July 1983 // Volume 21 // Number 4 // Research in Brief

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Program Development Approaches and Influences


Boyd Rossing

County Extension: Program Development-A Descriptive Study. Joy Dohr and Cathaleen Finley. Madison: University of Wisconsin-Extension, October, 1979.
"The Process of Program Development for Adult Learners: Information Used by Cooperative Extension Service Home Economists. "Jeanne Esper Brown. Ph.D. dissertation, Michigan State University, East Lansing, 1982.

Recent research confirms what experienced county agents know well-ways of developing programs vary tremendously from agent to agent and situation to situation. A national study by Dohr and Finley identified six different approaches:

  • Identifying the problem through a planning process, then developing the program.
  • Creating a program to respond to a crisis.
  • Designing programs that emerge from a developmental process with clientele.
  • Developing programs from a spontaneous idea of the agent.
  • Seeking to maintain, adapt, or update an existing program.
  • Some combination of these approaches.

Natural questions surface in the face of such variety. What influences program development? What difference does it make? Dohr and Finley identified a host of factors that influence what programs are developed in a county. Among those cited were: the agent's program responsibilities, role expectations of the Extension system, cultural and environmental factors in the county, existing problems, client requests, agency cooperation, federal mandates, national issues, agent interests, agent expertise, resources available, county board directives, research, precedence, and needs of specialists. Some factors were shown to have more influence in some program development approaches than in others.

The dynamics of program development aren't simply of idle interest. They're important to Extension and Extension professionals in at least three ways. First, research by Brown indicates that the program development process of agents changes over the work-life cycle from a dependency on organizational directions to a more autonomous mode. This process is important to job satisfaction.

Second, complex program development processes pose an accountability challenge. Communicating what and why we do what we do can be difficult when our approaches are so varied and there are so many influences on our programs.

Finally, it's essential for each professional and for the larger Extension organization to ensure that the approach selected in each situation leads to a needed, effective program. Developing and honing program development skills of Extension agents must be a never-ending concern through the professional life cycle.