Main

February 3, 2014

How do your programs create public value?

In the Building Extension's Public Value workshop, we highlight three main ways Extension programs create public value. Programs address concerns about fairness, close an information gap, or encourage actions that benefit the greater community (or equivalently, discourage actions that impose costs on the community). Each of these can be thought of as a criterion or justification for public sector involvement. In my experience, most Extension programs focus on the third type of value creation and base their public value message on the ways a program encourages beneficial activities.
clipboard.bmp

During a recent a webinar for University of Minnesota Extension, we conducted an onscreen poll asking which of the three criteria participants thought applied to their programs. Respondents could choose any criterion that applied, including choosing all three. Out of about 32 participants, five thought their programs addressed a concern about fairness, and both the information gap and public benefits criteria received 20 votes.

We can't generalize from this non-scientific poll, but I wondered about the lack of attention to the fairness criterion. In the workshop, I encourage program teams to use this criterion with caution. Whether the unfairness of a situation warrants public sector action is subjective, and stakeholders with different values may assess fairness differently. So, I think Extension makes a more effective case when it uses the fairness criterion selectively. For this reason, I wasn't surprised by the small number of responses for fairness. I wondered, though, whether it arose because respondents thought their programs did not address a concern about fairness, or if they thought the program did address fairness, but they planned to emphasize a different criterion in order to make a stronger case.

Do you think a relatively small share of Extension programs address a fairness concern? Which criterion would you have chosen for the Extension programs you work with?

November 13, 2013

The private-public benefit intersection

intersection_ahead.jpgIn the public value message structure (seen here for example), I distinctly separate private benefits to program participants from the public value accruing to the rest of the community. In a recent seminar for Penn State University Agricultural Extension and Education program, I was asked whether I saw an intersection between private and public benefits, or need they always be separated in the model. I think the intersection between private and public benefits occurs when the program participant is a member of the community that enjoys the subsequent public benefits. In those cases, the participant will benefit from her own involvement in the program--through gaining new skills or making behavior changes that personally benefit her--but along with her neighbors, she will also enjoy the community-level changes the program generates. For example, someone who participates in an entrepreneurship program may enhance her business skills and improve the profitability of her own business. Her business' success improves local economic conditions--perhaps attracting new customers or suppliers to the area or enlarging the tax base--which improve opportunities for everyone in the community, along with the original entrepreneur.

I don't typically emphasize this intersection, because the objective of the public value works is to adopt the perspective of the non-participant payers of Extension programs--the community-members who are being asked to share in the cost of the programs through public funding, but who do not receive the private benefits of program participation. Nevertheless, the point that an intersection between public and private benefits exists, is well-taken.


October 14, 2013

Working Differently in Extension Podcast

Interested in a short introduction to "Building Extension's Public Value"? Check out this Working Differently in Extension Podcast, featuring a conversation between Bob Bertsch of Agricultural Communication at North Dakota State University and me. If you'd like to actually see us converse, check out the video of the podcast below.

May 14, 2013

Telling 4-H's public value story

MC900436946.bmpNancy Franz of Iowa State University Extension has alerted me (and the rest of the her Public Value Network listserv) to the California 4-H program's involvement of volunteers and staff in a statewide effort to develop public value stories. On the program's California Public Values web page, a survey link invites volunteers and staff to participate in the effort to "shape California 4-H's public values that will be shared with the broader community that has a stake in 4-H."

The survey asks respondents to identify (1) positive benefits to youth from participating in 4-H, (2) ways society benefits from those positive youth outcomes, and (3) community or state benefits from adult volunteer participation in the 4-H program.

"Crowdsourcing"--at least from select sources, such as those working with 4H across the state--sounds like a potentially efficient way to assemble a body of program impact stories. Local program staff can bring to administrators' and evaluators' attention impacts that might otherwise have been overlooked. I am eager to hear how the California 4H public value project develops.

May 1, 2013

National resources for impacts and public value

7042011201_5ba93f1364_n.jpgAt last week's 2013 PILD conference, I heard about a couple of national initiatives that, once developed, should help Extension organizations share impact data that can inform public value messages. In my own comments at the conference, I supported cross-state sharing of ideas, so I was encouraged to hear about these national projects.

First, I think it was NIFA director Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy who mentioned an effort this summer to develop a national portal for impact reporting that will consolidate Extension program impact results.

