June 1996 // Volume 34 // Number 3 // Research in Brief // 3RIB3
An Evaluation of the Wisconsin Rural Leaders Perspective Program
Reports on survey of graduates of the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program that seeks to increase knowledge of public affairs and skills in group problem-solving through enhanced capacities to deal with public issues. The study suggests that rural leadership development and the leader's economic status has a negative effect; the greater the income the less value and satisfaction with the program. The leadership development program appears to mediate between civic and community development participation and economic status. Implications for adult education and civic development discussed.
Although the Cooperative Extension system has along history of work in rural leadership development, there is little widespread understanding of the range of knowledge and skill taught or the amount of efforts directed towards leadership effectiveness. In meeting these challenges, rural America's greatest resource is its leaders. They must be able to view change in a broad perspective and be prepared to provide the wise leadership that 21st century challenges demand. This article summarizes a recent study of the Impact of the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program (WRLP; Campbell, Dhanakumar & Rossing, 1994; Dhanakumar, Rossing & Campbell, 1993; Rossing & Heasly, 1987).
The objective of this study was to answer the following key questions:
- Do WRLP participants learn and grow in the program? If so, which
factors (e.g., knowledge and skills) are gained?
- What is the relationship between key outcomes, e.g., community
participant, satisfaction with program and learning through WRLP, and
alumni demographics, time since program completion (groups), and other
non-program factors that influence participant development.
- Does the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program (WRLP) educational seminar series influence alumni participation' in civic and community activities?
To examine these questions and to derive a better understanding of the dynamic forces currently affecting the relevance and effectiveness of WRLP, a recent study titled "Evaluation of the Impact of the WRLP" reported by Dahankumar, Rossing, and Campbell (1993) helps set the stage for this article.
Two types of survey instruments (part 1 - quantitative and part 2 - qualitative) were designed to obtain data for achieving the objectives of the study. The instruments were validated by a jury of three experts on the staff of the Department of Continuing and Vocation Education at the University of Wisconsin - Madison and Cooperative Extension Service and Community Dynamics Institute. Revisions were made following this jury review.
The instruments were then pilot tested via telephone and face-to-face interviews with 10 WRLP graduates. Revisions were made following this procedure. This study was descriptive, exploratory, and analytical in nature and relied on both qualitative and quantitative data.
Part 1 of the instruments was a set of rating items, which were completed by WRLP graduates and returned to program staff by mail. Part 2 was a set of open-ended questions to explore rural leaders' community activities through telephone and/or face-to- face interviews. In September 1993, both part 1 and 2 of the survey were sent to all 118 alumni of Groups I to IV WRLP. Three weeks later, a letter and another copy of the survey was mailed to non respondents, encouraging them to complete and return the surveys and/or talk with the researcher over the telephone.
The data were analyzed using the Statistical Analysis System (SAS) package. Factor analysis (rotated factors) and multiple regression analysis were the primary statistical procedures used. the variables for analysis were 10 dependent variables (alumni values and satisfaction with RAP and community participation levels) and the association with 26 independent variables (11 educational factors, seven demographic factors, four group factors, and four key non program influences).
All 36 variables were examined to answer two key questions. First, which knowledge and skills were significantly learned? And, second, what factors (e.g., knowledge/skill/key influence and demographics) influenced the level of alumni participation in civic and community activities.
Regression association were determined between independent variables (alumni knowledge and skills, group status,' demographic characteristics, and key non program influences) and each dependent variable (overall value and satisfaction with the program and degree of participation in eight civic and community development activities). The results are summarized below.
Major themes and patterns emerging from this study were:
- Knowledge gained by alumni in the areas of understanding public
issues and their relationships at local, state, national, and
international levels, active involvement in public issues (beyond local
community), and public affairs qualities and confidence were positively
associated with valuing WRLP's contribution to the future of rural
Wisconsin. However, the higher the age of an alumnus, the less they
valued the program was valued.
- The greater the alumnus' attention to public issues (beyond local
community) and communication and networking skills with other community
leaders, the greater the satisfaction with the program. Regression
statistics, however, revealed that the level of satisfaction with the
program was less for alumni with higher age and income.
- Those who gained knowledge and skills in communication and
networking with other communities showed interest in public office
positions to a greater extent. Alumni with more children tended to show
greater interest in public office.
