Spring 1985 // Volume 23 // Number 1 // Ideas at Work // 1IAW5

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Needs Assessment for Planning


William E. Beckley
Extension Agent
Pocahontas County
Marlinton, West Virginia

Keith L. Smith
Leader, Personnel Development
Assistant Professor, Agriculture Education
The Ohio State University - Columbus

Needs assessment is a concept familiar to Cooperative Extension agents. After all, Extension professionals are in the business of helping people identify their needs, and then responding with the information necessary to meet those needs.

As part of an ongoing statewide effort to direct Extension programs, a needs assessment survey of Extension information users was conducted in Ohio. The overall objective of the study was to determine users' perceptions of the needed emphases to be placed on selected topics within each Extension program area (agriculture, home economics, 4-H, community and natural resource development). Questionnaires were mailed to 30,800 Extension information users throughout Ohio, of which 49% were returned (n =14,947).

Respondents suggested several general areas of focus for future Ohio Extension programs. An important topic to both agricultural industry and community and natural resource development respondents was soil and water conservation. Economic topics, especially farm and family financial concerns, were important to home economics, agricultural industry, and community and natural resource development respondents.

Those who responded in the 4-H area gave high rankings to personal development and technical skill development topics. Other highly ranked topics included safety and crime prevention (community and natural resource development), scientific testing and analysis (agricultural industry), and nutrition (home economics).

The study was intended to provide broad general direction for future Ohio Cooperative Extension programs. With this in mind, the following steps have been taken based on the obtained results:

  1. Findings were presented and discussed among Extension agents, specialists, and administrators at a special session of the Annual Fall In-Service Conference. Implications for future educational efforts related to each program area were emphasized.
  2. personnel, in conjunction with their appropriate Advisory Committees, have incorporated the findings into annual Plans of Work.
  3. The findings provided the foundation for the recent Two-Year In-Service Education Needs Survey of Agents and Specialists.
  4. The findings served as a "launching pad" for more specific needs assessments by agents in the field.

This study has given Extension personnel in Ohio an idea of where they should direct their efforts in the future based on the opinions of the people who receive Extension information. To add depth to this assessment, additional studies should be conducted of clientele groups not currently served by Extension. More stringent scientific methods should be employed in these future studies to ensure valid results. Finally, studies of this type should be conducted regularly if we're to remain responsive to the needs of the people we're mandated to serve.