Second, I believe it was ECOP chair Dr. Daryl Buchholz who highlighted ECOP's Measuring Excellence initiative. It appears that this project is meant to define and demonstrate excellence and to report impacts for Cooperative Extension as a whole. From the website: "Cooperative Extension has advanced from merely reporting inputs and outputs to documenting outcomes and impacts of its programs. However, most of these measures are tied to specific programs. They are not generally assessed or considered at the organizational level." While the "excellence" part of the website is well-developed, the pages having to do with impact are still under construction. I look forward to the work that will populate these pages with resources and guidance for Extension impact teams. Meanwhile, I have to give a shout out for the public value statements on the front page of the website!

By the way, my notes from the PILD keynote talks are a little sparse. If I am wrong about which speaker spoke about which initiative, please correct me in the comments. And if you know more about how the portal or the Measuring Excellence project can strengthen Extension's public value case, please share that, too!

(Photo credit: USDAgov on FlickR)

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

tips.png

April 16, 2013

#sciencepitch? How about #Extensionpitch?

Earlier this year the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) held what they called an Elevator Pitch Challenge. The goal of the challenge was to help researchers who get funding from the stem cell agency do a better job of communicating with the public. They invited any researcher who gets CIRM funding to prepare a 30 second videotaped pitch, keeping it short, simple and something anyone can understand. CIRM staff then voted who they thought did the best job.

elevator.JPGThe resulting videos are posted on the CIRM website and on Youtube under the hashtag #sciencepitch.

As CIRM's press release says, "We are a publicly funded agency and the money we use to fund research comes from the people of California, so it's only reasonable to expect researchers to be able to explain the importance of what they do to Californians, and anyone else they might meet."

Sound familiar? This is the same challenge the public value approach presents to Extension programs: Explain to people with no connection to your program why they should fund it. I haven't seen any public value messages on video, but there's no reason it couldn't be done. Has your organization asked Extension programs to record a public value "pitch"? Should we give it a try? If we assembled a series of videotaped messages, what would be the most effective use of them? Maybe we can start an #Extensionpitch Youtube channel to share our efforts and spark ideas of how to use the videos.

August 27, 2012

Less obesity, lower costs?

Today in her blog, "Food Politics," Marion Nestle summarizes some recent estimates from the Campaign to End Obesityof the cost of obesity in the United States. Nestle sounds reluctant to take the estimates at face value, but admits, "One thing is clear: obesity is expensive, personally, economically, and politically."
MP900448608.bmp
Extension programs of many types aim to reduce the incidence of and costs associated with obesity. Not only nutrition education programs, but some agriculture programs (farmers markets, local foods), youth programs, and even community leadership programs seek to improve health and impact the obesity problem. And to be effective with non-participant stakeholders--to demonstrate public value--these programs would like to report the dollar value of savings they have helped generate for state and local governments and for communities. Can estimates such those released by the Campaign to End Obesity help Extension programs make their case?

Do you work with programs that address obesity and its impact on communities? Have you found estimates of the cost of obesity that can be used to support your program's public value? Do you focus on public health costs--which affect all community members--or have you found a way to incorporate even the impact on private health care costs into a public value message?

October 20, 2011

Constructing a public value message in real time

As I mentioned in the previous blog entry, a couple of weeks ago I taught a one-hour "mini" public value workshop as part of the University of Minnesota Extension fall program conference. With such a short amount of time, we really had to pare down the presentation, and there wasn't enough time for participants to complete exercises. construction.JPGMy co-organizer, Aimee Viniard-Weideman, wanted us to at least give the participants a sense of how the construct a public value message. Aimee suggested that we invite a colleague, who had already completed the BEPV workshop, to demonstrate how her program's message came about.

We included a blank version of the public value message graphic, like the one below, except with empty boxes. Prior to the session, we asked Sue Letourneau, program leader for health and nutrition programs, to share a public value message for Extension's Simply Good Eating program. I created a slide that included Sue's text within the message graphic and added animation that brought the text in one box at a time. At the session, I asked Sue to present her message, explaining how her team arrived at the language they chose.

Given the short amount of time, we hope this approach helped participants see how a program team can go about constructing a public value message, even if they didn't get a chance to do so themselves. It also gave an example of a UM Extension program that had completed the workshop, hopefully dispelling concerns that it would be too demanding. Finally, Sue helped participants see how the public value message was related to the research agenda that the Simply Good Eating program team is currently implementing.

blank worksheet.bmp


March 14, 2011

Public value messaging via the web

Visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website to see an example of an organization communicating to stakeholders with the public value approach. nebraska.bmpEasily spotted by anyone visiting the organization's public home page in February, was a public value message for a private drinking water and wastewater Extension program. Below the message was a link to a document containing messages for programs across all disciplines. Today, links to program impact summary reports occupy that left-column space on the home page. Prominent on the front of each colorful, two-page report is a message about the program's public value.

