July 1984 // Volume 22 // Number 4 // Tools of the Trade // 4TOT1

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Advisory Councils

Advisory Councils: A Theoretical and Practical Guide for Program Planners. Jacquelyn M. Cole and Maurice F. Cole. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1983. 207pp. $22.95

James Long
"TT" editor
Washington State University

Advisory Councils: A Theoretical and Practical Guide for Program Planners. Jacquelyn M. Cole and Maurice F. Cole. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1983. 207pp. $22.95.

First, the "Rationale" section reminds us of the values of involving citizens as Extension program advisors: involvement speeds up the process of planned change; it results in better decisions; and in itself, it's a beneficial learning experience for participants.

The "Conceptual Framework" then introduces a social systems view of Extension, reviews several perspectives about social change, and outlines alternative roles of Extension professionals in bringing about planned change. Second-and I believe this feature is the strength of this brief book-the next several chapters alert us, when working with county advisory groups, to keep in mind three sets of components: structural, programming, and group behavior components.

Within the structural components, the authors discuss, for example, purposes and levels of county advisory groups, powers and limitations, volunteer membership, by-laws, officers, meetings, and the agents' roles. For the programming component, the Coles focus on the role of advisory groups as participants in the processes of assessing county educational needs, setting Extension goals and objectives, designing educational experiences, evaluating programs, and assessing the programming processes themselves. And, for the third component-dynamics of groups-the authors consider group task and maintenance functions, levels of group maturity, communications skills, conflict resolution techniques, and decision-making strategies.

The appendixes, which make up almost half the book, offer more detail and real-life examples:

  • A review of the social action model.
  • A job description for a member of a county-wide advisory group in Florida.
  • Sample by-laws.
  • Sample articles of incorporation.
  • A critique, prepared in Virginia, of alternative ways to collect data about county needs and resources.
  • A framework to interpret information about needs and resources (force-field analysis).
  • A suggested process to set program priorities.
  • Ways to observe group process.
  • A review of task- and group-building roles.

The authors make extensive use of references-five pages' worth! And their book is carefully indexed. It was reassuring to see some old, familiar ideas, for example, about community social action and group member roles applied so directly to county Extension advisory groups. And, what for me was new material, offered a fresh perspective on some old questions. The Coles' discussion of "conflict," for instance, distinguished between "intrinsic" and "extrinsic" conflict, that is, conflict inherent within the issue and conflict within a group apart from the issue at hand. They then suggested some practical resolution techniques appropriate to each kind of conflict.

I was disappointed, however, that the book didn't deal explicitly with some additional questions: (1) Who selects advisory council members and how does that choice relate to our goals of attracting minorities to Extension programs? and (2) How does the more recent research on "situational leadership" help Extension agents define their evolving roles in working with a group as the group matures? At times, the book defined terms differently from what I expected. "Group interview" was seen as a way for individuals in a group to complete written questionnaires. That definition is a great deal different from a group's systematically "thinking out loud" about a focus question-a definition of group interview as used in marketing research since the 1960s.Overall, I found this brief, unusual mixture of concepts, examples, "how-to's," incompletenesses, surprises, and teasers really intriguing.

Advisory Councils leads me to believe that when we set out to build an advisory group, we're tackling an important task; that we in Extension throughout the U.S. are in this effort together and we can build on each other's experiences; and that, in our states and counties, we doubtlessly work in different social systems and, therefore, can find no single recipe in this-or any other-book. I predict that this guide will prove helpful to Extension professionals who seek to strengthen local programs by discovering for themselves how to build local advisory groups.