After experiencing summer in St. Petersburg, FL, then peak color in Bar Harbor and Arcadia National Park, ME, I am once again reminded of how awesome these United States truly are. Oregon holds its own special brand of beauty and it is nice to be back home. Evaluation was everywhere on this trip.
A recent AEA365 post talks about systems thinking and evaluating educational programs. Bells went off with me because Extension DOES educational programs and does them in existing systems. Often, Extension professionals neglect the systems aspect of their programming and attempt to implement the program in isolation. In today’s complex world, isolation isn’t possible. David Bella, an Emeritus professor at OSU uses the term “complex messy systems”. I think that clearly characterizes what Extension faces in developing programs. The AEA365 post has some valuable points for Extension professionals to remember (see the link for more details):
1. Build relationships with experts from across disciplines.
2. Ensure participation from stakeholders across the entire evaluated entity.
3. Create rules of order to guide the actions of the evaluation team.
These are points for Extension professionals to keep in mind as they develop their programs. By keeping them in mind and using them, Extension professionals can strengthen their programs. More and more, extension programs are multi-site as well as multi-discipline. Ask yourself: What part of the program is missing because of failure to consult across disciplines? or What part of the program won’t be recognized because of failure to include as many stakeholders as possible in helping to design the evaluation? Who will know better what makes an effective program than those individuals in the target audience? Helping everyone know what the expectations are helps systems work, change, and grow.
It is also important consider the many contextual factors. When working in community-based programs, Extension professionals need to develop partnerships and those partnerships need to work in agreement. This is another example Extension work and evaluation of that work occurs withing an existing system.