- Communication skill, networking, and public affairs confidence
factors influenced alumni to hold public office. But, personal and
professional life and strain and experiences in community life hinder
alumni interest in holding public office positions. WRLP-Group I alumni
held more public offices than Groups III and IV.
- A single factor, communication skills and networking with other
community activists, significantly enhanced alumni civic and community
development accomplishments at the local level. The regression analysis
did not indicate any significant association with other variables.
- This study suggests that civic and community development
accomplishments beyond the local community were enhanced by two factors
- active involvement in public issues and quality of alumni decisions in
public affairs and confidence they can made a difference. However,
experience in alumni work life adversely affected the degree of their
accomplishments beyond the community level. Male alumni accomplished
more than female alumni.
- Alumni active involvement in public issues (beyond local community),
communication skill, and networking with other community leaders, and
public affairs attention and action at the local level were positively
related to involving other people in addressing community and public
concerns. Two exceptions for not participating in the above activities
were alumni personal motivation and determination to change and family
influence on change.
- On the other hand, those who paid higher attention to public issues
beyond the local community, were more likely to enhance the leadership
capacities of other people. Group I enhanced leadership capacities of
other people to a greater extent than Groups III and IV.
- The extent and degree of high-income group leaders participation in
alumni activities was greater than that of low- income group leaders.
Attention to public issues beyond the community level, communication
skill, ability to network with community leaders, and experiences in
community life promoted greater alumni participation.
- Knowledge gained in the areas of life priorities and self- confidence, personal and professional life and strain, and public affairs and confidence were the three factors that supported financial contributions to WRLP.
This study joins with a few others to show that knowledge and skill gained in the areas of communication skill and networking with other community members, alumni quality of decisions and effort in public affairs and confidence, and active involvement and attention to public issues (beyond local community) played greater roles on enhancing WRLP alumni leadership effectiveness, and their level of participation in civic and community activities. Factors that had little bearing on program outcomes were: interest in public and policy issues; organization and group skills and activities;and alumni views on public, social, and society issues (beyond community level).
WRLP sought to increase knowledge of public affairs and skills in group problem-solving and to enhance the capacities of rural leaders to deal effectively and constructively with public issues. Rural leaders were admitted without regard to socio- economic status and the curriculum gave no particular attention to the effects of the socio-economic and educational status. In this study, multiple regression results suggest that rural leadership development and rural leaders' economic status has a negative effect - the greater the income, the lower the value and satisfaction with the program. Multiple regression at the 0.15 level revealed that the greater the income, the lower the level of alumni' participation in local community accomplishments; involving other people in addressing community and public concerns; and enhancing leadership capacities of other people.
In the case of alumni activities, association changes, and higher income means more alumni association activities. Substantively, this means that leadership development in Wisconsin mediates the association between civic and community development participation and economic status. Leadership development, therefore, may spark less community participation among those of higher economic status than among those of lower economic status. This result is consistent with many previous interpretations of the relationship between civic affairs participation and socio-economic status. Time brings out differences in participation between people at different status levels because of access to resources, opportunities for involvement, socialization experiences, and other factors affecting civic participation.
These findings suggest several implications for adult education and civic development. A central concept in the civic and community development literature emphasizes the importance of participation as a means of strengthening rural leadership. Leadership development can enhance the ability of individuals to participate and to develop the necessary leadership skills. While most studies on civic affairs participation and socio-economic status show strong, positive relationships, this study suggests that rural leadership development can serve to change that relationship.
Reasons why those of higher economic status may tend to participate less in civic and community activities than those of lower economic status in rural leadership development efforts need to be addressed. This study also suggests that rural leaders learn best by a process of action and reflection. Learning and participation results from both success and failure in attempting to achieve particular goals. This is one reason why the process of rural leadership development in Extension is as important as the product. In this research, it has been documented that rural leadership education is a product of the process. The process is adult and Extension education!
Campbell, G. R., Dhanakumar, V. G., & Rossing, E. B. (1994, February). Factors influencing rural leadership effectiveness and civic and community development activities. Paper presented at WRLP Board of Directors Workshop, Madison, WI.
Dhanakumar, V. G., Rossing, E. B., & Campbell, G. R. (1993). An evaluation of the impact of the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program. Madison: University of Wisconsin - Extension.
Rossing, E. B., & Heasly, D. H. (1987). Enhancing public affairs participation through leadership development education: Key questions. Journal of Community Development Society, 18(2),' 98-116.