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Making the case for Extension during a fiscal crisis

The public value approach was born out of the state and local fiscal crisis of 2001-02. We wanted to make the case for public funding for Extension programs and to help Extension organizations focus scarce resources on programs that generate public value. States and localities are now facing what is, in many cases, even more discouraging fiscal news, and Cooperative Extension is again feeling the financial pressure. I wonder if the public value approach can help Extension make its case for funding under these circumstances. I wonder if focusing on the public benefits of programs can help secure support, even when demands on public resources are extraordinarily high.

A bit of insight into that question comes from a survey I conducted in December 2008 of "Building Extension's Public Value" trainees. The survey asked respondents how they have used the training and how their own public value work has influenced their organization. Out of 400 people surveyed, 106 responded, for a response rate of 27%. (If you were one of the respondents: Thank you!)

Most survey respondents reported having followed their training with additional steps toward adopting the public value approach. For example, 74% explained the public value approach to colleagues, 47% used a public value message when communicating with stakeholders, and 37% explained the public value approach to stakeholders. In addition, 83 % of respondents reported that the public value approach had influenced the way their organization communicates with stakeholders.

The survey also asked how the public value approach had affected various aspects of the Extension organization. On a five-point Likert scale ranging from "very negatively" (1) to "very positively" (5), the most positive impact was on the respondents' own work (average rating of 4.10). Respondents reported similar impacts on how stakeholders view the organization (average rating of 3.74) and how stakeholders view the organization's programs (3.72).

But, what really surprised me, and made me think about making Extension's case during a fiscal crisis was this: thirty respondents (33%) reported that the public value approach had positively affected funding for their programs. Of course, this is self-reported data, so we don't know the extent that anyone's public value work actually influenced program funding. Nevertheless, I would be very interested to hear more from anyone who responded that way on the survey. Perhaps we could all learn how to effectively use public value messages during these trying budgetary times.