Spring 1986 // Volume 24 // Number 1 // Feature Articles // 1FEA4

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Keys to Successful Program Planning Committees

Diversity and community information boost effectiveness.

Ann C. Hancook
Cooperative Extension Service
Purdue University

Two Extension agents are organizing their program planning committees. One agent selects women who are primarily full-time homemakers. The other agent selects men and women, professionals and nonprofessionals, and whites and nonwhites. Which committee, do you think, has more knowledge of community demographics? The answer might surprise you.

Clientele Participation

Grass-roots involvement in the planning process has been one of the cornerstones of Extension since its inception in 1914. Vines and Anderson state that people's problems and needs are the basis of Extension's educational programs.1 Further, identifying those needs requires the involvement and input of people who share the needs.

Planning committee members need a broad-based knowledge of the community. If all types of people, with all types of needs, can't be represented on the committee, those who are on the committee must be aware of the needs of unrepresented individuals. VandeBerg2 and Boyle3 state that the primary purpose of any planning effort is the development of a sound, defensible, and progressive plan. VandeBerg further states that a cross-section of people, a collection of adults, doesn't necessarily constitute a more able committee.

Indiana Study

To explore these issues, a study was done in four Indiana counties.4 Each county conducted program planning with two separate and independent committees. One was homogeneous, made up of white women who were Extension Homemakers and were primarily full-time homemakers. These committee members tended to be older and rural. The other committee was heterogeneous and was made up of men and women, blacks and whites, homemakers and professionals.

In two of the counties, a slide-tape presentation, "Studying Your Community," was added to the program planning meetings. The presentation provided information on county demographics such as mobility, divorce rates, female employment, and poverty. All committee members in the four counties were pretested and posttested to determine their knowledge of community demographics.

Each committee was asked to identify seven program topics to be offered to the community in the next year. These programs were to be targeted to an adult audience and deal with home economics subject matter.

The questions this study tried to answer were: Is one type of committee more knowledgeable concerning community demographics than another? Does the addition of information on community demographics increase knowledge? Does one type of committee produce a program that is deemed more relevant to community needs?

Table 1. Pretest and posttest mean scores.
  Without slide-tape With slide-tape
  Pretest Posttest Pretest Posttest
Homogeneous 5.44 5.13 6.13 10.20
Heterogeneous 5.73 5.73 5.93 9.73


As you would expect, an analysis of the pretest and posttest scores revealed that the groups who viewed the slide-tape presentation knew more about their community than the groups who didn't view it. Table 1 shows the pretest and posttest mean scores on a 12-question test that measured knowledge of community demographics. The higher the mean, the more knowledgeable the committee was about community demographics.

Interestingly enough, the pretest indicated that the homogeneous committees were as knowledgeable as the heterogeneous committees. Extension homemakers were as aware, for example, of the magnitude of poverty in the community as were members of the heterogeneous committees, which included various agency personnel.

Table 2. Mean rankings of topics.
  Without slide-tape With slide-tape
Homogeneous 9.29 8.47
Heterogeneous 5.71 6.54

Going a step further, the program topics selected by each committee were analyzed. Five community leaders in each county were asked to rank the topics to determine if the topics chosen by one type of committee were perceived as more pertinent to community needs. The seven topics chosen by the homogeneous committee and the seven topics chosen by the heterogeneous committee were randomly listed on a ballot so the community leaders didn't know which group was responsible for specific topics. Table 2 gives the mean rankings of the topics by the community leaders. The lower the mean, the more pertinent the topics.

A significant difference in the means, as determined by a t-test, was found in the "without slidetape" situation. In other words, without the addition of the slide-tape presentation, the topics from the heterogeneous committees were deemed more pertinent. The addition of the slide-tape presentation nullified the difference, statistically.


What are the implications of this study for Extension educators? Why would the topics from the heterogeneous committees be more pertinent if their knowledge of the community was no greater?

If the primary criterion for selecting planning committee members is knowledge of the community, a homogeneous committee is just as good. The addition of background information increases the committee members' knowledge regardless of the make-up of the committee.

It appears that although the homogeneous committee is as knowledgeable, the topics they select to study aren't perceived as being as pertinent to the needs of the community. McMahon provides insight to this paradox stating:

Historically, the focus of adult education was on the individual and his needs. The failure to add the community dimension is a cogent reason why adult education is challenged about relevance despite its long attention to needs.5

Extension has long used program planning committees and will no doubt continue to do so. Regardless of the committee members' level of awareness to community needs, these groups have been accus tomed to planning for their own needs rather than the needs of the community. The addition of background information about the community provides enough direction for them to consider a broader perspective.


Background information concerning the community should be provided to adult education planning committees. And, in fact, homogeneous committees, which have been used traditionally by some educational organizations, shouldn't be used unless background information is part of the process.


  1. C. Austin Vines and Marvin N. Anderson, Heritage Horizons: Extension's Commitment to People (Madison, Wisconsin: Journal of Extension, 1976).
  2. Gale L. VandeBerg, "Guidelines to Planning," Journal of Extension, III (Summer, 1965), 77-86.
  3. Patrick G. Boyle, Planning Better Programs (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981).
  4. Ann C. Hancook, "Adult Education Needs Assessment: A Comparison of Program Planning Methods" (Ph.D. dissertation, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, 1983).
  5. E. E. McMahon, Needs of People and Their Communities-and the Adult Educator: A Review of the Literature of Need Determination (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University, 1970).