Strengthening the research base for extension programs : executive summary : a national study of attitutes and perceptions

Material Information

Strengthening the research base for extension programs : executive summary : a national study of attitutes and perceptions
USDA Extension Service
West Virginia Cooperative Extension Service
Missouri Cooperative Extension Service
Place of Publication:
Washington, D. C.
United States Department of Agriculture
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
10 leaves ; 28 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Farming ( LCSH )
Agriculture ( LCSH )
Farm life ( LCSH )
Agricultural extension work -- Research -- United States ( LCSH )


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Full Text
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Deeply rooted in our system of land-grant colleges and universities is a mutually supportive relationship between research and Extension programs. Congressional passage of the Morrill Act of 1862, the Hatch Act of 1887 and the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 together established the principles that the services of higher education should have a practical application benefitting the American public; that applied research should be a primary mission of land-grant institutions -- particularly to enhance agricultural development and the quality of rural living; and that if the American public was to benefit from evolving technology, research had to be followed by development and dissemination. Accordingly, the Cooperative Extension Service was established as a vehicle for extending the research findings of land-grant universities, the Agricultural Experiment Station and USDA research units to farmers and other Extension clientele via informal, practical education.
Building on this heritage, Cooperative Extension has sought to establish and maintain its viability and credibility as an educational institution by grounding its programs in sound research. Extension has strived to utilize its research linkages to extend timely, practical and objective information tht could enhance the lives and livelihoods of its-clientele. Extension's access to research-based knowledge, therefore, is central- to the performance of its educationl mission.
The need for a study of Extension's research base was prompted by-the establishment of a research committee by the Northeast Extension Directors in 1981. An outgrowth of several meetings of this committee was the submission of a Special Funding Project proposal to USDA-Extension Service ''. .. to assess the needs and opportunities to strengthen the base of research underlying Extension programs in the Northeast." During the subsequent review process, it was determined that it would be more appropriate to approach the issue on a national scale rather than limitingthe scope to the.Northeast. Emphasizing the need and timeliness of such a national study was the following-policy statement of the National Extension Committee of the Joint Council on Food and Agricultural Sciences (USDA 1981a):
The National Extension Commi-ttee has serious concern
for the adequacy of the research base and linkage for
Extension programs. We recognize that this concern is double-edged, involving Extension's impact on researchW
planning as well as vice versa, and may well involve
-- all publicly funded research institutions. We also
recognize that the issue has two aspects. First, is
there sufficient research planned or under way
regarding critical local problems Extension is facing
pressure to address? Second, do all current Extension programs have adequate working linkage to that resarch which might be relevant and applicable to problems it is seeking to address? We believe that both types of
problems exist to some degree, and in taking action

ourselves to further address this issue, we urge the
Joint Council to articulate the concern and its
importance to the Secretary of Agriculture and to research and Extension administrators nationally.
Based on feedback from the initi-al proposal, a revised project proposal was developed with changes in methodology and resource requirements to conduct a national study. This proposal was funded in May 1982 and the study began on July 1, 1982. Shortly thereafter, a research advisory panel was formed to assist the research staff in conceptualizing the study, developing a methodology and reviewing project findings and reports. Included on this advisory panel were representatives of USDA research and Extension units, the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy, the Experiment Station Committee on Organization and Policy, and state Extension representatives from several program areas.Objectives
The primary objectives of this national research base-study are as follows:
1. To identify the current and potential role of research in
Extension programming
2. To determine the extent to which needed research for programming development exists and is available to Extension
3. To identify needed new research activities tha t will-provide
- the content-base for Extension -programs--4. To identify research sources either presently being used or
available to Extension
5. To identify opportunities to strengthen Extension' s research
6. To analyze and report the findings of this study, including an
assessment of their implications for future policies, programs
and i ni tiativyes at the regi onal state and federal levels
In fulfillment of these objectives and in consultation with the research
advisory panel, the decision was made to conduct an internal study of Extension with the findings based primarily on the perceptions of Extensionpersonnel as to the needs and opportunities to strengthen Extension 's research base. The study was designed to elicit information from a crosssection of Extension personnel on the following topics:

