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Lisa Townson on Tailoring Evaluation to Your Audience

Hi!  My name is Lisa Townson.  I am Assistant Director of Programs at University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension and 2010 Chair of the Extension Education Evaluation TIG. In this day in age, accountability and impact has become the mantra for many publically funded organizations.  This posting suggests ways to consider your target audience when collecting and reporting impact evaluation data.

The Cooperative Extension System (CES), a land-grant university-based outreach and educational organization, exists nationally in every state and territory of the United States with programs in 4-H youth development, agriculture, family development and community development.  The main driver for program evaluation in Cooperative Extension is public accountability to maintain and increase funding. With its reliance on multiple funding streams from local, state, federal, and nongovernmental sources, Extension strives to tell the story of program impact and public value to a variety of audiences.

I’m working with several of our local offices in New Hampshire and trying to help them do a better job of communicating the impact their programs make and it’s sometimes a challenge to get them to think about their impacts in a new way.  One key I’ve found is to ask them to try and look at their programs from someone else’s point of view.  This is very easy to suggest, but often more difficult to do.

Hot Tip: Who cares about my program and why?  If a legislator is considering funding for an organization such as Cooperative Extension, what will make them consider our programs necessary, not just nice to have?  Try to find out what kinds of interests your stakeholders have and tailor your evaluation and impact reporting to their interests.  If you collect data to communicate economic impact to an individual (or group of individuals) who are interested in environmental sustainability, then you’re not likely to be successful in your message.   On the other hand, if you know economic viability and job growth are important to your stakeholders, find a way to connect your programs to that.   Talk about how many jobs would potentially be created or saved or how farms you’re working with are able to increase profitability and in so doing, keep the local veterinarian and feed store in business.  If your audience wants to know about societal and growth impacts, report how many acres were put into conservation easements as a result of your program and remind them how many houses might have been built on that same acreage which might increase the need for services in a community such as emergency responders and teachers in the school.

Reporting impacts and tailoring an evaluation project to a stakeholder is important whether you are reporting to a foundation that funded your project or if you’re reporting to legislators that will determine what level of funding you will receive.  Know what’s important to the audience and find a way to collect the right impact data to tell a compelling story.

This week’s posts are sponsored by AEA’s Extension Education Evaluation Topical Interest Group (http://comm.eval.org/EVAL/Extension_Education_Evaluation/Home/Default.aspx) as part of the EEE TIG Focus Week. Check out AEA’s Headlines and Resources entries (http://eval.org/aeaweb.asp) this week for other highlights from and for those conducting evaluations in an Extension Education context.

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