December 1999 // Volume 37 // Number 6 // Feature Articles // 6FEA5

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Effectiveness of Extension Cotton Advisory Committees

Well-organized and managed advisory committees are a key to quality Extension programs. Extension agents and members working with cotton advisory committees were interviewed in focus groups to find out if committees were effectively involved in programming and committee processes. Both groups agreed that committees were highly involved in giving advice to agents, legitimizing decisions, and implementing programs. Committees were less involved or not at all involved in communicating with others, or planning and evaluating programs. It was concluded that cotton advisory committees could be more effective if agents improved their management of some aspects of committee work, and if members were better oriented, and committed to and involved in planning, evaluation, and communication.

John Barnett
County Agent
Louisiana State University Agricultural Center
West Monroe, Louisiana
Internet address:

Earl Johnson
Internet address:

Satish Verma
Specialist (Program and Staff Development)
Professor of Extension Education
Internet address:

Louisiana State University Agricultural Center
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Effective advisory committees are the cornerstone of relevant, quality Extension programs. Ineffective committees, on the other hand, undermine credibility and worth of Extension work and Extension personnel. It is important, therefore, to determine if Extension advisory committees fulfill the purpose for which they are established, namely helping Extension professionals plan and implement need-based education programs.

Published work on Extension advisory committees deals largely with suggestions based on staff experiences to ensure that committees are properly organized and managed. It is expected that if this happens, committees will be representative of community interests and perform in an effective manner. Research to verify this connection is non-existent, because establishing such a cause-effect relationship would be difficult and resource-intensive. The limited research that has been done on this subject is based on perceptions of individuals involved in advisory committees.

Three studies conducted in Louisiana are relevant. In a study involving agents and members associated with community resource development advisory committees, it was found that committees were effective in achieving their purposes and functions, and that committee performances of the several purposes and functions were highly correlated (Chauhan, 1984). A 1986 statewide census study of Extension agents determined that advisory committees were mostly used for program planning. Committees were not involved in program evaluation and only slightly involved in program execution.

Several weaknesses in committee performance were indicated including improper member orientation, inadequate member participation, and substantive procedural and technical insufficiencies (Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service, 1986). Committees chaired by lay leaders were perceived to be more effective than those chaired by agents (Wegenhoft, 1986).

This study of the effectiveness of cotton Extension advisory committees in Louisiana was undertaken to complement research in this area and improve cotton Extension programming. Cotton is a major commodity grown in 22 parishes (counties) in Louisiana. Significant resources are devoted by the state Extension service to cotton programming and cotton advisory committees. Committee purposes and functions suggested by Pesson (1966) and the conventional Extension programming model were major concepts guiding the study.

Pesson proposed that Extension advisory committees serve several purposes. By involving representative lay people, advisory groups (a) accelerate educational change among the target clientele, (b) result in "better" program decisions than those made by Extension agents on their own, and (c) provide a beneficial learning experience. He maintained that advisory groups also have several useful functions: (a) giving advice to Extension professionals regarding programs (b) analyzing and interpreting the local situation to identify needs and problems, and (c) legitimizing and communicating program decisions among the community. Extension programming was conceptualized as advisory committee involvement in program planning, implementation, and evaluation.

Purpose of Study

The purpose of the study was to determine the overall effectiveness of cotton advisory committees as perceived by Extension agents and advisory committee members. Specific objectives were to determine the extent to which advisory committees (a) fulfilled committee purposes and functions, and (b) were involved in Extension programming.


Nineteen of the 22 parishes where cotton is grown in the state had functioning cotton advisory committees at the time of the study.

Two focus groups involving all 19 cotton Extension agents in the state and four focus groups with 21 advisory committee members were conducted. Forty-two members were invited to participate using appropriate invitation and follow-up procedures. Advisory committee members attending were cotton producers, cotton association representatives, and agricultural consultants in the cotton industry. Participating agents had an average of 21 years in Extension, and had worked in cotton and with cotton advisory committees for an average of 13 years. The mean age of advisory committee members was 53 and 75% had a college degree or some college. They had been producing cotton for an average of 24 years, and had used Extension programs and information for over 15 years.

