February 1996 // Volume 34 // Number 1 // Ideas at Work // 1IAW4

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Conducting Evaluations Through Collaborative Efforts

This example of collaborative evaluation of an extension program by academic units in a land grant university shows how tangible mutual benefits were gained, including sharing of resources, building collegial relationships, and conducting an objective study.

Satish Verma
Program and Staff Development
Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Internet address: xtpvrm.lsuvm.sncc.lsu.edu

Alvin C. Burns
Marketing Department
Louisiana State University
Internet address: alburns@tyrell.net

Collaboration among academic units in a land-grant university is an effective and efficient way of sharing expertise and resources. This example of collaboration between the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service (LCES) and Louisiana State University's College of Business to evaluate Extension's public image demonstrates the benefits gained from one such relationship.

State Extension services invest a fair amount of resources in evaluating programs to determine if they are effective in reaching program goals. Ideally, in the interest of objectivity, such evaluations should be done by external organizations. However, cost, time, and other constraints limit the use of external evaluators. Given that Extension funding nationwide is barely holding its own and funding is likely to become more scarce in future, it is reasonable to expect that evaluation of Extension programs with internal resources will become increasingly more common.

As an example, the internal evaluation mentioned above was a collaborative effort between an LCES marketing Extension project and the university's College of Business. LCES project principals involved a marketing professor who was acquainted with the lead Extension person, but the two had not collaborated professionally. At Extension's invitation, the marketing professor presented a seminar on marketing principles and strategies to an LCES marketing Extension strategic planning task force. This contact helped the marketing professor learn the needs of Extension, and the association moved into an evaluation collaboration when he offered to conduct a general public image survey of the LCES as a marketing research class project in the fall of 1994. The evaluation collaboration involved joint development of a survey instrument, collection and entry of data by students appropriately supervised, analysis and presentation of findings by the marketing professor at Extension's annual conference (1994), and utilization of the findings in LCES' strategic plan implementation.

Specifically, 50 students in an undergraduate marketing research class collected the data as a class project requirement. Five teams canvassed 12 rural parishes (counties) and five teams surveyed four New Orleans area parishes with telephone surveys using a common questionnaire. Class time was devoted to instruction on sampling and interviewing techniques. Telephone books were systematically sampled for primary and alternate interviewees. The data were collected over a two-week period with students making calls from their residences. A total of 1,077 telephone calls was made resulting in 727 useable interviews (67.5% completion rate). Long distance calls were charged to a special LCES account, and the average charge per completed interview was about $2. The marketing professor combined the ten team data sets and prepared a composite report that was delivered at LCES' annual conference. These findings are reported in Verma and Burns (under review).

The collaborative effort had a number of tangible benefits. LCES professionals involved in the project and the university's marketing department faculty developed friendship and respect, shared their expertise and resources, and had a better understanding of the roles played by these two units of the university system. The LCES was able to utilize students in the marketing research class to do parts of a major evaluation task, namely gathering and entering data. The students benefited by practicing "real world" skills and coping with the pressures and difficulties encountered by market research professionals. That is, the marketing research students benefited from their involvement in experiential learning. LCES also profited by increased organization visibility in the university community in that 50 students who perhaps did not know anything about Extension learned about the organization and what it does. Perhaps most significant, LCES got an objective evaluation of its public visibility, usefulness and deficiencies, with a small investment of money and professional resources.