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October 10, 2011

The unreachable stakeholder?

Last week I presented a mini public value workshop as part of University of Minnesota Extension's Fall Program Conference. When I suggested that public value messages should address the specific concerns of individual stakeholders, a question came up that I have heard several times before. Are there some stakeholders who will never be receptive to our messages about public funding for Extension programs? No matter how hard we try, are some stakeholders simply unreachable?

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I think that particularly skeptical stakeholders pose a challenge, to which we must try to rise. After all, we wouldn't have identified them as stakeholders if their support for Extension weren't important. Conversely, if all of our stakeholders were easy for us to reach, Extension would already be enjoying long-term financial sustainability.

Here are my suggestions:

==Consult with others in the organization who may have a better idea than we do of what matters the most to the challenging stakeholders. External and legislative affairs professionals, regional Extension directors, Extension liaisons to stakeholder groups in your state come to mind.
==Find stakeholders who are sympathetic to Extension, but who are otherwise similarly situated to the challenging stakeholder. For example, do you know of a "friend of Extension" who is in the same line of work, of the same age, living in the same region? Ask that person how they came to understand the value of Extension in their community and what information helped them choose to support Extension.
==If the stakeholder is a public official, study what she has said and written--not only about Extension, but about a variety of topics--to get an idea of what really matters to her.
==Evaluate whether this stakeholder truly is crucial to your program, or if it would not be a great loss to focus your efforts elsewhere.

What do you think? What kinds of stakeholders seem to be unreachable? Have you had success with them? What has worked for you?

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?"
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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.

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 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)


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 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.

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.

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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?

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):

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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?