August 2016 // Volume 54 // Number 4 // Tools of the Trade // v54-4tt1
Program Standards and Expectations: Providing Clarity, Consistency, and Focus
The effort described in this article resulted from requests for clarity and consistency from new and existing Extension/4-H educators as well as from recommendations by university auditors. The primary purpose of the effort was to clarify standards for effective county-based 4-H youth development programs and to help focus the roles of 4-H professionals in developing and maintaining effective programs that contribute to the 4-H mission and highest priority statewide needs. Five major categories of expectations for all county 4-H programs were identified on the basis of a related model for 4-H program delivery. The approach described may be useful across Extension for achieving improved program quality, program transformation, and effective dedication of resources.
Consistent Program Quality Requires Program Consistency
One of Extension's strengths is its flexibility across counties and states to address local needs to achieve locally desired outcomes. However, this also is a potential weakness when it results in inconsistencies, inefficiencies, disparate program quality, or lack of contribution toward meaningful common outcomes. Strategic planning at state and national levels, introduction of common evaluation measures, and other efforts to set national priorities have facilitated the development of broad standards and goals. For example, Langellotto, Moen, Straub, & Dorn (2015) described newly developed national standards for the Extension master gardener (EMG) program intended to "set a bar against which EMG programs could judge their performance, or . . . could work towards, if they have not yet met a specific standard" ("Implications for Future Work," para. 1) and to "provide better guidance . . . and promote consistency" ("Implications for Future Work," para. 3). Still, national plans typically are not detailed enough to provide specific, measurable outcomes, and standards are not always realized at the local level. Furthermore, program inconsistencies across counties sometimes result from variations in budgets, staffing, socioeconomic factors, and so forth (Harder, Moore, Mazurkewicz, & Benge, 2013). Therefore, developing meaningful common program standards and expectations for an entire state that does not resort to a lowest-common-denominator approach is a formidable challenge and not without controversy.
Program quality "has its roots in how effectively central questions are addressed and linked to desired outcomes, in each program phase. Quality indicators, then, are the principles guiding decision making and action processes . . . for setting priorities, channeling resources, and assessing effectiveness as programs unfold" (Mueller, 1991, "Minnesota Program Quality Statement," para. 2). A sensible program theory provides the basis for how programs are supposed to achieve those desired outcomes (W. K. Kellogg Foundation, 1998).
The needs for both program quality and consistency may represent a chicken-and-egg paradox but must be considered together because quality is difficult to address unless common standards and expectations can be established to ensure that consistent program quality can be achieved and maintained. The understanding that "quality is a major concern of education at all levels" (Mueller, 1991, "Quality Issue," para. 1) may explain why grading rubrics, national educational standards, testing, and other means of standardizing expectations and outcomes are prevalent. As a public institution, Extension is not immune to such societal norms and practices, nor should it be if it intends to remain relevant and be viewed as credible in providing educational programs with consistent quality.
Example: Statewide Standards and Expectations for 4-H Youth Development
The Extension 4-H youth development program is multifaceted due to its youth audience, dependence on trained volunteers, involvement of parents and alumni, and a variety of laws to which it must comply. This complexity can be difficult to understand and manage, so providing clarity and focus is particularly valuable. The document 4-H Program Standards & Expectations (hereafter referred to as Standards & Expectations) (Diem, 2013) resulted from requests for clarity and consistency from new and existing Extension/4-H faculty in Florida as well as in response to recommendations from university auditors (University of Florida Office of Internal Audit, 2013). It was developed for the University of Florida (UF)/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Extension 4-H youth development program by the state 4-H program leader, with input from a variety of other Extension faculty and administrators. The primary purposes for developing the document were "to clarify standards for effective county-based 4-H Youth Development programs and to help focus the roles of 4-H faculty and staff in developing and maintaining effective programs that contribute to the mission and highest priority needs of Florida 4-H" (Diem, 2013, "Background and Purpose," para. 1). Five major categories of expectations for all county 4-H programs were identified on the basis of a relevant model for 4-H program delivery (Diem, 2013).
The document elaborates further on goals it was intended to achieve:
A key goal was to standardize core functions to provide consistency of county 4-H programs statewide; which represents about two-thirds of the overall 4-H program and the subsequent efforts of faculty members leading 4-H programs. This will not only assist in maintaining compliance with laws and policies (such as those related to youth protection and funds handling) but also free 4-H faculty from re-inventing the routine and allow them instead to focus their expertise and creativity on developing innovative programs and meeting unique local needs. It will also allow increased emphasis on the scholarship of youth development and volunteerism and provide clarity for plans of work, reports of accomplishment and, subsequently, performance appraisals. Lastly, it will help provide guidance to IFAS faculty without 4-H job titles contributing their expertise to the 4-H Youth Development Program.
. . . Specific tools and training will be provided to help IFAS/Extension faculty meet expectations and achieve standards via orientation, in-service training, online resources, EDIS [electronic data information source] publications, etc. (Diem, 2013, "Background and Purpose," paras. 1 & 5)
Initiative 7 of UF/IFAS Extension Roadmap (i.e., strategic plan) is titled "Preparing youth to be responsible citizens and productive members of the workforce." It addresses two priorities: (a) youth development and (b) developing organizational and volunteer systems to support youth development (University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension, 2012). A logic model was developed for each priority. The model for 4-H program delivery (Figure 1) integrated those two logic models and served as the means for graphically depicting the 4-H program standards and expectations on a single page, thereby providing an easy reference for stakeholders, new faculty and staff, and other interested parties. State and county Extension/4-H programs often have a general mission and goals and plans of work but not necessarily specific guidance for carrying everything out. Therefore, Standards & Expectations, and the model for 4-H program delivery it is based on, may be a useful framework for others considering how to focus an Extension program to achieve targeted outcomes with limited staff and other resources.
