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April 29, 2013

Do people's eyes glaze over when you talk about your Extension program?

bored.bmpA couple of posts ago I highlighted the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine's (CIRM's) elevator pitch challenge for its fund recipients. I linked to CIRM's #sciencepitch web page that contains links to the grantees' videos. But I failed to draw your attention to the video on the front page that depicts CIRM's Director of Public Communications, Kevin McCormack, introducing the challenge. He asks, "Do people's eyes glaze over when talk about your research?" and "Do reporters hang up on you when you talk about your work?" Check out the video for amusing scenes of researchers struggling to hold a co-worker's or a reporter's attention. Do Extension advocates ever struggle in the same way? ;-)

In the video, McCormack offers tips for constructing an effective pitch: make the pitch "short, simple, clear, articulate, informative, engaging, even entertaining." All of those adjectives could apply to an effective public value message for an Extension program, with a few more suggestions shown in the slide below

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January 31, 2011

Building Extension's Public Value Word Cloud

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Created with wordle.

July 29, 2010

The public university's mission is to...create public value?

Around the country Extension organizations are using the public value approach to make a case for public funding for Extension programs and, in some cases, for the organization as a whole. But, can the public value approach help make a case for public higher education funding, generally? This was--understandably--a topic of conversation yesterday when I taught a short workshop for the Public Higher Education Advocacy Professionals, who held their annual conference here at the University of Minnesota.
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One answer is that the public value of a state university is the sum of the public value from everything the university does: teaching and granting degrees, outreach education, research, athletics, art performances, continuing education, public engagement, community service, etc. The "public value message" for the university is the [rather thick] catalog of messages for all of the programs in each of these categories.

A more satisfactory answer--and the one I think university advocates are seeking--would convey the public value of the institution in a single, compelling, all-purpose statement. To me, this sounds like a mission statement for the university, with the stipulation that it focus on public value: how the university benefits those who do not have direct contact with the university. The institution's public value statement answers the question, as if posed by a state resident with no access to university resources, "What are you doing for me?"

A short web search reveals that some public university mission statements already include the answer. Below I excerpted from mission statements the pieces that sounded the most like public value messages:

Michigan State University:

"[The university's teaching prepares students] to contribute fully to society as globally engaged citizen leaders...[The university's research] make[s] make a positive difference, both locally and globally...[The university's outreach and public engagement] lead to a better quality of life for individuals and communities, at home and around the world."

Oregon State University:

"Oregon State University promotes economic, social, cultural and environmental progress for the people of Oregon, the nation and the world."

Kansas State University:

"The mission of Kansas State University is to foster excellent teaching, research, and service that develop a highly skilled and educated citizenry necessary to advancing the well-being of Kansas, the nation, and the international community."

Many public universities see their missions as generally making the state--indeed, the world--a better place. As long as that "betterment" extends to people without direct contact with the university, the institution has accomplished its public value mission, as well.

April 29, 2010

Should sponsors benefit from Extension programs?

Many Extension programs receive sponsorships from third parties: individuals, businesses, or organizations that wish to ensure that a program takes place. The program's sustainability sometimes hinges on the sponsor's financial support, and sponsors have an interest in the program's outcomes. University of Minnesota Extension's Farm Transfer and Estate Planning program is an example. According to Agricultural Business Management Extension Educator Gary Hachfeld, sponsors for the program include attorneys, accountants, and bankers who support the program so that their clients (and others) may attend.

When assembling a public value message, we consider the private benefits to the program participants and the public value that accrues to the greater community. But, is it legitimate for a program to also create benefits for the third-party sponsors? In my view, when the sponsor's financial support is crucial to the program, and the program persists in creating substantial public value, creating benefits for the sponsor is warranted.

Consider the schematic below, based on the diagram we typically use to illustrate the elements of a public value message:
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Note that the program's outcomes may result in private benefits, public value, and sponsor benefits. Moreover, the sponsor's interests may overlap with those of the program participant (private benefits) and the greater community (public value). In the case of the farm transfer program, a sponsoring attorney may value improved business outcomes for her clients, as well as an increase in demand for her own estate planning services. Being a member of the same community as her clients, she may also value the economic vitality and social capital improvements that arise from the program.

So, generally, where the interests of a third-party sponsor coincide with--or at least do not compete with--a program's public value, a sponsorship can create a win-win-win-win for Extension, program participants, the sponsor, and the community.

March 30, 2010

Efficient, benevolent, and honorable...government?

