August 2002 // Volume 40 // Number 4 // Tools of the Trade // 4TOT3
Making Program Choices When Resources Are Limited: Using a Self-Assessment Tool with Stakeholders
Scarce resources require tough choices. A simple evaluation tool can help with the decision-making process. A rating sheet containing 25 criteria for assessing the value of an Extension program can be given to a representative group of stakeholders to rate individual programs. The goal is to maximize a program's strengths and minimize its weaknesses. The best use of this tool may be the open discussion that it promotes while raising clientele groups' awareness of the need to offer the most valuable programs that serve the maximum number of people. Keeping clientele part of the decision-making process also helps keep the agent out of hot water.
Scarce resources require priority setting and making choices. Unfortunately, Extension agents often have a tendency to add new programs without discontinuing existing ones. This results in added strain on minimal budgets, as well as increased stress to the agent due to limited time and minimal staff. One reason for becoming overloaded with too many programs and events without the resources to support them is the failure to make the difficult decisions needed. Many times this is because the agent doesn't have an objective method to use to make those decisions without upsetting select clientele who are often the "vocal minority."
A simple evaluation tool can help with the decision-making process. A rating sheet containing 25 criteria for assessing the value of an Extension program can be given to a representative group of advisory committee members (or sample of program clientele or other stakeholders) to rate individual programs and help prioritize the ones that should receive the most attention. The advisory group needs to know in advance that the outcome must be choosing to offer the strongest current or potential programs.
Generally, the higher the total score (sum of ratings for all 25 criteria), the higher the indicated value of the Extension program evaluated. However, even a program with a very high overall rating might be deemed inappropriate to develop or continue if a criterion such as "safe" or "moral" is rated very low. In other words, a single criterion, if rated low enough, may greatly reduce the overall worth of the program.
Another alternative for programs rated low overall or in key components that might suggest discontinuing the program is to provide the opportunity for clientele/volunteers to take over the management of the program, with the basic support of the Extension office. This still frees the agent to spend more time on the highest priority programs, without ignoring the special interests of select clientele groups.
Criteria for Assessing the Value of an Extension Program
Here is an example listing "my" 25 criteria that you may find useful in evaluating the worth of an Extension educational program. The items may inspire you to add or substitute similar ones that better fit your local situation.
Name of existing or proposed Extension program (course, event, activity, project, etc.) being evaluated:
Directions: Please rate this program, 1-5, for each of the following criteria, where 1=Highly Questionable and 5=Definitely. (Choose a number of corresponding rating for each criterion, then total scores below.)
TOTAL RATING: ____
Keep in mind that this example is simply a tool to help assess program strengths and weakness and aid in prioritizing potential programs. Ultimately, the goal is to maximize a program's strengths (items rated high) and eliminate or reduce its weaknesses (items rated low) where possible.
The best use of this tool may be the open discussion that it promotes while raising awareness of clientele groups about the need to offer the most valuable programs that have identifiable benefits to the maximum number of clientele. Keeping clientele part of the decision-making process also helps keep the agent out of hot water.