When telling your program's story, use evaluation data to illustrate your program's value. In fact, this is essentially what you should do when asked for success stories for the Federal Report. Moreover, the three parts of a Federal Report success story (issue, what has been done and results) provide a useful framework to structure any story to communicate your program's scope, effectiveness and impact.
Learn about the types of evaluation data you can use to illustrate the three parts of a Federal Report success story.
2. What has been done
- Needs assessment data illustrate the problem your program addresses.
- Data collection method: surveys, focus groups and key informant interviews that ask about interests, priorities and needs, secondary data
- Output data give an idea of scope of your program.
- Data collection method: tracking number of events, counting number of participants, surveys to collect background information on participants
- Outcome data demonstrate your program's effectiveness. However, be sure to articulate how your outcomes can be linked to an impact of public value. Don't just say participants said they will change their behavior, but explain what that behavior is and how that potentially leads to a tangible impact, such as money saved or acres influenced. Personal stories or quotes can be used to make your results more meaningful.
- Data collection method: surveys with pre-post retrospective questions (including follow-up surveys), survey questions or interviews on how new practices influenced participants' work, focus groups
The Center for Disease Control has a useful guide on how to tell a success story. (It is targeted for public health stories, but the ideas can be applied to our work too.)
Below are examples of how to use evaluation data from past Federal Reports.
One example of a community-based approach to forest management exists in Itasca County. With two million acres of rural forested land, the county hosts 45,000 residents and cabin owners.
Historically, the county averages 60 wildfires each year, and experts predict an increase in the frequency and intensity of fires. Access is an issue for rural fire trucks and emergency service vehicles. According to the Fed Gazette, estimates of the total cost of wildfires to landowners, investors and taxpayers range from 10 to 50 times the cost of fire suppression.
What has been done?
Through education to property owners and facilitation of nine sectors of public service in the county--including 18 rural fire departments--Extension helped mobilize the county to reduce risks from wildfire and improve the safety of Itasca County residents. In 2013, 276 property owners volunteered 19,891 hours to improve defensible space and remove hazardous materials around structures, improving access for emergency service vehicles.
The value for this in-kind contribution equals more than $440,000. In addition, property owners contributed 1,089 tons of hazardous fuel. Deer River Hired Hands, a local nonprofit, hauled materials to neighborhood consolidation sites where it was chipped and used for renewable energy at the Minnesota Power Rapids Energy Center in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
Issue (Who cares and why)
In a highly scientific industry, producers need the newest information about crop and livestock production. One example is the need to examine and manage nitrogen content using recommended fertilizer nitrogen rates. With increasing costs for corn production and greater concern over environmental quality, it is critical that corn growers make sound decisions on purchased inputs. The most frequent and extreme cases of over-application of N in corn often occur in first and second year corn after alfalfa.
Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station researchers conducted a statistical analysis using 259 site years of data from the literature and recent research conducted in Minnesota. They surveyed alfalfa-corn growers in Minnesota to quantify the extent to which they have adopted alfalfa nitrogen credits.
What has been done?
During 2013, follow-up educational presentations on alfalfa nitrogen credits to corn were given at five Extension workshops and at a program sponsored by a commercial soil testing laboratory. These presentations were given to producers and agricultural professionals managing over 1.9 million acres of land.
According to participant evaluations, 55 percent of respondents said that they would modify future fertilizer nitrogen management for first year corn after alfalfa by much or very much. Assuming they reduce their applied or recommended fertilizer nitrogen rate by 40 pounds of fertilizer nitrogen per acre, and that first-year corn after alfalfa represents five percent of the cropland they manage or provide recommendations for, the educational presentation at these programs will cause growers to reduce fertilizer nitrogen use by 2.09 million pounds per year without reducing corn yield. This is an annual savings of $1.15 million at $0.55 per pound of fertilizer nitrogen. With this reduction in fertilizer nitrogen use, energy input to corn production will be reduced by 45.8 million mega joules per year.
MASTER NATURALISTS (2012 Federal Report)
Issue (Who cares and why)
With a significant percentage of its geography preserved in forests, waters and natural fields, organizations struggle to provide all needed environmental education and protection to Minnesota.
What has been done?
Master Naturalists work with and through organizations that are developing and delivering projects that educate and engage citizens and act to make a difference.
With an increased participant pool and more instructors, volunteers and organizations across the state made a stronger impact on Minnesota's land and water. According to the longitudinal study, organizations find Master Naturalist volunteers to be useful in the following ways:
1. Building a network or community invested in their organization.
2. Producing an improvement or outcome for their environmental center.
3. Increasing educational support and leadership.
4. Increasing general awareness of the environment in the community and for organizations.
As one example of an impact, an organization reported, "We were lucky enough to have a Master Naturalist volunteer design our butterfly garden, a project that would have not come to fruition without that particular volunteer."
-Whitney Meredith, evaluation specialist