Keep checking in with the UN-L Extension web page to see other ways they highlight their programs' public value.

How has your organization used public value messages on the web?

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.
00438620.jpg
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.

June 8, 2010

Are we storytellers or statisticians?

A couple of weeks ago I gave a talk on "Building Public Value with Extension and Research" at the National Extension and Research Administrative Officers Conference in Madison, WI. I heard a question that echoed one that I once asked of an Extension legislative affairs officer: "When making the case for Extension funding to an elected official, is it more effective to tell personal stories about positive experiences with Extension, or to share statistics about the impact of Extension programs?"
storyteller.bmp
The answer I got from the official who visits regularly with state legislators was, "We need a lot of both!" He said that the evidence on program impact is crucial for showing legislators that Extension is improving conditions in their districts. However, we make a stronger case when we can also "put a face" on those statistics with personal stories about Extension and, importantly, personal stories about how the improved community conditions have positively affected a constituent. So, it seems to me, our best case has three components: (1) evidence of program impact, (2) testimony from individuals whose lives were improved by their own participation in Extension programs, and (3) testimony from individuals who benefit from the improved conditions--environmental, social, economic, etc.--that Extension programs helped generate.

May 4, 2010

Build muscles, bones, and public value!

University of Missouri Extension's Stay Strong, Stay Healthy program (SSSH) is a strength training program that leads older adults to feel more active, flexible, and energetic. weight.bmpThe SSSH team has created a public value message that they use to generate awareness and support for the program. Here is the message, complete with an estimate of health-related cost savings, excerpted from the program website:

"When you support MU Extension's Stay Strong, Stay Healthy program, participants will increase their physical activity and may improve strength, balance and flexibility, resulting in reduced risk for falls, better overall health and greater independence. These health benefits decrease the likelihood of a participant entering a nursing home, which costs on average $24,455 per year in Missouri. The money saved benefits the community by keeping more discretionary income in circulation locally. It also keeps people actively, independently contributing to society longer."

Do you have a similar program in your state? How do you explain your program's public value?

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:
sponsor.bmp
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.

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?

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.

rangeland.JPG
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 28, 2009

This I believe to be true today

Substantiating the claims that we make about Extension programs' public value is crucial to Extension's credibility. However, we don't always have enough time in a "Building Extension's Public Value" workshop to assemble the documentation (journal articles, program evaluation reports, etc.) to support the claims embedded in a newly drafted public value message. The purpose of the "Research Agenda" workshop module is to list those claims and create a plan for assembling the supporting documents, or even for conducting new program evaluations or research.
research agenda.JPG
Sometimes, a workshop group is torn between wanting to draft a public value message that is persuasive--but, maybe a bit aspirational--and one that contains only claims for which the team has strong supporting evidence. I usually encourage groups to be creative and persuasive during the workshop and worry about the documentation later, but not to publicly use a public value message until they are sure it is defensible. Understandably, this guidance occasionally leads to draft public value messages that include some pretty far-fetched claims.

Cynthia Crawford, Family Financial Education Specialist and County Program Director for University of Missouri Extension in Saline County, MO, has a suggestion for helping workshop groups stay creative while not veering too far off into "aspirational" territory. Cynthia suggests telling teams drafting public value statements that they don't have to have the documentation to substantiate their claims today (during the workshop), but they do have to believe the statements are true today. Cynthia reports that this bit of direction has lead to remarkably strong--and credible--draft public value messages in short amounts of work time.

I will definitely adopt Cynthia's "you have to believe it today" guidance the next time I teach a BEPV workshop. Do you have any other suggestions for helping teams "think big" while staying grounded?

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."

perspective.jpg

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 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.

logic model.JPG

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.

October 19, 2009

When participants serve others, who is the stakeholder?

At last week's "Building Extension's Public Value" workshop for University of Wyoming (see: cowboy) Cooperative Extension Service (CES), one group drafted a public value message for their land reclamation Extension program. The program provides research-based education on how to reclaim rangeland that has been disturbed by energy extraction. You can read about it here.

cowboy.JPG

As I understand it (and members of UW CES Sustainable Management of Rangeland Resources initiative team will correct me), program participants might include landowners--including energy companies--or reclamation professionals, who do the reclaiming work on the part of landowners. The question arose: Who are the participants, and who are the stakeholders for this program? In particular, when the program participant is the person doing the work to reclaim the land, but s/he is working on behalf of a private landowner, should we direct a public value message to the landowner?

