Winter 1989 // Volume 27 // Number 4 // Ideas at Work // 4IAW1

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Control Groups - New CES Audiences


MaryAnn Paynter
Extension Specialist, Family Economics
University of Illinois-Urbana

Robert H. Flashman
Extension Specialist, Family Resource Management
University of Kentucky-Lexington

Evaluative studies can be designed to measure program effectiveness as well as recruit new audiences. In a 1979 study,1 when we were interviewing people about a consumer issue, 71% of the respondents indicated they wanted to receive a consumer newsletter; of these participants, 96% had never participated in programs or received information from Cooperative Extension Service (CES). An award-winning newsletter, entitled Consumer Notes, was developed and mailed to these participants.

Although Extension researchers know the importance of control groups for evaluative studies, quite often it's difficult to justify the use of resources to contact people who won't receive the benefits of the educational program. Because of our interest in this dilemma, we decided to use a control group to evaluate Consumer Notes.

Both the experimental group, consisting of the readers recruited in the first survey, and the control group, randomly selected from the local telephone directory, were used to help determine the effectiveness of the newsletter for increasing client participation in CES programs and to measure changes in knowledge and practices. No significant differences were found between the experimental and the control groups in regard to gender, marital status, household size, education, and gross income.

Interviews in 1985 with readers recruited in 1979 revealed that 91% wished to continue receiving the newsletter; 71% of the control group also asked to receive the newsletter. This percentage of interest was consistent with that shown by participants in the earlier study.

There were other significant findings related to Extension programming. In comparison to the control group, twice as many readers reported contacting CES personnel or using CES services in addition to the newsletter and 15% attended CES meetings.

Five years earlier, a majority of the survey participants weren't familiar with CES and weren't using its services or materials. These recipients of the newsletter are now aware of CES as an important source of information and services.

Control groups help us determine effectiveness of programs, knowledge gained, and behavior changed. As professionals, we must look at impact studies not only as adding to our knowledge base, but as tools to help recruit audiences not currently being reached. A variety of methods can be used to reach clientele. A newsletter developed from requests by research participants is one of the ways program delivery can make a difference in the lives of our clients.


1. Robert H. Flashman, MaryAnn Paynter, and Gwendolyn J. Brewer, "Luring New Audiences by Research," Journal of Extension, XIX (September/October 1981), 5-6.