June 1998 // Volume 36 // Number 3 // Commentary // 3COM1
Improving Agent Accountability Through Best Management Practices
Now is the time for Extension to adopt Accountability Best Management Practices (BMPs) to guarantee continued success. There are five Accountability Best Management Practices: Visioning, Measurability, Programming, Reporting, and Responsibility. Accountability BMPs can benefit Extension in many ways: provide for accurate accountability reporting to position Extension as the premier provider of information and educational programs in agriculture, youth development, family and consumer science, and rural and community development; increase agent efficiency and productivity; require the incorporation of accountability reporting into the program planning process; and increase Extension funding by providing impacts for budget negotiations.
What impact have you made in your programming area in the last year? Can you tell by looking at your accountability reports?
Extension agents are accountable to federal, state, and local funding agencies, the community or customers, administration, and finally to himself or herself. Governmental reports on Extension have become the harshest critic. We must manage accountability and regain the role of being the most severe judge of our programs to remain viable as individual agents and as an organization.
In the recent past there have been two national accountability reporting systems in addition to each state's system. The Program Planning and Reporting System, 1992-1997, was plagued by severe data acquisition problems "and lacked valid and complete indicator data" (Bennett, 1996). Last year the GPRA, Government Performance and Results Act, established a new reporting format. The GPRA is major legislation among recent federal management reform initiatives. Its purpose is to increase public confidence and to improve program effectiveness by systematically holding agencies accountable for results. The law requires strategic plans, annual performance plans and annual reports with performance measures linked to the agency's resource allocation" (Bonessa, 1996).
Extension stands at a crossroads. We can either continue to ill report ourselves or we can use GPRA's analysis to showcase our program successes. Now is the time for Extension to adopt Accountability Best Management Practices, BMPs, to guarantee continued success. BMPs are currently being promoted by agents to improve youth education and crop production. Why not listen to our own advice? Accountability BMPs can benefit Extension in many ways:
- Provide for accurate accountability reporting to position Extension as the premier provider of information and educational programs in agriculture, youth development, family and consumer science, and rural and community development;
- Increase agent efficiency and productivity;
- Require the incorporation of the accountability report into the program planning process;
- Increase Extension funding by providing impacts for budget negotiations.
There are five Accountability Best Management Practices that agents should implement: Visioning, Measurability, Programming, Reporting, and Responsibility. This series of practices forms a process that, if followed, will simplify accountability reporting by providing documented impacts. Impact is the value of the Extension program to the client expressed in dollars or non- monetary benefits.
The five step Accountability BMP process begins with visioning what impact you want to achieve. What specific problem(s) are you trying to solve? What knowledge, attitude, skill, or aspiration (KASA) will be the outcome of the educational program? (Bennett, 1975).
The second step is to determine how you can measure the impact. There are many assessment methods that can be used to measure impact. Depending on the circumstance, you might use any of the following tools: existing records, observation, unobtrusive measures, content analysis, testimonials, interviews, questionnaires, tests, and so forth (Richardson, 1996). Select your impact measuring tool(s) carefully because some client groups resist some tools.
After you have decided what you want to accomplish and how you will measure your success, you must supply programming to direct your audience to the envisioned outcome. This is Extension's established area of excellence. Partners at the university can provide us with information tailored to meet clients' needs and we can use this information to achieve outcomes.
The reporting component of the Accountability BMP system implements the measuring tool to evaluate the program and report the results. You answer the question; did the program achieve the envisioned outcome? Which funding partner you are reporting to dictates how you report program outcomes.
Federal and local governments expect reports to address how appropriated money satisfied constituents and provided a positive cost benefit. Administrators demand reports demonstrating appropriate focus on the intended mission of the organization (Richardson, 1996). All these reports might contain the same information, but it must be presented in a way that is desirable to whom you are reporting.
The final Accountability BMP is responsibility. After the report has been completed, ultimately, you are responsible for the program outcomes. If you did not attain the envisioned outcome, how can you adapt the program in the future to attain the goal? You are also responsible for defending the impact you claimed. Documenting the information you get is essential to provide proof of impact to decision makers.
Accountability BMP Example
Visioning was to maximize small grain growers' profits by controlling the Cereal Leaf Beetle. The KASA indicator of impact was farmer aspiration to maximize profits by following a Cereal Leaf Beetle Integrated Pest Management Program. Measurability of the outcome was achieved by analyzing cooperator records. Programming was supplied to the target audience through newsletters, small grain producer meetings, and through one-on- one consultations and trainings. The program topics included accurate pest identification, scouting, recordkeeping, and economic thresholds.
One reporting tool used to analyze cooperator production records was the customer focus group. This tool was chosen because it increases program adoption as a result of the extra attention the client receives from the agent. Ten participants from the grower meeting were chosen to be in the focus group. This resulted in necessary records for analyzing impact and documenting the change in profitability. Production records showed that as a result of adopting the Cereal Leaf Beetle IPM strategies the farmers increased profitability by $18.90 per acre, nearly $40,000 for the focus group. These savings resulted from both a reduced number of sprayings and from a reduced amount of insecticide used for insect control. Spraying costs were determined by contacting a local farm supply store that custom sprays for the insect. Responsibility was demonstrated by adapting abnd improving the program to provide more impact. The impacts are being used to persuade other producers to adopt the practice and the system is being used successfully for other programs.
Accountability BMPs can improve Extension programming and reporting. All agents can use these BMPs, whatever their programming area. They will work equally well for agents with agriculture, youth development, family and consumer science, or rural and community development responsibilities.
Bennett, C. (1975).Up the hierarchy. Journal of Extension, 13,7-12.
Bennett, C. (1996). New national program information system of Cooperative Extension: Lessons from experience. Journal of Extension, 34(1), February 1996.
Bonessa, B.L. (1996). The Government Performance and Results Act GPRA: Framework for results oriented management. Internet address: http://www.informs.org/Conf/WA96/TALKS/MA19.1.html.
Richardson, J.G. (1996). Accountability Definitions Audience/Users.Raleigh: North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.
Richardson, J.G. (1996). Collecting accountability information. Raleigh: North Carolina State Cooperative Extension Service.