1. The scope and nature of Extension's involvement in research
2. The research requirements of various Extension programs
3. The adequacy of the available research/knowledge base
to support Extension programming
4. The extent to which research-based knowledge for Extension
programming is obtained from the following sources:
-the Agricultural Experiment Station
-academic departments
-research conducted by Extension specialists
-the nationwide network of land-grant universities
-1862 and 1890 institutions
-USDA Extension Service
-USDA research units
- -- other federal agencies
-private industry, foundation and associations
-state and community agencies
_--_non-land-grant universities-journals, textbooks, bulletins and-other
- ~ printed materials
other sources5. The nature and extent of Extension's operational and
organizational relationships with the preceding sources
of research-based knowledge
6. The identification of specific needs and opportunities to
strengthen Extension's research base
It was recognized -from the beginning of this study that the findings
would need to be qualified-by the fact that they are based on perceptual data. For example, findings dealing with the adequacy of Extension's research base are grounded in the perceptions of Extension personnel as to whether they view available research-based knowledge as adequate for their day-to-day programming. A finding that the rsearch base is inadequate does not necessarily mean that needed research is unavailable. It may be-a function of Extension's lack of familiarity with the access to such research.
The methodology of the study was undertaken in three distinct phases.
The first phase consisted of 6&n-campus interviews with Extension and research personnel in five states: Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Oregon and Texas (including Prairie View A&M University). The second phase consisted of a nationwide mail survey. The third phase was USDA interviews with selected USDA-Extension andresearch personnel. The use of both personal interviews and mailed questionnaires was based on the belief that achievement of the study's objectives Would be furthered by acquiring the depth of interview responses as well as the breadth of respondent coverage that is feasible with questionnaires.

After analyzing the Phase I interview data, the decision was made to structure the study around an analysis of the separate Extension programs agriculture, natural resources development, community resource development.home economics/family living and 4-H youth development. This decision was influenced by interview evidence that significant variations may exist among Extension programs with respect to their research requirements, as well as the nature and adequacy of their research bases.
An outcome of this decision was the need to-develop questionnaires
tailored to the needs and- circumstances of the five Extension program areas. This involved the development of five separate questionnaires for both Extension specialists and program leaders. Separate questionnaires could have been developed for Extension agents in each program area, but this was not considered feasible since many agents have overlapping program responsibilities. A total of 14 questionnaires were developed including five for Extension specialists, five for program leaders,and one each for Extension agents,-Extension directors/administrators, Agricultural Experiment Station directors and academi-c department heads. Respondents were chose -n among both 1862 and 1890 institutions in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and four-territor-ies. The number of questionnaire respondents and their response rates were:
Respondents Number Percentage
Extension directors 58 68
Program leaders 176 89
Specialists 1,338 78
Agents 923 -88
ELxperiment Station
-directors 38 76
- Academic department
heads 243 31
Total 2,775 80
In order to assist respondents in answering questions in a comparable manner, definitions of selected terms were provided as follows:
-Extension's research base is the collective body of researchgenerated scientific, technical and analytical knowledge that
is relevant to Extension's programming needs. This includes
knowledge that is continuously generated through new research, knowledge located in the research literature as well as in the system of land-grant universities and USDA agencies, and knowledge acquired during the professional development and training
of Extension personnel.
-Basic research contributes to the knowledge base in a given
discipline or field of study. The content of this knowledge base, in turn, influences the nature of applied research opportunities.

