June 12, 2012

Searching for public value-level impacts

the-journal-of-extension-logo-SCREEN.jpgAn Extension program creates public value when its positive impact extends beyond the program participants to the greater community. Documenting that a program has created public value, therefore, requires measuring system- or community-level impacts. How often do evaluation studies measure the kinds of impacts that can be classified as public value? In an article in the most recent (April 2012) Journal of Extension, Jeffrey Workman and Scott Scheer try to answer that question. The article, titled "Evidence of Impact: Examination of Evaluation Studies Published in the Journal of Extension," examines program evaluations published in JOE to determine the levels of impact they reached. They considered two impact hierarchies. In Bennett's Hierarchy (from "Up the hierarchy," by C. Bennett in the March 1975 JOE) the highest of seven levels is "end results," which would include such community-level impacts as a stronger economy or improved environmental conditions. In the Logic Model, these kinds of changes in social, economic, civic, and environmental conditions are called "long-term outcomes." Workman and Scheer found that about 5.6 percent of the studies they surveyed reported impacts at these levels.

The authors conclude that "more higher-level evidence of impact is needed." They write that Extension's "ultimate goal is to remain relevant and of value to the public. The strongest method to demonstrate relevancy and public value is to document "true impact" (end results/long-term outcomes)."

Do the authors' findings ring true for you? Are only a small percentage of programs able to demonstrate public value-level impacts? Is it because few programs are achieving that level of impact? Or because the resources have not been available to measure programs' long-term impacts?

October 31, 2011

Looking back at public value in Journal of Extension

I was browsing through this blog and noticed that, while I had highlighted the April 2011 issue of Journal of Extension that featured articles on public value, I never highlighted my original JOE article.

In April 2004, I outlined how University of Minnesota Extension's public value work began in a JOE article titled "Identifying the Public Value of Extension Programs". Here is the abstract:

Government budget crises have compelled state Extension Services to defend their receipt of state and county funding. A key to that defense is persuading citizens and policymakers of Extension's "public value": the benefit from Extension programs to those who are not directly served. This article uses the principles of public sector economics to help formulate that defense and describes how Extension staff have applied economic principles to identify the public value in their own programs. The approach, developed into a workshop for program teams, serves to both sustain programs that have strong public value and identify programs that do not.

May 3, 2011

Public Value in the Journal of Extension

Check out the April 2011 issue of the Journal of Extension for three articles that reference Extension's public value.

Here is the abstract for my article in that issue, "Spreading the Word about Extension's Public Value":

In recent years, the idea that Extension can build support for its programs by highlighting how they benefit people who have no contact with the programs has taken root in the Extension system. Providing Extension program teams with resources, training, and leadership can lead to a body of public value messages that can infuse Extension's stakeholder communications. Hundreds of Extension professionals have received public value training, and survey results suggest that many trainees are following up with actions. Many trainees see positive effects from the public value approach, but measurable impacts will take more time.

The issue also includes an article by Nancy Franz of Iowa State University Extension on "Advancing the Public Value Movement: Sustaining Extension During Tough Times." Nancy's abstract is here:

Extension must more fully and adeptly embrace the public value movement to be sustainable as a publicly funded organization, or our demise as an organization will continue. The public value steps outlined here and piloted with several Extension systems and national work groups can be informative for others interested in capturing and sharing the public value of Extension work. Overall, the Extension public value banner needs to be held high as we struggle to change the perception of our work by addressing this as a "movement" in our organizational development and not a "response" to the economic environment.

Finally, George Morse's article "Regionalization with or without Specialization: A Call for a National Research Agenda" discusses the role of public value work in Extension reorganization. Here is George's abstract:

More research is needed to help states evaluate Extension delivery model alternatives. Given funding trends, access to all programs requires regional systems with county offices. The traditional county model provides access to an office but only to some programs. While there will be many differences, only states with specialized educators can make sufficient program investments to increase public value and funding. Stakeholders exploring regionalization need to know about the successes and failures of the early adopters. The implementation of a national agenda of high-quality research on regionalization and specialization is needed to protect Extension's historic mission.