June 2001 // Volume 39 // Number 3 // Ideas at Work // 3IAW4

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FCS TidBits: Family and Consumer Sciences Electronic Newsletter for Agents

The FCS TidBits is a monthly electronic newsletter that provides FCS specialists the opportunity to share time-sensitive and current information on a monthly basis with FCS agents in the Texas Agricultural Extension Service and the Prairie View Cooperative Extension Service. Evaluations at 6 and 12 months have allowed agents and specialists to shape the format and the information shared through the newsletter. The FCS TidBits currently reaches over 320 agents across Texas and allows over 30 FCS specialists to share important ideas and notices.

Linda D. Ladd
Family Development Specialist
Texas Agricultural Extension Service
College Station, Texas
Internet Address: l-ladd@tamu.edu

The FCS TidBits electronic newsletter was created to improve communication between state staff and county staff employed by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service (TAEX).

The 25+ Family and Consumer Sciences staff of state specialists receive time-sensitive and brief pieces of subject matter information such as announcements about food safety, statistics about child abuse, and financial management information that they would like to share with agents. Also, specialists are always eager to discuss an idea, check out a resource, notify agents about a conference or a funding opportunity, or share a good journal article with the agents. The 300+ County Extension Agents from TAEX need this information as they plan their programs or support their own professional growth.

A monthly electronic newsletter was created to pull together these important pieces of information and transmit them to county agents.

Planning the Newsletter

The goal of this monthly electronic newsletter is to better communicate short pieces of time-sensitive and current information provided by FCS specialists with the FCS administrators and county agents. The specialist staff was invited to submit short, time-sensitive pieces of information that were approximately 100 words in length by the 28th of each month.

The FCS TidBits is transmitted electronically eleven times a year (not December) on the last day of the month as both an attachment and in the body of the email. The audience for FCS TidBits includes FCS administrators, district directors, county directors, FCS specialists, and the 254 county Extension agents with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service.

Evaluating and Refining the Newsletter

The initial FCS TidBits was launched in November, 1998, and agents appeared pleased to receive this timely information. In the April 1999 FCS TidBits, 30 agents responded to a short evaluation that was included at the end of the newsletter.

  1. Agents agreed that the newsletter was informative and helped them both professionally and in completing their plan of work. Their average score was 4.0 out of 5.0 (high) score.
  2. Agents evaluated the newsletter as being better than average (3.6 out of 5.0 high score) in providing useful information on conference and professional development opportunities.
  3. Agent liked the short paragraphs and the current newspaper type format. They wanted the newsletter to continue to offer multiple topics but agreed that a single topic would be good once or twice a year.

Several additions have been made to the newsletter:

  • A box at the beginning of the newsletter that listed the title, date and contact person for upcoming trainings or conferences.
  • A box at the end of the newsletter that listed all web addresses included in the newsletter.
  • The total number of pages printed at the top of page one.

The FCS TidBits length has continued to grow to an average of eight pages. A single topic issue provided agents with a tutorial on how to use the FCS Web site and noted that FCS TidBits is now on our Web page. Agents can also submit information to the TidBits.

The distribution list has been expanded to include other key contacts in our system: the audiovisual library coordinator, the specialist responsible for volunteer training, the military program director and her staff, and the FCS specialist at Prairie View Cooperative Extension Service and her staff.

At 1 year, the state specialists evaluated the newsletter and asked for a more flexible deadline and a possible change in format. The question about format was taken to the agents. Sixty-six agents responded to the three question, 1-year evaluation sent in the November 1999 FCS TidBits:

Agents found the information in FCS TidBits very useful in their county plan of work and in their professional development. Average scores were 4.6 out of 5.0 (high).

Fifty-two percent of agents wanted to keep the present newsletter format, which listed information under the specialist's name and by department. Forty-eight percent of agents wanted a new format that presented information by topic and gave the specialist name and department at the end of the information. The present format was retained for a short while. But in year two the alternate format was presented, and it will be evaluated this year.

Agents spoke warmly of how FCS TidBits had helped them do their job better by keeping them in touch with time-sensitive information and aware of training opportunities. They asked that the TidBits go on the Web and that we consider moving the publication date up to the middle of the month. They appreciated the changes that they had requested and we had made and said that both boxes (training dates and web addresses) were useful.

FCS TidBits is now available on the FCS Web site http://fcs.tamu.edu/tidbits/tidbits.htm. The format has been changed so that subject matter information appears first, followed by the specialist's name. The FCS TidBits is distributed on the first of each month.


FCS TidBits has been a collaborative project between specialists and county agents for about 31 months. In 2000, agents also began submitting information about county programs of interest to specialists and agents. Sharing of information through electronic means promotes timely access to bits of information and important dates.