Yesterday I taught a short version of the "Public Value of Public Programs (PVPP)" workshop for a Public Affairs class at the University of Minnesota. The PVPP workshop content is similar to that of the BEPV workshop, and the objectives are the same: to help people who develop, teach, evaluate, and advocate for publicly funded outreach programs to make a case for that public funding. The difference is that PVPP is not directed at Extension professionals, but at program providers in the government and nonprofit sectors.

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I presented the slide below to introduce the idea that under conditions of market failure, collective action(for example, by the public or nonprofit sector) can improve the outcome for a community.

A student asked whether I was assuming that government or nonprofits would act efficiently and in the best interests of the people. In some developing countries, he noted, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are sometimes inefficient and corrupt. Their action, even in the presence of market failures, can make a community worse off than if the market failures had persisted.

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Indeed, the PVPP program addresses the role of the public and nonprofit sectors when private enterprises ("the market") fail, but is silent on the possibility of government or nonprofit failures. A shortcoming, indeed.

So, yes, to make a strong case for public funding of a program, it is necessary not only to explain how a public or nonprofit organization can in theory address issues that the private sector cannot (market failure), but to provide evidence that your organization will in practice act efficiently, benevolently, and honorably for the public good.

In Extension's case, we can safely assume that our organizations always act efficiently, benevolently and honorably, right? Right?

March 24, 2010

Public value on the range

mt209057a.jpgEarlier this month I gave a short talk on the public value of Extension and outreach programs for the Western Rangelands Partnership. The organization's website, Rangelands West, is source of research and educational resources for rangeland managers, landowners, and residents of western states.

I drafted an example of a public value message for a hypothetical rangeland outreach program. In my example, the target stakeholder is a state resident who is not directly involved in the outreach program--or rangeland management--and who may have little awareness of the business and recreation uses of rangeland. Nevertheless, the resident is concerned about threats to the state's water resources.

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Do you have some experience and/or expertise with outreach programs targeted at rangeland managers? Have you done public value work for such programs? Feel free to critique my example or share your own in the comments.

(Photo credit: Beef Cows and Calves at the Matador Cattle Co's Beaverhead Ranch by Edwin Remsberg USDA/CSREES)


January 25, 2010

What the doctor ordered

What should an Extension program team have on hand to draft a public value message that secures a skeptical stakeholder's support? Here's my prescription: prescription.jpgWhat's yours?

December 21, 2009

Extension, Show me the money! Or not.

While the objective of the "Building Extension's Public Value" workshop is to draft a qualitative message about a program's public value, many of our stakeholders are concerned about programs' financial impacts. For example, county commissioners and state legislators want to know how much a program will cost, and whether it's impacts will reduce strain on the county or state budget. A lot of us, therefore, are eager to quantify the impacts of Extension programs and, wherever possible, convert those impacts into dollars and cents.
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Some exciting work is being done on monetizing Extension program impacts. These economic impact briefs from Texas AgriLife Extension are a strong example, and I know there are many more studies.

In future blog entries, I'll write more about ways researchers and program evaluators are quantifying and monetizing Extension program impacts. However, as persuasive as a dollars-and-cents case can be with some stakeholders, I can think of two reasons to proceed with caution as we pursue more financial and fiscal impact studies.

First, Cooperative Extension does not yet have all the resources and tools necessary to estimate the financial and fiscal benefits of all of our programs. To do a credible job, applied economists, program evaluators and others would need to devote many more hours to this effort than are currently available. Data must be collected and analyzed, models built and tested, reports written and vetted. The likely result of pressuring program teams to estimate financial impacts while providing them with inadequate resources is a collection of poor quality analyses that erode Extension's credibility.

Second, some programs' public value lends itself more readily to monetization than others. For example, a program that helps reduce a county's cost of managing its waste can make a strong, straightforward, dollars-and-cents case. On the other hand, methodologies for estimating the fiscal impact of social capital improvements are less well-developed.

Because so many of Extension's stakeholders are concerned about monetary value, I am concerned that those programs whose public value is more easily monetized will rise to the top of the priority list--not because they contribute more public value, but because their value is easier to translate into currency.

The objective of the BEPV workshop is to make strong qualitative cases for all Extension programs that create public value. I hope we can keep doing this, even while we seek the resources necessary to estimate the financial and fiscal impacts of those programs for which that is possible.

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?

October 9, 2009

2009 Agricultural and Applied Economics Association Award

Earlier this summer at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, I was very pleased and honored to receive the Association's Award for Distinguished Extension/Outreach Program for an Individual, Less than Ten Years Experience. You can read about how the award recognizes the Building Extension's Public Value Program here.