-Applied research investigates specific opportunities for the
practical application of basic research. Efforts might be
directed to accomplishing a specific mission or the resolution
of a particular problem.
-Demonstration research tests, adapts and demonstrates the relevance of applied research findings to local situations. Results
demonstrations are an example.
-Methodological research identifies specific opportunities to
strengthen Extension methods, procedures and delivery systems.
-Evaluation research measures the impact of Extension programs for
the purpose of program improvement and accountability.
Overview of Major Findings
The findings of this study must be prefaced by the fact that there are
some significant variations between state Extension Services involving program size and funding levels, organizational structure and staffing patterns, and the unique needs, problems and circumst ances of each state. These variations
-~determine-research needs as well as the capability of each state Extension Service to-acce-ss and utilize research for its programming. Some of the major f indi ngs of th-is study- are surmaized bel ow.
- 1. Extension programming involves diverse activities including the dissemination of a mix of new research findings, established knowledge and general information. This occurs partly in response to the Th-iscovery of new ideas yet to a larger extent in response to specific problems and/or requests for information from Extension's clientele. Developing leadership and decision-making skills is an important part of Extension work, as are activities that contribute to the organization and maintenance of Extension programs.
2. The nature of Extension research needs varies from activity to
activity, requiring a mix of basic, applied, demonstration, methodological and evaluation research. Basic, applied and demonstration research, for example, are necessary for technology transfer programming. Methodological and evaluation research are needed for organization and maintenance of Extension programs.
3. Extension's research needs have shaped by the expanding scope of
Extension programming. At various times and-to varying degrees, thee needs
cut across the social and behavioral sciences, the physical and environmental sciences, and the legal and medical professions. Furthermore, the nature of Extension programming often requires a multidisciplinary research response.
4. With clientele needs, problems and priorities often being the
starting point of -Extension programming, the role of Extension personnel is to search out the most appropriate research/knowledge base to address these needs. This includes knowledge generated by the system of land-grant universities, 6ther public and private educational institutions, research

agencies of USDAI and other public and private research sources. Extension personnel at both state and county levels are versatile and resourceful in tapping a wide variety of research sources to-heet those needs.
5. Extension specialists play a central role in linking field agents to sources of research-based knowledge in the land-grant university and elsewhere. Survey results indicate that some Extension specialists may be better equipped than others to access and use research findings with academic appoi ntments and educational qualifications as key factors. Agriculture and natural resources specialists, for example, are far more likely than other specialists to 1) have academic appointments in addition-to their Extension appointments, 2) have split research-Extension appointments, 3) have offices located in academic departments, and 4) hold earned doctorates.
6. In land-grant universities, the Agricultural Experiment Station is a primary source of research-based knowledge for agriculture programs,-to a lesser extent for natural resources programs, and to a fairly limited extent for community development, home economics and 4-H programs:- While Extension's relationships with the Experiment Station generally was considered adequate by agriculture program leaders, Extension and Experiment Station directors, opportunities still were identified to strengthen these relationships by focusing on more effective communication and coordination in planning and evaluating research and Extension programs.
7. Compared to other research sources, academic departments located outside colleges of agriculture and home economics provide fairly limited research support-for Extension programs. Extension's limi-ted use of these resources can-~be attributed to a-lack of -incenti-ves for academic-faculty to support such research and a reward system that emphasizes basic research for scholarly publications.- Moreover, there-is a need to strengthenorganizational linkages with these departments and to make them more aware-of Extension's research needs.
8. A significant finding of this study was the large extent to which
Extension specialists obtain research support from their own research or from research conducted by their Extension colleagues. Extension specialists are involved in applied and demonstration research activities in order to adapt and apply basic research findings to their program areas.
9. Findings of the study indicate that there is considerable sharing of research-based knowledge among land-grant universities -- particularly at the regional level. This involves formal and informal networks, with some of the smaller institutions using resources of the larger institutions to a considerable degree.
10. USDA-Extension promotes the exchange of research-based knowledge within Extension and between Extension and other research sources via newsletter and other publications, sponsoring conferences and workshops, and, to a more limited extent, providing state specialists with direct assistance in locating appropriate sources of research-based information.
11. Survey findings indentified some USDA research units as important sources of research-based knowledge-for Extension's agriculture and natural resources programs and to a lesser extent for other programs. While