Questions for both respondent types were focused on determining their perceptions on how well advisory committees met intended purposes and functions, and were involved in cotton programming. The questioning route enabled agents and members to respond to such questions as how committees were structured and had functioned, problems and needs faced by cotton producers, whether committees had contributed to members' knowledge and disseminated committee decisions to other producers, and how the advisory system could be improved.

Conventional protocols were followed to assure attendance and to moderate and tape record the interviews. Tape transcripts were analyzed to extract individual messages and summarize group comments. Committee member and agent perceptions were studied for themes and patterns within and across the two respondent types focused on the notions of committee purposes, committee functions, and committee involvement in programming.


Committee Purposes

Many members did not have a clear understanding of the intended purposes of advisory committees. The majority felt that the committee's main purpose was to identify problems and give the agent direction for Extension programs. A majority of agents held a similar view, indicating that the purpose of the committee was primarily problem identification and advisement.

Members felt their input influenced decision-making somewhat, but also admitted they were not aware of all the factors that determine the direction of educational programs. Agents, on the other hand, did not view advisory committees as significant in the final determination. Input from committee members guided program direction, but agents made the final decision.

Agents placed a high value on advisory committees for program acceptance by the community. While this was not the only factor in program acceptance, agents thought that strong advisory committees could positively affect the success of programs. Members, by contrast, did not view the advisory committee as being very important for program acceptance. They cited some excellent programs which were supported by the advisory committee but had poor participation from producers. They also gave examples of programs developed without input from the advisory committee that had broad participation. Members felt that program acceptance could be enhanced by using the advisory committee to assess producer attitudes and the parish situation.

Neither group viewed advisory committee work as an educational experience. Both groups expressed the belief that the primary purpose was advising and that other Extension activities were better suited to providing educational experiences.

Committee Functions

Agents viewed the advisory committee as being very important for advisement and legitimation. A dominant theme in the agent interviews was the use of committees to advise. The majority felt that this was the most important function of the committee. Most of them also felt that a major function of committees was to legitimize programs. Agents felt the committees were not able to interpret situations. Often, committees would identify problems and needs that could not be addressed by Extension, suggesting that committee members did not have a good understanding of the limits of Extension programming.

Members saw advisement as the primary function of committees. They felt that they understood the needs and problems of the cotton industry in terms of their local situations. They often recognized things the professional agent did not, and felt that in some situations they, as cotton producers, had more and better experience than agents. Overall, members viewed advisory committees as a source of support for agents and Extension programs.

Neither group emphasized the importance of the advisory committee in spreading information about programs or committee work. Members felt that lists of committee members should be publicized by them to increase communication among producers, agents, and members. The agents generally thought that communications about programs and committee actions should be handled by them. However, they realized the importance of key community leaders on advisory committees to enhance programs and foster acceptance.


Agents felt that planning and evaluation should be left to professionals. They thought that producers could play a part in initiating and implementing programs.

Members felt that education programs were informally evaluated by the level of producer participation. They felt that the advisory committee was a part of program planning, and that many members played major roles in implementation.

Both groups agreed that advisory committees were involved in programming through advisement and assisting with implementation. The agents strongly felt that the development of education programs should be the responsibility of the professional Extension educator.

Overall Effectiveness of Cotton Advisory Committees

Overall effectiveness of committees was judged by the extent to which agents and members perceived that the committees were meeting committee purposes, performing committee functions, and participating in the programming process. Overall member perceptions indicated a poor understanding of the advisory committee process but substantial involvement in many areas. Agents' perceptions indicated a good understanding of the process, but poor adoption of some of the component areas.

With regard to committee purpose, perceptions of both groups indicated that committee members had (a) strong involvement in decision-making, (b) weak involvement in program acceptance, and (c) no involvement in learning from participation in the process. With respect to committee functions, members had (a) strong involvement in advisement and legitimation, (b) weak involvement in communication, and (c) no involvement in interpretation. In programming, members had (a) strong involvement in implementation, (b) weak involvement in planning, and (c) no involvement in evaluation.