Model for 4-H Program Delivery
Common Expectations for County 4-H Programs
Figure 2 shows examples of standards and expectations in each of the five major categories that were identified in Standards & Expectations. (Details are included in the complete document.)
Five Major Categories of Expectations for County 4-H Programs
Implementation, Oversight, and Best Practices
To ensure that the guidelines in Standards & Expectations were consistently implemented, a series of goals, shown in Figure 3, was included in the document to provide guidance and oversight and encourage use of best practices. (Details of each goal are provided in the complete document.)
Goals for Implementation, Oversight, and Best Practices
Summary: Progress, Results, and Benefits
After more than a year of advance notice indicating a shift in statewide 4-H program emphasis, an official version of Standards & Expectations was released in fall 2013, in time for Extension 4-H faculty members to devise their plans of work for fiscal year (FY) 2014. Plans subsequently began to include many of the objectives from Initiative 7 of the UF/IFAS Extension Roadmap and reflect the guidance provided by Standards & Expectations. Examples of statewide results from the first 2 years began to reflect these implementation efforts, as indicated by the data shown in Table 1.
|Enrollment indicator||Trend: FY2011–FY2015|
|4 H club enrollment||Increased 18% to 23,155|
|Number of 4-H clubs||Increased 51% to 1,087|
|Youth participation in school enrichment||Decreased 9% to 150,924|
|4-H club enrollment as a percentage of total 4-H enrollment||Increased from 8.3% to 11.3%|
As a significant example, data from FY2011 to FY2015 (Florida 4-H, 2015) indicate that a key goal to increase 4-H club enrollment and reduce focus on short-term programs such as school enrichment was beginning to be realized due to a statewide program focus leading to and resulting from the establishment of Standards & Expectations. Similarly, goals pertaining to volunteers, diversity, and so forth are also being addressed. Furthermore, evaluation results based on 4-H Common Measures (Florida 4-H, 2014) reflect positive program outcomes that indicate the consequential benefit of program quality that may result from setting consistent program standards. (Examples include positive gains older 4-H youth attributed to their 4-H experience, but that is not the focus of this article.)
It is important to note that although these positive trends may be a testament to the establishment of consistent program standards and expectations, they depend on the dedicated efforts of the county, district, and state Extension/4-H faculty and staff who lead and deliver the 4-H youth development program with the help of trained volunteers. Lastly, a similar approach to developing common goals, standards, and expectations is likely to be useful to any Extension program or similar educational organization beyond 4-H, at state, district, or local levels. The example of program standard development provided in this article does not need to be replicated as is; instead, it is simply essential that everyone in the organization stay focused on whatever common goals are set. Therefore, a document such as Standards & Expectations becomes a fundamental tool for orientation of faculty/staff and volunteers as well as the basis for ongoing training and development.
Diem, K. G. (2013). 4-H Program Standards & Expectations. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension. Retrieved from http://florida4h.org/programs/4HStandardsExpectations.pdf
Florida 4-H. (2014). Executive summary of the 2014 4-H Common Measures Statewide Survey of 4-H seniors. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension. Retrieved from http://florida4h.org/about1/impact/4-H_Statewide_Survey_of_Seniors.pdf
Florida 4-H. (2015). ES237: 4-H Enrollment Statewide and County Data, FY2011–FY2015. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension. Retrieved from http://florida4h.org/about/impact/es237/
Harder, A., Moore, A., Mazurkewicz, M., & Benge, M. (2013). Problems impacting Extension program quality at the county level: Results from an analysis of county program reviews conducted in Florida. Journal of Extension [online], 51(1) Article 1RIB2. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2013february/rb2.php
Langellotto, G. A., Moen, D., Straub, T., & Dorn, S. (2015). The first nationally unifying mission statement and program standards for Extension master gardener programs at land-grant universities. Journal of Extension [online], 53(1) Article 1IAW1. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2015february/iw1.php
Mueller, M. R. (1991). Quality means results. Journal of Extension [online], 29(1) Article 1FEA1. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1991spring/a1.php
University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension. (2012). Shaping solutions for Florida's future: The UF/IFAS Extension roadmap 2013-2023. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension. Retrieved from http://pdec.ifas.ufl.edu/roadmap/FloridaExtensionRoadmap_2013-2023.pdf
University of Florida Office of Internal Audit. (May 30, 2013). Audit of: University of Florida IFAS 4-H youth development program. (Report Number: UF-13-614-01; Memorandum from Brian D. Mikell, chief audit executive to University of Florida board of trustees audit committee.) Gainesville, FL: University of Florida.
W. K. Kellogg Foundation. (1998). Logic model development guide, pp. 49–50. Retrieved from http://www.wkkf.org/resource-directory/resource/2006/02/wk-kellogg-foundation-logic-model-development-guide