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.
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!
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