Fall 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 3 // Commentary // 3LET2

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We Chose the Right Process


After reading our article, "Let the People Speak" (Winter 1989), one of the Journal's readers expressed concern over the assignment of community leaders to study groups representing the four traditional program areas used in Extension (Spring 1990). It was her contention that such groupings (and limited to a single meeting) don't facilitate interdisciplinary interaction. She further challenged others to break away from the comfortable bounds of traditional program areas as they initiate the needs assessment process.

As we reported, more than one meeting was held to discuss issues. In addition, more than 75% of those invited to study group meetings were from outside the Extension program development structure and not familiar with Extension jargon. While they were grouped by Extension program areas for initial discussion, they were neither restricted in the topics they could discuss nor the interrelationships of their topics to other issues. Discussion leaders were instructed to challenge the community leaders to identify issues of concern to all segments of the county.

We chose to invite community leaders by program area for two reasons. First, at the time of our decision (1985), little information had been generated on issues programming and our faculty had limited knowledge of what would be expected of them. Second, we believed it would be easier for our faculty to start this new process of issues-based programming from a point of strength rather than a point of limited knowledge and experience.

We believe we chose the correct response. The basis for this conclusion is twofold. First, the type of issues identified within counties was interdisciplinary and generally not restricted to program area subject matter. Second, Extension faculty morale after the study group process was extremely high - largely because of the positive comments made by community leaders involved in the process who hadn't previously been familiar with Extension.

As we begin our second long-range Extension program process, our Extension faculty are quite receptive to expanding the basis for inviting community leaders to discussion group meetings. In fact, counties are being asked to group local issues into three categories - economic, social, and environmental. Such a task in 1985 would have required a heavy administrative backing. Today, it's being received as part of business.

Howard Ladewig
Extension Program Leader for Program and Staff Development
Texas Agricultural Extension Service
Texas A & M University System-College Station

Burl Richardson
Extension Program Development Specialist
Texas Agricultural Extension Service
Texas A & M University System-College Station