August 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 4 // Feature Articles // 4FEA4

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Maximizing Program Delivery in Extension: Lessons from Leadership for Transformation

Partnerships, master volunteer programs, information centers, and regional offices were identified as four Extension delivery methods to utilize in situations of shrinking resources. The pros and cons of each of these delivery methods is presented. Matching individual, community, and emerging needs with the right educational methods will be one key to survival for Cooperative Extension programs.

Kevin M. Laughlin
Extension Agricultural Agent
University of Idaho
Sandpoint, Idaho
Internet address:

Janet L. Schmidt
Area Extension Agricultural Agent
Washington State University
Colfax, Washington
Internet address:

The historically familiar clientele base that accesses Cooperative Extension programs is changing. Population trends show an increase in the number of rural residents while the number of farmers and ranchers continues to decline. Rural and urban communities are becoming disenfranchised as infrastructure is stretched beyond capacity. Decisions are made for rural areas and agriculture largely by legislatures from metropolitan areas. Metropolitan areas have more problems because of higher density population, but also have more services and educational opportunities available. Underserved audiences represent a wide diversity of potential users of Extension's educational programs. How does Extension find a balance among programmatic offerings for various clientele groups who have a need for our programs and expertise?

At a recent leadership training workshop in Arizona, Extension professionals from the western region explored these issues using case studies (Huber, 1993). One of the products of the workshop was a series of tables that identified the pros and cons of various Extension delivery methods. Extension professionals might use these as they consider or plan new programs.

Extension professionals and administrators are often asked "to do more with fewer resources," "work smarter," or "restructure" as they make decisions about programs. Choosing the correct path to maximize limited resources is often a challenge. The best opportunities to serve and educate the clientele in the complex educational arena of today's technology must be considered.

Emerging Methods for Program Delivery

Leadership for transformation participants listed commonly used Extension delivery methods identified in several case studies examined at the workshop. Based on personal experience and observation, participants brainstormed and recorded on flip charts the risks and benefits of these methods. The group reached a consensus that methods needed to be matched to realities in each locale. They also indicated that a tool would be helpful in the decision making process. This "quick check" tool should compare and contrast each option.

Several educational delivery methods were considered. Four were selected as emerging opportunities to do more with fewer resources: partnerships, master volunteer programs, information centers, and regional offices. The pros and cons of each are presented in a tabular form. In this manner, professionals planning county, regional, or area programs could use these tables for a "quick check" and analysis of delivery methods being considered.

For example, after choosing to implement a master volunteer program over a four year period, a faculty member could ponder the time, increased resources required, liability, quality of information delivery, and reduced program control, compared to the benefits identified. Sometimes Extension professionals fail to consider all the consequences of programming decisions; these tables are a way to improve the planning process. Repeating this "quick check" with other program delivery methods, or expanding of the tables to match local situations, provides the user an opportunity to explore expectations and make informed choices.


Collaborative learning and/or forming strategic alliances with others may be the axiom for the next decade. Many grantors or foundations require that grant recipients work collaboratively with other agencies to become a recipient of the grant. Working together may be the best and wisest use of limited resources for education, government, and industry. This may be Cooperative Extension's premier opportunity to deal with federal mandates to provide equal access to educational programs. Some believe Extension will need to form partnerships just to stay in the education business. Some pros and cons of partnerships are presented in Table 1.

Table 1
Pros and Cons of Partnerships as an Extension Delivery Method
New resources Increased competition
Shared ownership increases
Loss of control
Leverage grant funds Responsibility for others
Network Loss of uniqueness
Synergism Loss of identity
Improves communication Increase time cost
Legitimizes consultant(s) Increased travel time and
Increased personal
May end up with unfilled
Recognition or loss of
credit for the job done
based on public

The process of forming partnerships requires each partner to come to the table with resources and frank discussions of outcomes and recognition expectations. Allowing for time to build trust based relationships is also a key factor. Moving forward too quickly with the partnership could strain public relations. Partnership agreements may need to be detailed and outlined with risks and responsibilities explained. The value of research based education vs. advocacy or information transfer must be explored. Cooperative Extension can bring research based knowledge and educational legitimacy to partnerships.

