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November 20, 2009

Disorienting dilemma and public value

I am continuing to look for ways that the theory of transformative learning--including the disorienting dilemma and perspective change that Mezirow (1) included as elements--applies to the "Building Extension's Public Value " workshop. One of the ways we try to encourage a perspective change for workshop participants is by setting up the free market ideal...and then knocking it down, or at least identifying its limitations. Hopefully we create a disorienting dilemma for someone who has bought into that free market ideal.

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For someone who is confident that there is a private-enterprise-driven, government-hands-off solution to every condition that challenges a community, it's hard to see a role for publicly-funded outreach programs. But, once that person understands that free markets and private businesses alone can fail to lead to ideal outcomes, she can see that there is room for the public sector to act to improve those outcomes. Outreach programs in general, and Extension programs in particular, are one way the public sector can take action. (Recall that the "Public Value of Public Programs" workshop makes the same kind of case for outreach education that is sponsored by local governments and non-profits.)

I presented this argument, and the above slide, last week when I guest lectured in the "Transforming Public Policy" (PA 8001) course in the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, here at the University of Minnesota. A student challenged me by saying that she didn't see the point of my illustrating the limitations of the free market argument because she didn't believe it in the first place. She started from the perspective that the public sector has a role in addressing market failure, and so didn't need to make the transformation I was advancing.

Surely, this is often the case: that the audience for the BEPV workshop (Extension professionals) is made up of people who fully grasp the limitations of the market ideal. That's why they work for Extension in the first place! But, the above illustration is really intended to help BEPV participants to view the world from the perspective of a stakeholder who is skeptical about public sector involvement in the economy: someone who highly values the role of private enterprise. Hopefully, BEPV participants will then be better positioned to make their case for Extension to that skeptical stakeholder, perhaps by setting up the disorienting dilemma and inducing a perspective change in them.

(1) Mezirow, J. (Ed.). (2000). Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

November 19, 2009

New perspectives and public value

One of the tenets of Jack Mezirow's theory of transformative learning (1) is a change in perspective triggered by a disorienting dilemma--an event or observation that causes the learner to question her prior assumptions. Being introduced to someone else's perspective can be part of that dilemma. Consider, for example, a rancher and a wildlife conservationist working together in a community group to develop a consensus plan for managing a local population of wolves. Challenged to critically reflect on their own assumptions and to understand others' perspectives, their own perspectives may "transform."

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I can imagine that in some cases an Extension program succeeds in encouraging a participant to make a different choice than she otherwise would have by helping her see the perspective of the community-member her actions affect. Letting a homeowner see how her poorly managed septic system turns her neighbors' drinking water toxic could be enough to induce her make a fix. Simply learning the impact of her actions on others--whether beneficial or costly--could be enough for her to make different choices.

In other cases, the perspective change might be a change in the way the participant sees how her actions affect herself, her family, or her business. She may make an alternative choice, not because she is concerned about her impact on the community (her public benefits or costs), but because she wants to improve her own or her family's well-being. As long as these changes also benefit the greater community, she is--however unintentionally--creating public value.

As a final thought on perspective change, I note that Extension educators who participate in a "Building Extension's Public Value" workshop are asked to assume the perspective of a stakeholder--someone whose support for the Extension program is valued, but who is not a program participant. For example, a stakeholder for an out-of-school-time program might be a school board member, who does not have children of his own in the program. BEPV workshop participants are asked to imagine what matters the most to the stakeholder: to put themselves in his shoes. For the school board member, a primary concern might be Kindergarten readiness or student performance on standardized tests. The public value message directed to that stakeholder, then, takes into consideration his perspective and addresses concerns. In so doing, the public value message should be successful in securing his support for the program. It's a case of transformative learning (through perspective change) on the part of the Extension professionals, themselves.

(1) Mezirow, J. (Ed.). (2000). Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

November 17, 2009

Are Extension Educators Transformers?

The public value approach to securing support for Extension holds that public value arises when program participants adopt behaviors--make choices--that benefit others. The key to maximizing public value is to design educational outreach programs that increase the incidence of beneficial behaviors. But, how to do this? How can--and do--Extension programs help participants make choices that are different from what their prior experiences and perceptions would lead them to choose?

Nancy Franz, in a 2007 Journal of Extension article, "Adult Education Theories: Informing Cooperative Extension's Transformation," suggests that one route to behavior change is through Jack Mezirow's theory of "Transformational Learning"(1). Franz writes:

"Adult education theories of transformative learning and critical reflection are especially pertinent to inform successful transformation because they focus on developing more participatory learning. These theories suggest that Extension should create opportunities for learners to experience disorienting dilemmas, critically reflect on their assumptions, and facilitate how to learn not just what to learn." [Emphasis added.]

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When Extension educators create the right environments for transformative learning to occur, transformation is more likely to happen, and with it, changes in choices and behaviors. In short, Extension educators can increase their impact--and their programs' public value--by acting as "transformers." As an example, in a more recent JOE article, "Catalyzing Transformation: Conditions in Extension Educational Environments that Promote Change," Franz and team of co-authors assess whether the conditions for transformative learning are present in two cases: Cornell Cooperative Extension agent/specialist work teams and Virginia 4-H camps.

