December 2000 // Volume 38 // Number 6 // Tools of the Trade // 6TOT5

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The Value of a Toolkit

Abstract
Toolkits are collections of flexible and adaptable educational program resources that target one issue or one audience. This article presents tips for creating a toolkit and an example budget for constructing a set of kits.


Martha C. Monroe
Assistant Professor
School of Forest Resources and Conservation
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida
Internet address: Mcmo@gnv.ifas.ufl.edu


Extension specialists design and produce resources that county agents can use to deliver information to a variety of audiences. Because the agents know best what works with their clients, they need to be able to choose from among a publication for the walk-in visitor, a video for the service club meeting, or a demonstration area for the hard-to-convince homeowner. Even if the agent has a preferred medium, the ability to adapt a resource is important: a slide show for homeowners should be different from a slide program for elementary teachers or cattlemen. In other words, agents need a variety of program tools to do their jobs well.

In addition to this variation in delivery methods, many issues require a variety of messages based on variation across a state or region. The answer to halting an invasive plant might change if it is in a wetland or upland ecosystem. Which fertilizer will be more effective depends on soil and climate. Many issues in Extension are so complex that the risks and solutions vary from one community to another. Agents need to be able to adapt a set of educational resources to give the most appropriate message through the most appropriate channel, even when state specialists cannot create scenario-specific resources. In other words, agents need toolkits with adaptable program tools.

Toolkits are sets of versatile, adaptable educational resources. Versatile resources offer agents choices. Agents can reconfigure adaptable resources to meet unique needs, such as using a slide kit instead of a taped slide show. The more complete the toolkit, the more useful it will be to more people.

This article describes the process of creating a toolkit and the additional components that make it more useful (such as a needs assessment and an in≠service training). Guidelines it provides on the costs of our Florida wildland fire toolkit may help others budget proposals to include their requisite components.

When to Use a Toolkit

Complex issues with solutions that change from one part of the state to another and with a variety of audiences are likely subjects for a toolkit. Wildland fire is a good example. Homeowners at the urban-rural interface need to know to how to protect their property from fire, developers should learn how to design subdivisions to allow prescribed fire to maintain the fire-dependent ecosystems, and forest landowners would like their neighbors to be tolerant of a prescribed burn.

In the wake of the 1998 fires, Extension specialists in Florida began to create program resources for Extension agents on this topic. The variation across the state in ecosystems meant one state message would not suffice. Adaptable resources were needed, accompanied by training so local teams could use them successfully.

Providing Helpful information About Targeting Messages

County agents may have an intuitive notion of what their populations knows and needs, but perceptions about new and controversial issues are less likely to be accurate. You can provide a valuable resource for your agents by conducting a statewide assessment. This information will help county agents develop their programs, and it will also help you develop messages for the variety of publications and tools for the Toolkit.

In Florida, we developed the survey questionnaire and contracted with an on-campus survey unit to implement the random-dial phone survey. We learned that our rural and suburban populations are already quite aware that wildland fire is good for natural areas. They are concerned, however, about the effects on wild animals and decreased air quality. We also learned that the urban population cannot define prescribed fire.

Providing Multiple Resources

Agents like to show videos, and action footage is an effective mechanism for conveying a graphic message. But once the video is produced, the message cannot be adapted or changed. Therefore, using video in a Toolkit means a set of videos to cover all scenarios.

We obtained permission to reproduce five existing videos on Florida fire covering wildland fire, prescribed fire, varying perspectives on fire, and different fire-prone ecosystems. Similarly, the list of fact sheets grew to include air quality, wildlife, prescribed burning, demonstration areas, and designing subdivisions.

Providing Adaptable Resources

Slide shows are the traditional "adaptable" resource. Not only can the slides be reorganized and the text modified by the speaker to meet specific audience needs, but also the agent can add locally relevant slides to the show. The modern equivalent of the slide show is the PowerPoint or Presentations slide show. If agents have the requisite equipment, this is a much cheaper tool to reproduce.

We were able to provide CD-ROMs in each toolkit that contained 80 photographs, Word and WordPerfect versions of text files, and 48-slide presentations. Those counties without laptops received sets of 40 slides to supplement their own collection. Directions to adapting presentations were provided, and 30 minutes of the training session were allocated to assist agents in this process. They were encouraged to bring their own laptop to the training.

Providing Personnel Resources

Even the best set of publications, videos, and slide presentations may not be enough to give Extension agents the confidence to conduct programs on a new topic or controversial issue in their county. We believed it was important to also provide them with a team of experts and specialists in their own county, in our case, Division of Forestry and County Fire and Rescue staff.

We established partnerships with both agencies at the beginning of the project, made sure they were informed of our progress, and encouraged them to edit and revise each publication. We made Toolkits available to these organizations at no charge. As a result, Division of Forestry sent 64 staff and requested 55 toolkits of their own; County Fire departments sent 19 staff. We were able to build teams of county Extension agents and cooperative, supportive experts in 40 of our 67 counties.

Marketing Toolkits

Unless you have a group of agents ready to implement any program you produce, you'll have to entice them to use your Toolkit. We choose to make the materials attractive and durable--too good to shelve.

The plastic box, enormous signs, color labels, and nifty notebook were highly desired and quickly disappeared. Even before they knew what was inside, workshop participants wanted a toolkit. The extra cost for producing materials in color with printing sticky labels was a necessary expense. Agents are busy people with many fancy packages and kits to choose from. One that is designed to draw attention, is remembered when the need arises, and is easily retrieved from the closet is worth the investment.

Cost

Our direct costs for producing 150 toolkits and training 140 field staff in three workshops in 1999 are listed in Table 1. Partners provided in-kind resources for their staff. Time, of course, is a cost as well. This project required approximately .5 FTE for one year; we also hired a part-time program assistant.

Table 1
1999 Toolkit Costs

Assessment ($1 per minute per person) $7,500
Duplicating the manual (150 copies) $1,160
Duplicating 6 Fact Sheets (15,000 copies) $500
Printing 4-color brochure (25,000 copies $3,000
Packaging (Notebook, CDs, binder clips, labels, office supplies) $600
Plastic Box (144) $540
Duplicating Video Library $720
Duplicating Slides (15 sets of 40) $450
Roadside Signs (150 plywood) $10,070
Truck Rental (for delivering materials) $500
Snacks and lunch (for 140 participants and trainers) $960
Travel to 1-day workshops (car pool) $4,000
Total Direct Product & Training Costs $30,000
 
Program Assistant Salary $24,000

Summary

A toolkit is a useful product that state specialists can produce for county agents. For current, complex issues and for problems that have different solutions across the state, a set of multiple, flexible resources may be the only reasonable way for specialists to adequately provide agents with helpful program tools.

But educational program resources like videos, fact sheets, and a CD alone do not make a prepared agent. State specialists must also develop a training session to help agents adapt these tools, create their own programs, and garner the support they need to serve their local population.