Summer 1988 // Volume 26 // Number 2 // Feature Articles // 2FEA4

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Who's Doing the Work?


Alwyn Ann Wegenhoft
Home Economist
Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service
Louisiana State University-Baton Rouge

Barbara A. Holt
Associate Professor
School of Vocational Education
Louisiana State University-Baton Rouge

A Test for the Agent
1. Who decides what problems the community has?
____ the agent ____ the advisory committee
2. Who sets priorities?
____ the agent ____ the advisory committee
3. Who suggests solutions?
____ the agent ____ the advisory committee
4. Who sets and carries out goals?
____ the agent ____ the advisory committee
5. Who identifies community resources?
____ the agent ____ the advisory committee
6. Who promotes program goals?
____ the agent ____ the advisory committee
7. Who gathers information needed for program evaluation?
____ the agent ____ the advisory committee
8. Who judges program results?
____ the agent ____ the advisory committee

Take the short test above to find out who's doing the work in your advisory committee. If you answered "the agent" to most of these questions, you're carrying the load. But, your advisory committee can effectively carry out these and other tasks, and you'll be doing your lay leaders a favor if you let them!

The philosophy of Extension has historically focused on involving people in the program development process. According to Flint, one of the most effective ways of involving people is through advisory committees - but do agents maximize this potential?1

Impact Study

An impact study assessed the effectiveness of advisory committees in helping Extension personnel to plan, execute, and evaluate educational programs.2 Of the 363 groups studied, 263 were chaired by the agent and only 100 were chaired by lay members. Further analysis of the same data revealed that agents who did not chair committees perceived the committees to be more effective in programming and group process skills.3

Developing Working Committees

Cole and Cole suggest that agents should allow members to take leadership roles.4 Agents may be reluctant to do this. Taking control of the committee themselves may be easier and save time, and they're sure that things get done. But does this develop members' leadership abilities? Turning over control may be a gradual process, but learn to relax and let members begin to assume more responsibility.

Step 1: Develop Confidence

The first step is to develop confidence in your lay leaders. Get to know your committee members - what they do for a living, their hobbies and interests, organizations they belong to, their families. You don't have to make your committee members your best friends, but get a feel for how they'll act or respond.

Step 2: Choose Lay Chairperson

Second, if you have been chairing a committee, let a member take on that responsibility. Selecting a chairperson shouldn't be a hasty decision made by you or the committee, but should be well-thought out by both. Select nominators to choose possible candidates and ensure a better choice.

After the officers are elected, provide adequate training. Hold workshops to help develop leadership qualities. Provide the officers with literature and suggest a visit to the library for information on leadership, meeting management, and working with members. Phone or visit them frequently to keep communication lines open. Let them know they can call on you, too. Officers should understand not only their roles, but also the importance they play in developing good educational programs for their community.

Step 3: Develop Relationships

After officers are selected, the third step is to develop a good relationship with the chairperson. This rapport will allow you to acquaint the chairperson with the advisory committee's purposes and its desired outcome. Work individually on areas of concern that may not be covered in the general training. In other words, your chairperson should be as familiar with the process of leading the advisory committee as you would be.

Although it will take time to develop this understanding, in the long run the leadership role and much of the responsibility that goes along with it will be in the hands of the chairperson. Thus, the advisory committee begins to work for you instead of you working for it.

Step 4: Be Prepared

The fourth step is to be prepared for the advisory committee meetings. Meet with the chairpersons and officers to develop an agenda, so everyone will know what's to be covered. Have the agenda typed and copies made for all members. Make sure arrangements have been made for the meeting place, including time and any other details. Inform members of upcoming meetings. Personal contacts and phone calls are better than letters and postcards for initial contacts, but follow up the phone calls with mailed reminders.

After the meeting, see that copies of the minutes are sent to all members. A note of appreciation for their help can ensure future participation.

Step 5: Include Goals and Evaluation

Step five is to continue including the advisory committee in carrying out the program goals and evaluation. This can help recruit people to be involved in the programs, develop the programs, secure materials, or even conduct them. Don't forget the evaluation-advisory committee members can become involved here, too. What better way for members and officers to see if their ideas and plans worked?

By involving the advisory committee in these ways, they gain broader knowledge, understanding, and support for Extension. As Raudabaugh said, "If local people are involved in the planning, they perceive the resulting program as one that includes the problems they wanted solved."5

Step 6: Let Go

The sixth and final step is to remember yourself. You need confidence to let go of a task you may have been involved in for many years. Seek opportunities that will prepare you for helping your advisory committee work for you. Request and participate in training sessions so you can learn to foster leadership in others. Then relax and watch your lay leaders go to work!


These six steps won't eliminate all the work for the agent involved in creating a successful advisory committee, but they can help prepare lay members to take a major part of the responsibility. By developing confidence in them, letting them take on more tasks, maintaining good relationships, preparing thoroughly for meetings, including them in all parts of the program, and keeping yourself up to date, you can help them develop their own leadership capabilities. The next time you take the test about who assumes tasks for the advisory committees, instead of "the agent," all the answers could be "the advisory committee"!


1. B. Flint, Program Development in the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service (Baton Rouge: Louisiana Cooperative Extension, 1970), p. 6.

2. Report of the Impact Study on Extension Advisory Committees Involving Field Staff Reactions to the Effectiveness of the Committee They Are Working With (Baton Rouge: Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service, 1985).

3. A. A. Wegenhoft, A Comparison of Agent Perception of Parish Extension Advisory Committees Chaired by Agents and by Lay Members (Master's thesis, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, 1986).

4. J. M. Cole and M. F. Cole, Advisory Councils: A Theoretical and Practical Guide for Program Planners (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1983), p. xi.

5. G. M. Beal and others, Social Action and Interaction in Program Planning (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1966), p. 27.