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(Photo: AAEA President Richard E. Just and Laura Kalambokidis at the 2009 AAEA Annual Conference)

If you let me participate in an Extension program

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In the Building Extension's Public Value workshops, I often refer to a 1995 Nike (TM) ad campaign as an example of a way to craft a concise public value message. Nike's "If You Let me Play" (TM) campaign used a simple, repeated "if this, then that" structure to persuade viewers of the public benefits that arise from girls participating in sports. I think the ad's structure can be adapted to convey Extension's public value message: When people participate in Extension programs, the community is made better off.

As a reference for those who have taken the BEPV train-the-trainer course, the script of the "If You Let Me Play" ad is included in the BEPV Presenter's Guide. Even better, during last week's train-the-trainer, a participant alerted me to the presence of the ad on Youtube. You can view it here.

What do you think of the ad? Is it compelling? Would a similar ad touting the public benefits of Extension programs be effective?

August 12, 2009

Creating Public Value with Master Gardener

Last weekend I spoke at the 2009 Minnesota Master Gardener Annual Conference about, of course, the Public Value of Master Gardener programs.

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I am not an expert in the Master Gardener program or its benefits, but I do have a couple of observations about applying the public value approach to this important program.

First, while Master Gardeners surely create public value with the actions they, themselves, make, the larger benefits come from the actions MGs induce others to make. I think most MG public value statements will emphasize this "leveraged" impact.

Second, MG programs create an impressive range of public benefits, including improvements to food security, food safety, biodiversity, air and water quality, social capital, positive youth choices, and local economic vitality. I think some very strong messages can be crafted to highlight these benefits, particularly for stakeholders who may view MG as a "luxury" program whose impact begins and ends with pretty flowers.

Did you attend the Minnesota Master Gardener conference last weekend? Are you a Master Gardener? How do you think the public value approach can be applied to the work that you do?

March 2, 2009

Learn first, then do

The behavior changes that we seek from Extension's interventions only arise once program participants learn something new: through our programs they gain knowledge, skills or awareness. For example, the Alaska Extension client below is learning how to plant a community garden. (Photo by Edwin Remsberg USDA/CSREES.)

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The diagram that I usually use to illustrate a public value message leaves out this "learning" step. In two recent public value workshops--for Texas Agrilife Extension and for Missouri Extension--I presented the public value message diagram slightly differently than I have done before.

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Many of us document the learning step in our logic models. End-of-workshop evaluations and follow-up evaluations often measure the increases in knowledge, skills, and awareness. And for program evaluation, that step will continue to be crucial. For a public value statement, however, I tend to de-emphasize the learning step. Because I think that stakeholders are more interested in what happened, as a result of the learning, I like to move quickly to the behavior changes, outcomes, and public value a program generates. Learning is part of the mechanism that gets us to public value, but it is not the end in itself.

What do you think? Should a public value message keep the learning step implicit, or should it receive more emphasis when we communicate with stakeholders? Do you think the (not very dramatically) altered public value message diagram is a helpful tool or an unnecessary distraction?

August 18, 2008

What does building public value look like?

This week for the Extension 2.0 course, we were asked to explore images and videos for our blogs. I would love to include in the blog and the workshop curriculum some photos that illustrate "Building Extension's Public Value." However, "public value" is not an easy concept to capture in a picture.

Here is the definition of public value from the workshop curriculum: "In Cooperative Extension, we understand the value of our programs to participants. But 'public value' is the value of a program to those who do not directly benefit from the program." (Kalambokidis and Bipes, 2007). So, for an image to illustrate that concept, it would need to show people doing something (action shot!) as part of an Extension program that will benefit the greater community.

I searched on various tags in the online photo-sharing site, Flickr, including "Master Gardener," "4-H," "Cooperative Extension," and "Sea Grant." (As an aside, searching on "Extension" in Flickr yields great images for those interested in hair extensions or camera lenses, but little that serves my purpose.) I saw a lot of lovely photos of forests, crops, livestock, shellfish, and gardens. I also saw fun shots of people enjoying themselves, or getting hands-on training, without a clear connection to the public benefits they are generating.

Here is a nice photo of industrious Master Gardeners that I think conveys "public value." While it's not immediately obvious from the single photo, the rest of the photo set makes clear that they are working at a public garden, thus benefiting everyone who uses and values the space.

What do you think? Do you have any images that you think tell a story about Extension's public value?