Fall 1989 // Volume 27 // Number 3 // Feature Articles // 3FEA2

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Futures-Oriented Public Policy Education


Charles Norman
Coordinator-Special Programs
Cooperative Extension Service
University of Georgia-Athens

Rob Williams
Associate Director-Communications
Georgia Center for Continuing Education
University of Georgia-Athens

In 1983-84, the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service organized and supported Georgia:2000, a long-range public policy study group. Over a two-year period, 50 leading Georgians studied public policy issues affecting the state to the year 2000. The members of Georgia:2000 reviewed the state's history, studied trends shaping the state's future, and developed recommendations in five areas for the state's leaders to consider: managed growth, land and water, governance, markets for Georgia products, and education.

Georgia:2000 was a comprehensive public policy education effort that had a positive impact on statewide decision making. The next step was to see if the process, again supported by a land-grant university, could improve local public policy decisions.


In 1985, Extension administrators initiated a three-year plan that would replicate the Georgia:2000 process in every county in the state.The design of County:2000 used an action research model emphasizing the development of research by linking the need for new information (research) to an ongoing activity or decision-making process (action). Action research methodology is influenced by being carried out concurrently within an activity. "The model assumes the action research to be a continuous process of research, action, evaluation, and more research enlightened by the evaluation findings."1 Action research is also different from other types of social research because it's collaborative.2

Using the action research model, the objectives of County:2000 were to:

  1. Increase the ability of the Extension professionals and community leaders to gather and analyze information about community problems and concern. The analysis included conducting community assessment surveys, identifying community leaders and power brokers, and reviewing socioeconomic trends and their possible impacts on both the local and regional level.

  2. Involve Extension specialists, agents, and community leaders in the action research process. Develop teams of change agents made up of specialists, county agents, and district agents. Specialists were asked to look beyond their speciality area and think like generalists.

  3. Develop collaborative models for problem solving and use them in the County:2000 process within the Extension Service and the local community and look at collaborative solutions to issues raised in the community process.

  4. Increase participation of diverse community leadership in local political and social concerns by involving them in discussions of goal setting and policy development for local government. Encourage informed judgment through public forums and public policy education programs.

  5. Help other community leaders recognize the role of local Extension agents in community economic development and social change, a role that required county Extension agents to move freely between both traditional and emerging community leadership.

Alternative Models

The County:2000 process was organized for support at state, district, and county levels. Following training, the final decision on how to conduct the program was that of the local Extension staff. The county agent served primarily as coordinator or facilitator of each County:2000 group. To date, about 120 out of 159 counties have completed the process. In each case, at least one local leader from County:2000 was not an Extension person.

Training exposed county staff to various models of County:2000. They could select one or a combination of models. All models emphasized people involvement and all depended on a group of diverse local leaders becoming involved in the process. The County:2000 group would gather data, analyze information, and make choices to determine long-term goals or policies in the county. The models also emphasized the need for a representative group of community leaders. These groups became the driving force behind the process. Observations of program success proved that the more diverse the group, the stronger the process. Five alternative models were used to conduct the County:2000 process.

Creation Model

With input from other community leaders, the local Extension staff selected the people to form a County:2000 group for long-term discussions and recommendations to formal policy groups. The group had no purpose other than County:2000.

Evolution Model

The local Extension staff found an existing group and - over time - successfully introduced the idea of a long-term discussion on local issues of interest to that group.

Leadership Development Model

After identifying leaders, the local Extension staff brought them together for leadership development and training. The discussion for public policy issues became secondary to learning and practicing small group dynamics, leadership skills, and basic problem solving. Rather than dealing with a small group of issues over a long term, the group was exposed to a wide range of issues.

Information Model

The local Extension staff, using an advisory group of local leaders, planned a series of public forums to discuss local issues and possible policy options. There was no plan for long-term, in-depth public policy education, but an opportunity existed to allow a long-term policy group to form as a result of the three or four weekly information meetings.

Awareness Model

With this model, the local Extension staff, using an advisory group of experts with assistance from local media, produced a series of news releases or programs about issues. The intent was to make local residents aware of issues and alternative policies. There was no activity, product, or immediate outcome.

Evaluation and Conclusions

The evaluation to date yields six conclusions and lessons.

First, the County:2000 process required a tremendous commitment from most Extension staff. That commitment was typically "in addition to" rather than "in place of" other duties. Second, the process raised questions about training and education of change agents. Increasing specialization in technical education and inservice training may hamper Extension Service's ability to respond to changing community needs. The process pointed out the difficulties for specialists who must work in two arenas: (a) applying technical information in real-life settings and (b) academic research.

Third, the Extension Service may have lost some of its early skills and values in involving people in the process of learning. County:2000 challenged our ability to walk the thin line between "preaching and meddling." We were educators, not advocates, but those distinctions were difficult to maintain.

Fourth, the County:2000 process helped communities learn more about themselves and their environment. It provided information for communities to develop opinions and make choices about public policy issues.

Fifth, agents appeared to be more confident of their leadership role in the community and to have stronger relationships with established and emerging leaders. In addition, Extension professionals have a greater awareness of how social factors affect a community. The process also strengthened the Georgia Extension Service as a comprehensive Extension Service.

Sixth, and last, County:2000 raised more questions than it answered about organizational and community change.


Taken together, these six conclusions from the evaluation of County:2000 indicate that a futures-oriented public policy education process can energize both Extension staff and county people. This anticipatory action research project is having an impact in every Georgia county.


1. E. M. Glasser, H. H. Abelson, and K. A. Garrison, Putting Knowledge To Use: Facilitating the Diffusion of Knowledge and the Implementation of Planned Change (San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass, 1983), p. 406.

2. Michael Peters and Vivian Robinson, "The Origins and Status of Action Research," Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, XX (No. II, 1984), 113-23.