The following summary propositions are indicated with regard to overall committee effectiveness:

The process was effective in advising agents, assisting with decision making, and legitimizing and implementing programs.

For members, the process was not effective as an educational experience or for interpreting situations, and communicating decisions about programs.

Agents more than members perceived advisory committees to enhance program acceptance.

Members perceived that their input into program planning contributed to the development of effective programs, but agents did not subscribe to this view.

Members perceived their attendance at Extension programs as an effective form of evaluation, but agents felt that advisory committees had no effect on evaluation.

Advisory committee members have a good working relationship with Extension agents. They expressed positive support for cotton and other Extension programs.

Serving on committees was a positive experience for producers. Their knowledge and appreciation of other Extension programs had been enhanced. However, they expressed some concerns about committee work, including (a) the need for a more defined purpose, (b) a written agenda prior to meetings, (c) greater utilization of committee members in a liaison role between Extension and the agriculture community, and (d) better public awareness and recognition of advisory committee membership and activities.

Changing the committee structure to include all crops, not just cotton. The key to sustaining the system was the recruitment and involvement of young farmers.


  1. Advisory committees strongly influence decision making related to Extension programming, have limited influence on program acceptance, and are not considered to be an educational experience by members or agents.

  2. Committee members are strongly involved in advisement, have some involvement in legitimation and communication, but no involvement in interpretation related to the advisory committee process.

  3. In the advisory committee process of programming, members have strong involvement in implementation, weak in planning, and none in evaluation.

  4. Agents and committee members have a good working relationship. Members perceive serving on the advisory committee as a positive experience. Involvement is strong in some areas of the advisory committee process and nonexistent in others.

  5. The parish advisory committee process should continue to function but is in need of change. Changes need to be made to increase producer involvement in the components of (a) educational experience, (b) interpretation, (c) planning, and (d) evaluation.


  1. Establish one parish advisory committee to cover all crops, not just cotton. Due to the "freedom to farm" legislation included in the 1995 U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm bill, most producers now farm more than one crop and are apt to change crops from year-to-year. The establishment of all-crop advisory committees will allow for the changing of the agenda from year to year to best fit the needs of parish producers. This can be accomplished by merging existing commodity advisory committees and meeting with one overall committee prior to the growing season to discuss commodity selections that best fit the market situation for the upcoming year. Work of the committee could then be directed to address the problems and needs of commodities being grown that production season. Future farm legislation may make it necessary to revert back to commodity specific committees as needs change.

  2. Bring about more effective representation and participation of a broad cross section of individuals involved in the agriculture industry, with particular attention given to including consultants, agribusiness, research personnel, and state specialists. This will strengthen the areas of program acceptance and communication. It will also provide additional assistance for agents in program planning. This can be accomplished by identifying leaders in all segments of the row crop agriculture industry and including them in committee membership.

  3. Recruit and involve more young producers in the advisory committee process. This will nurture continuity of the process.

  4. Train agents to increase their understanding of the advisory committee process and required volunteer leadership skills.

  5. Improve agent management of the committee by (a) providing members with a written agenda and clearly-understood purpose for advisory meetings, (b) increasing public recognition of committee members, (c) maintaining one-on-one contact with members throughout the year, and (d) preparing and mailing out minutes of advisory committee meetings to all producers and others involved in the cotton industry.


Chauhan, M.S. (1984). Effectiveness of Extension CRD advisory committees as perceived by lay members and Extension professionals in Louisiana. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge.

Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service (1986). Effectiveness of Extension advisory committees in the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service: Perceptions of committee members and Extension agents. Baton Rouge: Author.

Pesson, L.L. (1966). Extension program planning with clientele participation. In H.C. Sanders (Ed.), The Cooperative Extension Service. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Wegenhoft, A.A. (1986). A comparison of agent perception of parish Extension advisory committees chaired by agents and by lay members. Unpublished master's thesis, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge.