June 1998 // Volume 36 // Number 3 // Ideas at Work // 3IAW2

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VICE is an alternative to the traditional multi-county Extension in-service that is usually in a large group setting. A step-by-step procedure is outlined that allows a county agent to substitute a visit with a peer agent as legitimate and valuable in-service. Every agent had to: (a) identify programs/tasks in which s/he excelled; (b) schedule an across county lines visit of at least five hours; and (c) make a report of that visit. Results of summative evaluation suggest that this is a positive and productive use of county agent in-service time. VICE = Visits In Counties Everywhere.

Thomas M. Archer
County Extension Agent, 4-H
Shelby County
Sidney, Ohio
Internet address: archer.3@osu.edu

Want to hear a uniform groan from the ranks of tenured county Extension agents? Mention mandatory multi-county in- service education! Depending on the program area, available resources, and time of year, some of these supposedly educational ventures have been less than stellar.

To help combat this problem, 4-H VICE was initiated in the fall of 1996 to personalize and specialize a 4-H in-service across a 19 county district. The program was called, Visits In Counties Everywhere (VICE). The idea was to allow county agents the opportunity to include as a day of District In-Service a planned visit with another agent. The premise was that the most useful way to learn about being a better agent was to spend a day with another agent. Just visiting about things in general would be productive, but all agents have several areas in which they possess great ideas to share. The visit would probably be in an office, but it might be at camp or other major event. These visits could take place anytime from April through September 1997.

VICE was actually a three step process: Every Agent had to: (a) identify programs or tasks in which s/he excelled; (b) schedule and make an across county lines visit of at least five hours; and (c) report the results of that visit.

In September 1996, every 4-H agent in the 19 county district was sent a "VICE Recruitment Form". It stated, "Every 4-H agent has some activity, program, procedure, event, organization, or whatever that works well, and from which others could benefit. A long time ago, we called the things that we did in Extension, Tasks. Please list at least five different 4-H Tasks that you do well, and which you would be willing to share with others."

By December 1, a summary of at least five VICE Tasks was developed for each of the 24 4-H professionals across the district. This VICE Task Summary also included contact information, such as address and phone numbers. It was duplicated, and mailed to all 4-H Agents, with the instructions, " ... to schedule, on your own, a minimum five hour visit with another 4-H agent. Everyone should spend a day in another county, but agents should realize that some agents may be visited by more than one agent, and others may not receive a visit. .. we should limit the number of visits we accept. Therefore, the plan would be to try to schedule as soon as possible, in order to get your first choice."

Included with the mailing of the VICE Task Summary was a VICE Report Form. This was a summative evaluation instrument that included four parts: (a) a listing of the five most important topics discussed or shared during the visit; (b) five point Likert type rating scales of Knowledge Gained (1=None to 5=Much) and Usefulness (1=Not at all to 5=Very); (c) a checklist of common topics that might have been discussed; and (d) the question, "What is your reaction to this 4-H VICE In-Service?".

A reminder letter was mailed to the participants in February with another VICE Report Form. A total of 14 out of 19 were returned from December 20 through the following July 11. The results were summarized and presented to the next year's District In-Service Planning Committee. The summary showed that: 33 different Important Topics were discussed or shared; knowledge gain through VICE was self-reported as a 4.5 on a 5.0 Scale; usefulness of VICE was self-reported as a 4.7 on a 5.0 Scale; The most discussed other topics were office procedures (12); time Management (9); county fair (7); clever ideas (6); camp programs (5), and filing system (5); and the overall reaction to VICE was positive, productive, and encouragement to continue.

Examples of reaction comments made about VICE by participating agents:

  • "Excellent booster shot!; Continue in the future; Very enjoyable in-service.";
  • "As a result of our visit, I've come away with new ideas, clearer thinking on some old ideas, and a new appreciation for (agent name), both professionally and personally.";
  • "Though we may not think we have the time to participate in VICE - in the long run, it is a great management tool. You may learn something in a half- or full-day visit that otherwise may take several days to complete.";
  • "I think this idea of "Vice Visits" is one of the best uses of agents' time, and the best use of in-service time yet!!"