In the first JOE article, Franz repeats Mezirow's ten steps that a "transformative learner" might take (1):

1. Experience a disorienting dilemma
2. Undergo self-examination
3. Conduct a deep assessment of personal role assumptions and alienation created by new roles
4. Share and analyze personal discontent and similar experiences with others
5. Explore options for new ways of acting
6. Build competence and self-confidence in new roles
7. Plan a course of action
8. Acquire knowledge and skills for action
9. Try new roles and assess feedback
10. Reintegrate into society with a new perspective

While none of these steps explicitly says, "Do things differently than they would have done before," it is easy to imagine that exploring options for new ways of acting, planning a course of action, and acquiring knowledge and skills for action could lead to behavior change. Is setting the scene for transformative learning enough, however? Or is there some additional action Extension must take to increase the likelihood that program participants act on their new perspectives?

(1) Mezirow, J. (Ed.). (2000). Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


November 16, 2009

Minnesota's Cooperative Extension Model

Those of you working within Cooperative Extension have likely heard about Minnesota Extension's major reorganization and shift to a regional/county program delivery model. I frequently field questions about the shift: Why did Minnesota make the change? How did it happen? What has been the result? How is Minnesota Extension doing now?

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I am very grateful that George Morse and a knowledgeable team of co-authors have now published a book, The Minnesota Response: Cooperative Extension's Money and Mission Crisis, that answers these questions and more.

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On his blog, "Economics in Cooperative Extension," George Morse explains what the book is about:

"The Minnesota Response explains how Minnesota Extension responded to its mission and money crisis in 2004 with a sweeping reorganization. Breaking with 95 years of tradition, Minnesota Extension shifted from a county based delivery model to a regional/county delivery model. Regionalization, however, is the tip of the iceberg. Several other policies define Minnesota's new approach, including changes in funding sources, degree of specialization of the regional educators, more statewide program teams, development of business plans, increased use of market research, supervision of field educators by program specialists rather than geographic supervisors, and new scholarship and promotion expectations. The Minnesota Response details these policies and reports on their initial impacts on program quality, scholarship, access to Extension, and public support for Extension."

The full citation to the book is: George Morse, Jeanne Markell, Philip O'Brien, Adeel Ahmed, Thomas Klein, and Larry Coyle. The Minnesota Response: Cooperative Extension's Money and Mission Crisis. iUniverse, Bloomington, October 2009. 428 pages.

It is available from amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com in soft cover or hard cover.

Google Books allows you to read some of the book. To find the book easily, enter the full title at the Google Books link. George has also included some excerpts at his blog.

I'd be pleased to hear of your reactions to the "Minnesota Model" and to the book, and I'm sure George would be, too. Feel free to share your reactions in the comment section here (particularly as they relate to public value) or at George's blog.

November 10, 2009

Logically speaking about public value

Many of you use the University of Wisconsin Extension logic model to guide program development and evaluation. Below is my first attempt at mapping the elements of the logic model to a public value message.

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The "short-term" or "learning outcomes" in the logic model are a means to achieving the behavior changes and outcomes contained in the public value message. These learning outcomes lead the way to public value--and we must identify and measure them--but they are not the focus of the public value message. A skeptical stakeholder is unlikely to be persuaded of a program's value be hearing that a participant learned or became aware of something. The stakeholder is concerned with what the participant actually did with that knowledge.

What I call "changes" in the public value message are called "intermediate" or "medium term outcomes" in the logic model. What I call "outcomes" are the logic model's "long-term outcomes" or changes in conditions.

It seems to me that public value typically arises from a program's long-term outcomes. In some cases, a program's logic model will already include the outcomes that a stakeholder cares about (public value). In other cases, the public value exercise will tell us which additional outcomes we need to monitor--how we should extend the logic model--in order to substantiate our public value messages.

I believe that the public value approach must work hand in hand with program evaluation: it is through good program evaluation that we are able to make credible statements about our programs' public value.

November 9, 2009

Is program evaluation research?

In the previous entry I wrote about two steps that help close the loop between research and Extension (or engagement): conducting research and conducting program evaluation. When I presented this at Purdue's Scholarship of Engagement workshop, a participant asked how I differentiate between research and program evaluation.

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For the purpose of the "closing the loop" diagram, I was thinking of research as applied, scholarly investigation, which may or may not have an intended application to an engagement or outreach program. Really, I was envisioning laboratories and experimental plots.

But I also see many kinds of program evaluation as research; certainly evaluation requires the application of research methods (e.g., cost-benefit analysis, survey data analysis, economic impact analysis). However, it may not be the kind of research that subject-matter scholars (e.g., scientists and social scientists) can publish in their own fields' professional journals. So, I think some program evaluation is research and some research is program evaluation. Am I right? Is there more to the distinction than I am making here?

November 5, 2009

Closing the loop between research and Extension

When I ask Extension professionals to name Extension's strengths relative to other providers of outreach education, the connection between Extension programs and university research inevitably is the the first item on the list. We build on that key strength when we deliver programs that are based on the best research, and the community's needs inform the research agenda: that is, when we close the loop between research and Extension. I focused on this relationship--substituting "engagement" for "Extension"--at the Purdue Scholarship of Engagement Workshop last week.

