March 1984 // Volume 22 // Number 2 // Feature Articles // 2FEA4

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Regional Approach To Assessing Clientele Needs


William H. Robinson
Extension Entomologist
Department of Entomology
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University-Blacksburg.

Assessing specific needs of clientele served by Extension and evaluating the ability of staff and programs to meet those needs is important to all levels of Extension work. Matching clientele needs with specific programs and knowledgeable leadership isn't easy, but without some directional planning, programs can be inappropriate for the intended audience.1

It's not always practical for unit offices or even individual states to assess clientele needs. The cost, workload, and available time for these studies can be prohibitive. However, for some general subject-matter areas, studies can be conducted on a multistate or regional basis. Aside from the obvious benefits of shared costs and work, regional efforts can provide more accurate information, encourage interstate cooperation and programming, and can result in regional publications and training materials.

The results of a regional study of clientele needs and Extension's ability to meet these needs are presented here. While this study examined a specific aspect of clientele needs, the concept of evaluating interacting groups (agents, homeowners, paraprofessionals) on a multistate basis is applicable to other disciplines.

The Study

Extension entomologists in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania worked together to assess the knowledge homeowners, agents, and pest control operators had about wood-infesting insects (termites, powderpost beetles, carpenter ants). These three groups were considered the most important segment of the target audience that interact with wood-infesting insect problems. The objectives were to: (1) assess the level of knowledge of each group, (2) identify the gaps in knowledge between the groups, and (3) provide this information to agents and specialists to use in designing future Extension programs and training sessions.

Why Important?

Homeowners in the U.S. spend over $1 biIIion every year to prevent and control insects that infest structural wood. Although it's the homeowner's responsibility to recognize the damage and control an infestation, agents are frequently asked for information and advice. Homeowners usually depend on the pest control operator for prevention and control measures.


The level of knowledge of the three groups was measured by a mail questionnaire. The questionnaire consisted of 12 true/false and 8 multiple-choice questions on termites, powderpost beetles, old house borers, carpenter ants, and carpenter bees. The questions were divided into three categories: identification of damage (7 questions), biology and life history (8 questions), and control (5 questions). Additional questions, different for homeowners, agents, and pest control operators, provided some background information.

Questionnaires were sent to agents (294) in county and city offices, and the results are based on an 83% response. Homeowners (150) were selected from participants in Extension programs in 24 counties in Virginia, and the results are based on a 67% response. Pest control operators (320) were randomly selected from the various state associations, and the results are based on a 61 % response.

Clientele Needs

Details of the agent and homeowner response to the questionnaire have been reported previously.2 To compare the level of knowledge between agents, homeowners, and pest control operators, the percentage of correct answers to questions on damage, biology, and control were summarized into a Damage Identification Index, Biology Index, and Control Index. The index number corresponds to the mean percentage of correct answers to the questions in that specific category.


Homeowners had the lowest index scores of the three target audiences (see Table 1). Although homeowners spend large amounts of money to control wood-infesting insects they aren't well-prepared to make the decision to control. The survey indicated they were in need of: (1) educational programs that emphasize damage identification, biology, and control and (2) a reliable, unbiased source of information on wood-infesting insects. Agents are qualified to meet these needs.

Table 1. Index scores of homeowners, agents, and pest control operators.
Index Category
Index Score
Pest control operator
Damage identification


The agents sampled were quite knowledgeable about wood-infesting insects. The overall level of knowledge is more than twice that of homeowners. The agents' Biology Index score was considerably lower than the other two index scores, but still higher than the homeowners'. Agent training sessions stressing general biology of wood-infesting insects would meet this need. Of note is the difference between the homeowner and agent scores. The scores indicate agents are a reliable source of information and that there can be a flow of information from agent to homeowner.

Pest Control Operator

Pest control operators were the best informed of the three groups sampled. Their index scores were higher than those of homeowners, but only slightly higher than the agents' scores. The difference in the knowledge levels indicates that there can be a flow of information from pest control operator to agent and homeowner. The study indicates that training sessions for pest control operators should stress the biology of wood-infesting insects.

Information Transfer

The index scores for homeowners, agents, and pest control operators indicate the level of knowledge each group has for wood-infesting insects. In addition, the scores can be used to predict the direction of information movement between the three groups. For example, agents can transfer information on pest biology to homeowners because the agents' Biology Index score (59) was more than twice that of the homeowners' score (28). Little information transfer will take place from agents to pest control operators, because the index scores for agents were lower than those for the pest control operators (Figure 1).

Information transfer between groups


The results of this study indicate some specific actions necessary to meet clientele needs:

  1. Extension agents need training sessions, resource material, and publications (for homeowners) on wood-infesting insects. Actions taken to meet these needs include a regional (Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina) publication on insect pests of modern log houses and an information packet and set of color slides on wood-infesting insects for agents to use as a resource and in-service training.
  2. Pest control operators need more training on the biology and control of wood-infesting insects. Actions taken to meet these needs include increased training at regularly scheduled short courses (Maryland-1980; Pennsylvania and Delaware-1981; Virginia-1982) and a color slide set on the biology of the old house borer for in-service training of pest control operators.


  1. C. Bielema and A. Sofranko, "Determining Needs of a Hard-to-Reach Audience," Journal of Extension, XXI (January/February, 1983), 3-9.
  2. William H. Robinson, "Extension Agent Knowledge of Wood-Infesting Insects," Melsheimer Entomology Series (Issue 29,1981), pp.28-34 and William H. Robinson, "Home owner Knowledge of Wood-Infesting Insects," Melsheimer Entomology Series (Issue 29,1981), pp. 48-52.
  3. Wiiiiam H. Robinson, H. B. Moore, and F. E. Wood, "Insect Pests of Log Houses," Publication 894 (Blacksburg: Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, 1980).