Extension's relationships with these units was generally considered adequate, opportunities were identified to strengthen these relationships through more effective communicat ion and coordination.
12. In response to growing diversity in the scope and nature of Extension programming, Extension personnel perceive a need to strengthen Extension's relationships with research sources located outside the traditional land-grant university/USDA research network. This includes more systematic relationships with non-USDA federal agencies, private industry, professional associations and other sources.
13. Although survey findings indicate Extension is making only limited use of computers in accessing research-based knowledge, this area is envisioned as presenting great opportunities to strengthen Extension's research base in the future -- including development of computerized data base systems relevant to Extension.
14. Based on the perceptions of Extension directors, program leaders and specialists, Extension's research base generally is adequate for agriculture programs and generally inadequate for community development, home economics and 4-H programs. A majority of Extension directors consider the research base adequate to- support natural resources- programs, contrary to theassessment of a majority of -specialists in this area.
Conclusions and RecommendationsMajor conclusions and recommendations of this study must be prefaced by recognition that Extension programming is largely reactive in nature when responding to the needs and problems of Extension clientele. Extension workers function as knowledge brokers by searching out research findings and information from various sources to meet their programming needs. Within the parameters of available research, there are indications that Extension specialists effectively perform this task -- especially -for agriculture programming, where Extension's relationships-with research providers are strongest. From this perspective it can be concluded that the Extension system is making effective u~e of available research findings to perform its
'educational mission.
An additional conclusion of this study is that Extension plays only a limited role in establishment of research priorities and directions. Extension's responsiveness to locally identified needs and problems clearly restricts its ability to anticipate future research needs with sufficient lead time to undertake research before it is needed. Extension tends to interact with research providers on a reactive, rather than a proactive, basis b~y using available findings but having very limited influence on the research agenda. Extension programming, then, tends to operate within the parameters of available research, restricting efforts to conduct programs in areas whereresearch deficiencies exist.
These research gaps are most common, and therefore most problematic, in community development, home economics and 4-H programs where Extension has limited ties to a research establishment-comparable to the Agricultural Experiment Station/USDA research network. Consequently, these areas have the

greatest need to .strengthen Extension's research base --needs that should be
given priority attrition at state, regional and national levels to ensure the viability of these programs in the future. Similarly, there are opportunities to improve Extension's research base in agriculture and environmental resource programs by seeking greater coordination in planning and evaluating research and Extension programs.
A principal challenge to Extension is to anticipate its research needs on a more systematic basis, using that needs-assessment to form a plan of action to obtain needed research. This -requires the identification of program directions and priorities for-the future in order to recognize research needs and priorities. Capabilitites-need to be developed to analyze, synthesize and disseminate research findings and to search out opportunities to fill research needs. Extension i-s challenged to assume a more proactive role in identifying its own research-needs and in pursuing research activities designed to meet those needs.
In light-of the preceding analysis, it should be noted that several efforts already are under-way to answer this challenge. For example, the Extension in the 80s report (USDA 1983k) and strategic planning techniques that are being -developed in several states reflect a growing awareness of the need to establish priorities and directions for the future. Other examples are embodied in A Comprehensive National Plan for New Initiatives in Home Economics Research, Extension and HKigher Education (USUDA 1983c) andT establishment of Centers of Research and Extensio Excellence. These and similar initiatives should be strengthened and integrated into a comprehensive plan of action to enhance E,tension's research base. 'To this end, thefollowing recommendations are made-RECOMMENDATION 1 --A concerted effort should be made in each state Extension Service to establish or strengthen its strategic planning capabilities, bringing into focus Extension's research needs on a priority basis. These priorities should reflect the most promising opportunities to enhance the lives and livelihoods of people Extension serves. This will provide the basis for developing a specific research agenda to support Extension programming as well as a plan of action to obtain the needed research.
RECOMMENDATION 2 -- Planning capabilities should be established or
strengthened at the regional and national levels to systematically identify high-priority research needs of regional or national significance. Consideration should be given to expanding the concept of Centers of Research and Extension Excellence to provide a cost-effective framework for addressing these needs. The centers could regularly analyze, synthesize and disseminate research findings. In addition, they could lead the search for opportunities to fill specific research gaps through their own research activities and/or provide direct contact with appropriate research providers in federal agencies, private-industry, foundations or other sources.
RECOMMENDATION 3 -- State, regional and national levels of the Extension Service should set priorities for strengthening Extension's research base in community development, home economics and 4-H programs in ensure their future viability.