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Here's how I think an Extension team can close that loop: They (or someone else) conduct research that leads to a discovery (knowledge creation) that could help address a condition of concern in a community (middle left box in the diagram). The team designs their Extension or engagement program with a curriculum that is based on the new knowledge, as well as existing best practices regarding program design and delivery (middle box). If the team is truly "engage" with their community partner, then the partner's needs and strengths will also inform the design of the program. The team conducts their program (middle right box) while also collecting data and observations that can be used to inform the research agenda (top box). This way, what is observed and learned "in the field" makes its way back to the lab to influence the direction of future research. The team also implements their program evaluation plan, which helps them evaluate the impact of the Extension or engagement program (lower right box). The results of the evaluation helps them improve the program design (lower middle box), so greater impact will result next time.

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Where does public value come into this scheme? I can think of at least two places: First, in the design phase, the team will plan how they expect the program to create public value. What are the expected impacts and outcomes, and how do they create benefits for sstakeholders who are not the program's direct beneficiaries? Second, in the evaluation phase, team members will assess whether those expected outcomes were generated: whether public value was created.

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I can think of a few ways a team can increase their success at closing the loop:

*Form a team that includes researchers, Extension educators, and program evaluators.
*Embed the program evaluation plan into program design.
*Develop and implement a plan for collecting observations and data arising from the Extension or engagement program.
*Keep up to date on relevant research developments.
*Plan for steps to take once the program ends (e.g., analyzing data and revisiting the program design).

Do you think closing the loop between research and engagement is crucial? Can you suggest ways to make it happen more systematically in Extension?

November 2, 2009

Extension, Congratulations on your Engagement!

Last week I spoke at Purdue University's Scholarship of Engagement Workshop: Making the Case for Promotion. The workshop was a resource for Purdue faculty who devote significant effort to public engagement and need to document the impact of that work for their promotion and tenure cases. My talk was about "Creating Public Value with Scholarship and Engagement," and I'll tell you more about what I presented in a future blog entry.

The existence of a workshop like Purdue's testifies to the emphasis that land grant universities have placed on the "engagement" activities of their faculty and students. Many are striving to be "engaged universities" and to promote the "scholarship of engagement." As someone who works with Cooperative Extension, I wonder about the relationship between Cooperative Extension and "public engagement" as universities now define it. In particular, it seems that land grant universities that want to become more engaged need only look to their own Extension organizations, which have been practicing public engagement since the Smith-Lever Act was signed.

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So, what do land-grant universities mean by "public engagement" and does it encompass Extension? (I added the emphasis in the quotes below.)

The University of Minnesota's Office of Public Engagement says:

"Engagement is defined as the partnership of university knowledge and resources with those of the public and private sectors to enrich scholarship, research, and creative activity; enhance curriculum, teaching and learning; prepare educated, engaged citizens; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; address critical societal issues; and contribute to the public good."

From the University of Illinois' Office of Public Engagement:

"As a land grant institution the University of Illinois has a long record of commitment to public engagement and to the discovery and application of knowledge to improve and serve the greater society in which we live. Its faculty, staff and students collaborate with external audiences and partners to address the needs and opportunities of society. It is through these partnerships that critical societal issues are embedded into and impact the research and educational missions of the University."

Purdue University's Office of Engagement says:

"Purdue believes in being a good neighbor. Through the Office of Engagement, the university uses its resources to address issues affecting the state's prosperity and quality of life."

Imagining America, whose Project Director for Research and Policy, Tim Eatman, also spoke at the Purdue workshop, explains university engagement this way:

"Our activities are based on the conviction that making universities more civic requires ongoing collaboration with partners in the public and non-profit arenas."

Finally, many public university offices of engagement are modeled after recommendations in the The Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities' third report, "Returning to Our Roots: the Engaged Institution":

"This Commission defines engagement as something that goes well beyond Cooperative Extension and conventional outreach. It even goes beyond most conceptions of public service. Our inherited ideas emphasize a one-way process of transferring knowledge and technology from the university (as the source of expertise) to its key constituents. The engagement ideal is profoundly different; embedded in it is a commitment to sharing and reciprocity. By engagement the Commission envisioned partnerships, two-way streets defined by mutual respect among the partners for what each brings to the table."

Within these definitions, I see two primary objectives for engaged scholars: (1) apply knowledge and expertise to address community needs and promote the public good and (2) work toward this end in partnership with constituencies outside the university. As Tim Eatman said at the Purdue workshop, "engaged scholars are co-creators with their community partners."

While the Kellogg Commission argues that public engagement "goes well beyond Cooperative Extension," it seems to me that contemporary Cooperative Extension--at its best--now goes well beyond traditional, one-way, outreach. By the definitions of the universities themselves, Extension is an example (exemplar??) of public engagement. Is Extension's work viewed this way at your institution? Do you see instances where Extension falls short of the engagement ideal?

(Incidentally, until I started fishing around the Internet, I did not know there was a Journal of Community Engagement Scholarship. Did you?)