We might think of the private owner of disturbed land as a stakeholder, provided s/he doesn't participate in the educational program. After all, s/he clearly has a stake in the reclamation professional being able to do a good job of restoring the land to its original--or new--use.

In my view, however, the private landowner is not a stakeholder in the public value sense: s/he directly benefits from the program through being able to hire a trained--maybe certified--reclamation professional, possibly at a lower cost than if CES had not contributed to that training. The landowner may even enjoy increased land values.

I think the public value message may be more effectively directed to others--aside from program trainees and the private landowners they work for--who have a stake in the land being restored. Of course, if the disturbed land is public land, the stakeholders are all the residents of Wyoming. At the conference, the group suggested hunters (specifically grouse, I recall), people concerned with biodiversity, and those who value an open viewscape.

What do you think? Who are the stakeholders for a program that trains a group of professionals to perform a service for a family or a business?

October 9, 2009

If you let me participate in an Extension program

j0438322.jpg
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.

0024_3303_2864_053.jpg

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?

May 1, 2009

Revise and rewrite

During a typical public value workshop, participants draft a public value message for an Extension program and the presenter and other participants provide feedback. Most groups will need to revise the messages post-workshop before they can be used in publications, websites, or grant proposals.

To help with the revising step, I cobbled together a list of criteria for evaluating messages. Some of the criteria came from University of Minnesota Extension's Aimee Viniard-Weideman, and I thought up some myself. Recently, I have incorporated the checklist into workshops for Texas, Nebraska, and Missouri Extension. With University of Missouri Extension, we went a step further and developed an exercise using the checklist. Workgroups started with a message they had drafted earlier and critiqued and revised it according to the criteria on the list--and any other criteria they thought were important. Each group received some feedback from a colleague from a different program area, and they revised the messages a second time. Some really strong messages emerged!

checklist.bmp

The checklist--and the accompanying revise-and-rewrite exercise--are not yet part of the public value curriculum, but I am thinking about including them in the next revision. Do you think your organization would find the exercise useful? If so, how would you change or add to the list? What other criteria do you think drafters should consider when they are writing messages for use in their work?

To get the ball rolling, here are some thoughts I've had about the criteria::

==This is not an exhaustive list: Workgroups may have other criteria that are important for a particular program, stakeholder, or delivery method. For example, some messages will be very effective in print, but should be differently composed for legislative testimony.
==Revising a message will involve balancing these criteria; some will be more important than others in a particular case. For example, there is a natural tension between the objectives of brevity and credibility, and a group might opt for a slightly longer message in order to present some evidence in support of their case. Additionally, there will be some instances where negative framing will make a better case than positive framing.
==The first three items--all about focusing on the stakeholder--could be combined.

Other ideas? Or can you suggest a completely different direction?

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.)

AK5074908.JPG

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.

learning.bmp

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?

February 19, 2009

Change or stay the course?

You might think that after years of teaching BEPV workshops that I would have heard any and all possible questions and comments about public value, but that is not at all the case. Great input at every stop keeps me thinking, learning, and revising the way I talk about Extension's public value.

Earlier this week I taught a pair of BEPV workshops for University of Missouri (MU) Extension in Columbia, MO. One MU faculty member drew attention to the public value message diagram, which asks for a specific behavior change that program participants adopt. The participant observed that sometimes Extension programs validate the choices that program participants are already making. Rather than inducing a change in behavior, the program serves to solidify an existing beneficial behavior. Imagine a participant in a nutrition education program who has been trying to eat a heart-healthy diet based on information he has gathered on his own. In the program he learns that he is in the right track. That validation steels his resolve, and he continues his beneficial food choices. The public value message for this program might say that program participants either adopt or maintain healthful food choices (or something more specific, such as eat primarily whole grain carbohydrates).

pvdiagram.bmp

I can think of a time when this happened to me. A couple of years ago I read a University of Minnesota Extension resource with communication tips for parents of teenagers. A few of the tips were new to me, but many were things that I already was trying to do, albeit instinctively, rather than consciously. Reading the tips made me consciously aware of the way I talk to my own kids, and gave me a reason to persist with what I already was doing right (and change a couple of things I was doing not so well!).

One caution about using a public value message that talks about maintaining a beneficial behavior: skeptical stakeholders want us to direct our program resources toward achieving the greatest possible benefit. Targeting participants who already have made positive choices may not seem like the best investment. Perhaps we could have a greater impact by focusing resources on those whose behavior is the farthest from ideal. To address this challenge, you may need to persuade your stakeholder that potential participants who are already doing well are in danger of reverting to poor choices if they do not receive the validation that comes from being exposed to research-based Extension education. Why might they revert? The positive choices might be costly to them (in terms of money, time, or comfort), or they may be influenced by advertising messages encouraging them to choose a different path.