RECOMMENDATION 4 -- Each state Extension Service should evaluate current methods and procedures of keeping Extension agents informed of new research findings, and maintain the availability of program materials that make new research findings understandable to Extension clientele.
RECOMMENDATION 5 -- The issue of whether Extension specialists ought to have academic appointments should be decided on the merits of each case. With or without academic appointments, specialists' efforts should be guided by
organizational priorities that offer the greatest opportunities to enhance the lives and livelihoods of people served, by emphasizing areas where sufficient research is available to support Extension programming.
RECOMMENDATION 6 -- Each state Extension Service should examine its
operational and organizational relationships with the academic and research units in its university, including the Agricultural Experiment Station. Communication and organizational linkages should be an area of particular concern, particularly with respect to the adequacy of current efforts to coordinate the planning of research and Extension programs.
RECOMMENDATION 7 -- Extension administrators should pursue the
organization of specialists and researchers into problem-solving or mission- (
oriented teams to encourage a multidisciplinary approach to the generation-and dissemination of-research findings in important-areas.
- RECOMMENDATION 8 -- The issue of whether Extension personnel should
conduct their own research ought to be thoroughly examined. Policies defining the scope, nature and limits of such involvement should be developed.
RECOMMENDATION 9 -- To strengthen the sharing of research-based
knowledge among universities, Extension bulletins, newsletters and other
publications should be exchanged between states on a regular basis. Regional
or national conferences should be used more frequently to exchange information and to establish linkages among specialists. More extensive use of formal
organizational relationships between state Extension Services,-partic ularly at
-the regional level, also should be given strong consideration.
RECOMMENDATION 10 -- In states that have both 1862 and 1890
universities, an assessment should be made of the adequacy of formal and informal arrangements to encourage the sharing of research-based knowledge between those institutions.
RECOMM4ENDATION 11 -- USDA-Extension should assess the effectiveness of Extension's current connections with USDA research units. Common linkages
-.should be an area of particular-concern, paying special attention to the adequacy of current efforts to coordinate the planning and evaluation of USDA research and Extension programs. In addition, USDA-Extension should assess the scope and nature of its-role, including current methods and procedures, in linking state Extension Services with sources of research-based knowledge.
RECOMMENDATION 12 -- Extension and the USDA research agencies should coordinate planning and evaluation of their research activities, paying particular attention to integration of research findings into Extensionprograms and to future availability of applied and demonstratoin research needed for Extension's technology transfer mission.

RECOMMENDATION 13 -- Each state Extension Service should assess current methods and procedures of providing field agents with up-to-date, concise and relevant publications to support their programming.
RECOMMENDATION 14 -- A concerted effort should be made to strengthen Extension's use of computers and electronic technology as a vehicle for obtaining timely access to research-based knowledge.
RECOMMENDATION 15 -- Based on the identification of high-prioilty areas for future Extension programming at the state, regional and national levels, a systematic effort should be made to identify potential research sources, including sources located outside the land-grant university/USDA research system. Where indicated, Extension at all levels should seek the development or expansion of formal and/or informal linkages with these sources, through the designation of a liaison person, the development of interagency task forces or similar measures focused on specific-problems or mutual areas of concern.
Closing Statement
The findings of this study support a positive assessment of Extension efforts to disseminate available research findings for the benefit of the people Extension serves. Extension has established and maintained effective relationships with traditional research providers (including the Agricultural Experiment Stations, Agricultural Research Service and Economic Research Service)-and theserelationships can be strengthened in the years ahead.
The decision Extension -faces is whether it-will continue to operate within the somewhat restrictive parameters of available research or proactively identify its-research needs and pursue research to meet those needs. The issue is particularly critical for Extension's community resource, home economis and 4-H programs, which are hindered the most by significant research gaps.
Extension must make an unprecedented commitment to planning if it is to adopt a proactive strategy to enhance its research base. Extension also must be prepared to chart is future directions in order to anticipate its research needs. Extension will need to become a stronger advocate for activities that will meet these research needs.