Darrell A. Dromgoole, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
Mandi Seaton, Regional Program Leader for Family and Community Health/4-H and Youth Development, North Region, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
Scott Cummings, Associate Department Head and Program Leader; Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
When executed correctly, the PIE Program Change Model enables Extension educators to work with planning groups to identify issues and develop educational interventions that result in clientele change (new skills acquired, change in attitude/beliefs, change in behavior, adoption of practices, or adoption of technology).
According to Boleman and Cummings (2005), in order to effectively plan Extension educational programs, Extension must listen to the people in their communities to comprehend their needs. For a number of years, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has relied upon an issue identification process entitled the Texas Community Futures Forum (Boleman & Cummings, 2005). While Extension relies heavily on the Texas Community Futures Forum, educators also identify issues through other methods such as committees, coalitions, task forces, commodity groups, elected officials, and through state and national trends identified by subject matter specialists, etc.
As you begin your career as an Extension educator, it is important that there is an understanding of both the definition of an issue and issue-based programming. An issue is defined by Seevers and Graham (2012) as matters of wide public concern arising out of complex problems impacting individuals or communities.
Issue-based programming is educational efforts that focus on issues facing individuals in their own context or setting (Seevers, & Graham, 2012). The involvement of planning groups in issue identification ensures program reliance and our clientele’s “buy-in”. When our clientele has “buy-in” our programs becomes their programs which provides excellent opportunities to use planning groups in the interpretation of programs with stakeholders.
Issues facing clientele are abundant, leaving Extension educators overwhelmed. If not managed appropriately, many issues can lead to Extension educators conducting a large amount of unrelated events that do not result in intended clientele change. Although it is easy to become overwhelmed with educational events that may not relate to high-priority goals, Extension educators must learn to balance pressure from various sources: local clientele, elected officials, society, the tradition of the program, and individual professional goals (Seevers & Graham, 2012). One way to balance the various sources of issues, Extension educators can learn to prioritize the issues.
Prioritizing issues from various sources must be established in every stage of the program development process: defining target audiences, identifying needs, determining methods and strategies, and executing programming to accomplish intended measurable goals (Seevers & Graham, 2012). Forest and Mulcahy (1976) identified five reasons for setting priorities;
In addition to Forest and Mulcahy’s (1976) reasons, Seever and Graham (2012) suggest a successful priority setting depends on the execution of the following steps:
Another highly effective method that Extension educators can use is to simply develop a table of issues important to clientele. On the left side of the column, Extension educators will list sources of issues and the top of the table the educator will list identified issues. The example below will illustrate how this table can be used to prioritize issues.
As you can see in this example, the issues of Childhood Obesity and Diabetes Education were identified frequently by various groups. Therefore, Childhood Obesity and Diabetes Education would be higher priorities in terms of programming and in the allocation of resources.
If you have any questions about identifying and prioritizing issues in your county, visit with your Regional Program Leader.
Boleman, C.T. & Cummings, S.R. (2005) Listen to the People—A Strategic Planning Model for Cooperative Extension. Journal of Extension [Online],43 (3) Article 3TOT3. Available at: https://www.joe.org/joe/2005june/tt3.php
Forest, L., & Mulcahy, S. (1976). First things first; A handbook of priority setting in Extension. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Extension.
Seevers, B., & Graham, D., (2012). Education through Cooperative Extension. (3rd. ed.). Fayetteville AR. University of Arkansas Bookstore.