December 1994 // Volume 32 // Number 4 // Research in Brief // 4RIB1

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Communication Needs In Extension

How well does information flow between field staff, state specialists, and administrators? State, area, and county staff completed a questionnaire about the amount of information they received, information they needed to receive, and sources of that information. Staff wanted more communication about job performance issues, decision making processes, and future developments in Extension. Strategies are presented which can improve communication, build morale, reduce misunderstandings and conflicts, and help Extension respond more quickly to public needs.

Daniel J. Weigel
Associate Professor
Area Human Development Specialist
University of Nevada Cooperative Extension
Reno, Nevada
Internet address:

How well does information flow between field staff, state specialists, and administration? Effective internal communication is critical to the success of any organization, public or private. The flow of information can be particularly troublesome for organizations, such as Extension, where offices are separated by great distances.

Distance, time demands, program autonomy, and limited face-to-face interaction in an Extension system can create communication breakdowns and lead to lost time, inefficiency, destructive rumors, conflict, and dissatisfaction. This study was undertaken to assess the communication needs of staff in a state Extension system.


Nevada Cooperative Extension has an area-based structure in which 16 county Extension offices are organized into four administrative areas. Each area is administered by an area director. State specialists are supervised by department chairs in their respective campus-based departments.

A total of 55 questionnaires and cover letters were mailed with a return envelope to all field staff (area and county) and state specialists in the Nevada Cooperative Extension system. The questionnaire contained a 24-item scale adapted from the Organizational Communication Audit (Goldhaber & Rogers, 1979) to assess the amount of information currently received, information needed to be received, and the sources of that information. Specific items on the questionnaire pertained to internal communication issues such as performance expectations, advancement opportunities, personnel changes, decision making, developments in Extension, impact of changes, and sources of information. The response rate was 75% (24) for field staff and 89% (16) for state specialists.

Communication Needs

Both field staff and state specialists expressed a need for greater information than they were currently receiving. Staff particularly wanted more communication about:

  1. job performance (performance expectations, clear directions, consistent directions, advancement opportunities, how job relates to the total operation);

  2. decision making (how decisions are made, how ideas and requests are being handled, input into decisions which affect them); and,

  3. future developments (future direction of Extension, impact of changes upon job responsibilities).

Few differences were found between field staff and state specialists.

The most frequently used channel of information for staff is a mid-level manager or department chair, particularly about information related to job performance, decision making, and organizational policies. The in-house newsletter was the primary source for announcements, accomplishments and personnel changes. The grapevine was used primarily for communication about how decisions were made, changes and directions within Extension, advancement opportunities, interests of colleagues, and personal news.


Knowing the organizational communication needs of Extension staff can be useful in enhancing an effective and dynamic organization. Effective communication can build morale, reduce misunderstandings and conflicts, and help Extension respond more quickly to public needs. Staff need access to timely and accurate information, especially in time of great change and stress.

A number of strategies can improve communication, such as using a variety of methods to send information, ensuring that information is sent in a timely manner, conducting periodic progress reviews with staff throughout the year, making sure staff training procedures clarify job roles and relationships, instituting a mentoring system, exploring additional communication training, and implementing a regular process to gather input and feedback from staff. In Nevada, efforts have already begun to increase staff involvement in system-wide decision making, to review performance evaluation procedures, and to develop a proactive plan for organizational change. Efforts like these can improve morale and help staff adjust to changing times.


Goldhaber, G. M., & Rogers, D. P. (1979). Auditing organizational communication systems. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.