Master Volunteer Programs

Pioneered in the early 60's, Master Volunteer programs continue to provide the human touch to Cooperative Extension educational programs. Some pros and cons of Master Volunteer programs are presented in Table 2.

Table 2
Pros and Cons of Master Volunteer Programs as an
Extension Delivery Method
Multiplies expertise Time involved in training
Builds support base Time in maintenance
Frees agent time for
in-depth programming
Increased resources in
volunteer management
Truly educates empowered
Liability in use of
Enables Extension faculty
to devote resources to
issue based curriculums
May deliver inaccurate
Self-esteem for participant Reduced program control
for Extension faculty
Volunteer hours to Extension Less time for direct
clientele contact by
Extension faculty

Master volunteer training programs are based on providing hours of intensive training to volunteers in exchange for hours of the volunteer's time. Volunteers pay back their time by delivering educational information to the public or assisting in Extension activities. As public dollars to support educational programs are reduced, fewer Extension staff are available to carry out Extension programs. Trained volunteers are taking on the responsibility of delivering educational programs in their communities. Risks in this system include losing touch with clientele and the liability of program delivery. Master Volunteers are working in the areas of Horticulture, Livestock, Forestry, Clothing and Textiles, Food Safety, Food Preservation, Youth Development, Leadership Development, and Water Quality. Implementing Master Volunteer programs consistent with the mission of the Land Grant University System may indeed be one of the best opportunities Cooperative Extension has in taking education to the people.

Information Centers

Information Centers may be located or co-located with public libraries, at educational institutions, or technology centers. Pros and cons of information centers are presented in Table 3. These centers may use CD ROM, satellite downlink facilities, interactive or compressed video, or simply be collection centers for data in specific areas. Some program areas such as Home Horticulture, Sustainable Agriculture, Engineering, Manufacturing, Food Science, or college courses for credit might be suited for this method of delivery. This tool should allow easy access and be user friendly. It may best serve the needs of the motivated self learner.

Table 3
Pros and Cons of Information Centers as an Extension
Delivery Method
People serve themselves Increased secretarial time
Saves time for faculty Not interactive
Address multiple program areas Materials become dated
Non-controversial Maintenance cost is high
Convenient to individual Information not clear cut
Uses limited resources effectively Space requirements
Own time May not fit situation
Personal responsibility Time consuming for clients
Lots of information Lack of demographics about
Resistance from clientele
Fear of technology

With this option, education becomes learner-centered rather than limited by access.

Regional Offices

With downsizing in some states and regions, the concept of right-sizing in Cooperative Extension is leading to regionalization or clustering. Regional offices present opportunities to deliver the latest technology to wider areas using new and emerging communications systems. Pros and cons of regional offices are presented in Table 4.

Table 4
Pros and Cons of Regional Offices as an Extension Delivery Method
More efficient use of
Lose county support
One-stop shopping Less accessibility by
information model
Less efficient for
Collegial interactions Less services for
Facilitates teaming More time for travel
Reduces barriers such as:
county lines,
programming, etc.
Increased administration
to support regional
Reduces administration
Fewer focuses and greater

Like information centers, regional offices provide sites for the latest communication equipment and delivery points for programs. If co-located with research facilities, enhanced delivery of new technology is accomplished. In addition, they may increase the opportunity for faculty and staff to work interdisciplinary to solve problems of local clientele. Risks of becoming out of touch with the grass roots of individual communities and traditional clientele must also be considered.


Each of the four methods for program delivery has risks and benefits. Matching individual, community, and emerging needs with the right educational method will be the key to survival for Cooperative Extension programs in the 90's. Professionals need a "quick check" to assist them in analyzing the best way to do business in this emerging technological age. A mix of traditional and emerging methods will help clientele and professionals best meet the educational needs of the coming decade. Matching those needs with the most appropriate delivery methods is the key to success.


Huber, N. K. (1993). Leadership for transformation handbook. Tucson: University of Arizona.