What do you think? Is maintaining a beneficial behavior a valid objective of an Extension program, or should we always look for ways to make the greatest marginal change?

January 29, 2009

Ordering from a menu of messages

This week I taught a "Building Extension's Public Value" workshop for University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension. (It wasn't exactly warm in Lincoln, but it was nice and sunny and at least warmer than here at home!) While the UN-L work groups were drafting public value messages for their programs, a few of them wrestled with the trade-off between brevity and completeness. Should they draft a message that names all of the behavior changes, outcomes, and public benefits their program generates, sort of like a logic model? Or should they draft something that is shorter and "punchier" that tells only a single story: naming a single set of behavior change-outcome-public benefit?

menu.bmp

For communicating with a single stakeholder who has an identifiable concern (e.g., the county commissioner who is concerned about demand for public services, or the business owner concerned about property values), the short, one story message might be best. But, it might be useful for a program team to draft the more comprehensive message for their colleagues within the organization. Then Extension staff could pick and choose from the list of changes, outcomes, and public benefits to create messages that they can use for various purposes. The idea arose for a "menu" of changes, outcomes, and public benefits from which we could choose one from column A, one from column B, and one from column C to form an appealing meal...I mean: message. Different messages for different stakeholders and different stakeholder concerns.

What do you think? Do you have an idea about how to organize and implement a public value message menu?

December 15, 2008

Best practices for talking about best practices

Last week I conducted a "Building Extension's Public Value" train-the-trainer webcast for Clemson University Extension. During the training, I made up a couple of public value messages that included phrases such as "best management practices" and "beneficial practices." As in: Participants in our program adopt best management practices for...

Among people with whom we share expertise, "best practices" can be shorthand for a set of behaviors or approaches that we are all familiar with. If you tell a group of Master Gardeners that participants in a program "adopted best management practices" for pest control, those MGs probably have a good idea of what the program participants are doing. The rest of us? Not so much. In fact, during the training, I tried to think of a specific practice to replace "best management practices" in a Master Gardener public value message. Being neither a MG nor an entomologist--I came up blank.

All of this is to encourage you, when you are writing public value messages, to review a draft message for shorthand language, such as the phrases above. Can you replace vague language with something more concrete? Can you replace "beneficial practices" with "built and maintained raingardens" or "stored food at a safe temperature" or "read to their preschool children every day"?

What do you think are Extension's best practices for talking about best practices?

November 9, 2008

Public value or stakeholder value?

Last week I gave a brief talk about "Building Extension's Public Value" at a meeting of the Outreach and Engagement Leadership Group of Oregon State University Extension. An interesting question came up with regard to the slide I use to describe the elements of a public value message (below):

fullpvdiagram.bmp

I always describe the lower right box (the maroon/pink box) as including any of the sources of public value: narrowing an information gap, addressing a concern about fairness or justice, encouraging public benefits, and discouraging public costs. A conference participant asked if the schematic could be used to explain how an Extension program addresses a stakeholder's concern, even if that concern is not necessarily related to the common good. One would think of the maroon box as representing "stakeholder value," rather than public value, and it could include anything that the stakeholder cares about. For example, if an Extension program team is seeking funding for a program from a corporate sponsor, they could demonstrate that the behavioral changes and outcomes of the program lead to increased customer share (or profits, or visibility, or whatever the cponsor cares about) for the corporation. The message would be, "If you sponsor our program, you will enjoy a larger customer share."

In a sense, the public value approach already does this,whether our sponsor is in the public, nonprofit, or private sector. We try to determine what the sponsor cares about, and see how our mission coincides with theirs. By identifying and communicating the public value of the program, we are also showing how our program addresses the sponsors concerns. For example, consider a granting entity whose primary concern is local economic vitality. We use our public value message to explain how, when participants complete our program, they make behavior changes that enliven the local economy--which both generates public value (everyone in the local region benefits) and contributes directly to the sponsor's mission.

I would not go so far, though, as to replace the "public value" box in the above diagram with a "stakeholder value" box. As long as our programs are at least partially funded by taxpayer contributions, whether from state, country, or federal taxes, I think we need to focus on the value we create for the general public. We wouldn't want to alter our programs to serve the interests of sponsors at the expense of the public good. I think the focus should still be on how the public value that a program generates conincides with the interests of a potential sponsor.

What do you think?