EPE TIG Week: Discovering the Key Information that Makes a Difference in Behaviors by Jean Eells

Hi, I’m, Jean Eells, and I operate E Resources Group, LLC, with an emphasis on environment and agriculture.  I’m sharing an outcome from changing one aspect of a conservation education program that was revealed through evaluation.  About half of my work is contracted through the Women, Food and Agriculture Network and is focused on educational conservation programs for women farmland owners who are often missed by traditional agricultural education outreach.

I am leading a 3-year, multi-state project to reach women farmland owners who live in large urban centers with information about the benefits of cover crops and no-till practices through small meetings.  This project follows another 3-year, multi-state project I evaluated that taught the same concepts and same type of audience.  Since the two initiatives are similar enough, I kept one evaluation measure the same – the likelihood that a woman was going to talk to her tenant or farmer about the soil health topic after the meeting. This can be very difficult for many women because very many of them are not knowledgeable about these farming practices and lack confidence.

The educational message, duration, delivery, soil demonstrations, and evaluation technique is the same in both the old and new projects.  After the first year of the new project, the percentage of “very likely” responses went to 76% from 74% from the prior program, a minor but positive change.

The interesting turn came after the second year evaluation revealed the effect of a small change made in the educational content.  Most women farmland owners believe their tenants will tell them about all needed changes to their farm.  Between the first and second year, I learned from a sociologist that farmers who rent land are extremely reluctant to bring up the possibility of trying the new conservation practice of cover crops with the landowners. When I told the women bluntly that if they want to have cover crops used to reduce chemical inputs, keep water cleaner, and prevent soil erosion; then they would have to bring it up with their tenant, who probably never will, even if they want to use cover crops, I could see jaws drop and eyes grow wider as the cognitive dissonance set in  Knowing their tenant was not going to initiate this beneficial change was the key piece of information that was needed for them to act on what they’d learned about protecting their soil and water.

The likelihood of women bringing up the soil health topics to their farmer went up to 90% across many more meetings even though all the evaluation measures stayed the same.

Lessons Learned:

Although I was fairly certain the ‘blunt approach’ would be helpful, evaluation helped identify that:

  • One change in content delivery made a difference, and
  • The difference I had observed in the participants was significant and helpful.

Evaluation really pays dividends!

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Environmental Program Evaluation TIG Week with our colleagues in the Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our EPE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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