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April 21, 2010

Hunting for public value?

Last month a group of about 30 Extension professionals from around the country participated in a train-the-trainer course for "Building Extension's Public Value." One of the participants, Jonathan Ferris of Purdue Extension, shared his ideas for a public value message for Purdue Extension's Venison Workshop. j0406855.jpgThe program teaches participating hunters proper techniques for field dressing deer and safe methods for storing and preserving venison. Educators also update participants about chronic wasting disease in Indiana.

Regarding the evaluation methodology for the venison program, Jonathan reports: "For years, we only asked questions like 'did you pick up some butchering tips,' or 'did you learn something about food safety,' etc. Last year, however, we decided that since we have many return attendees, we would begin asking them if they 1) hunted or fished more as a result of attending our program (we also do fish programs), and 2) do they keep or bring home more fish and game as a result of our programs."

With affirmative responses to those evaluation questions, Jonathan and his colleagues argue that the hunter/fisherman programs create public value by generating hunting and fishing license fees for the state (provided that the program participants hunt and fish in concordance with state regulations). Moreover, wild game and fish are low in saturated fats and sodium, and are generally part of a healthy diet. Sportsmen and women who bring home more wild game and fish and incorporate it into their diets may see improvements in health. When these health improvements lead to lower public health costs, we can see that the Extension programs have generated public value.

Additionally, if the venison team can produce evidence that program participants identify and report animals that show signs of chronic wasting disease, they may be able to make a "natural resource protection" argument, as well.

Do you have hunting and fishing programs in your state? Have you tried to make a case for public funding for such programs? How do you explain the 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?)