Master Naturalist Program, and Driven to Discover: Enabling Youth Inquiry Through Citizen Science both draw from and contribute to this knowledge of how we can support and empower citizens for community leadership and stewardship.