As a new extension worker, you are starting an exciting career in a profession with many rewards. The opportunity to work with outstanding people in the community and to affect the lives of youth and adults is a great challenge. Extension programs in which you will be involved are highly visible, and you and others will be able to see many results of your work.
Tips and Tricks for Program Planning
With the high visibility you have as a new Extension worker comes a certain amount of risk. As a new worker, people will expect you to be enthusiastic, full of fresh ideas, ambitious, but still well organized, sensitive and, above all, a solid educator. The first few events that you plan will be especially important since people will be watching carefully to see how the new worker handles things.
With this perspective in mind, here are some guidelines to managing Nebraska Extension events that will help you avoid the pitfalls of working with the public.
With experience, these guidelines will become automatic. Experienced workers are not immune from poor public relations, but the new Extension worker is especially vulnerable. Good luck you to, now and in the future!
When a new staff person comes on board, people expect new ideas and approaches. A word of caution, however. Your new ideas are needed, but do find out all you can about past and current programs before you launch into new ones. How would you feel if the program you worked on for twenty years was suddenly labeled out-of-date, not worthwhile, obsolete? You cannot afford to lose the support of volunteers or staff who are giving or have given leadership to programs in the past.
Our program will sell better than my program. Introduce new ideas with consideration for what is or has been. But do introduce new ideas, and keep introducing them. Getting a reputation as an "idea" person is very positive. Even more important is the follow through required to put an idea into action. Above all, programs must be based upon need. Use sound needs assessment tools to determine program changes that are needed. Be diplomatic in initiating change.
Planning for any Extension program must begin with a question, "Why are we doing this?" and "How will it help youth, adults, and/or the community?" "Because we did it last year" and "We have the money" are not good enough reasons to do something. Make certain the educational role of every event is clearly identified.
- Write the goals, objectives and benefits
- Be clear about how the program will fit Extension initiatives.
- Remind program participants and the public of the importance of every program that is conducted.
- Written goals are invaluable in publicity, determining program content and conducting evaluations.
The question of "what" deals with content -- the knowledge, skills and attitudes that will be affected. The education goals must guide the activities of the event. Some activities will be direct; others may be more subtle or indirect. "Caught rather than taught" may sometimes describe the benefits gained. Are the activities of the event appropriate... for the goals? for the age or maturity of the audience? for the cost and resources available? for the time commitment of paid and volunteer staff? for the interest of participants?
"Who" is more critical than it may first appear. Ask these questions:
- Who will do the planning?
- Who will make management decisions?
- Who should legitimize the event?
- Who will conduct the event?
- Who will publicize?
- Who will benefit?
- Who will attend?
- Who will be the volunteers involved?
Be specific in answering these questions. Do you need a written job description? Job descriptions take time to write the first time, but with computers are very easy to update. Job descriptions are excellent communication instruments.
There is no such thing as an open date. Decide which conflicts must be avoided and which could be tolerated. Obtain a copy of the school, church and community calendars if possible for use in your office. Set dates early.
Obtain the best facilities you can afford. The program will be enhanced by the environment in which it is conducted. Having good facilities for meetings and events is a worthwhile, long-term goal, if facilities are lacking.
The critical phase of any program is the manner in which it is conducted. Extension workers need to develop a style, a little class if you will, that helps clientele feel good about the program.
Consider the following:
- Develop a checklist with the steps to be done. Timeliness is everything. A person who is late in making arrangements will soon gain the image of being poorly organized.
- Events almost never go exactly as planned. Remain flexible. Changes in your plan require time to work out. Decisions made under pressure of time have a greater chance of being poor decisions. Lead-time is important.
- Decide who the critical decision-makers will be; who will have impact on the program; who has a say in the rules; who has the connections with others that will help the program be successful. Contact the VIP's at appropriate times. Start with an open discussion with staff, but when volunteers are involved, listen to them. Extension workers must become experts at involving others.
- Do a budget. Everything costs. What will come from the Extension budget, from fees, from donors? The more outside money you can obtain, the more Extension funds you can use on other programs. Include the sponsors on your publicity.
- If your event is a contest, be clear about the rules and regulations. Ask who determines or reviews the rules. You are dealing with people's rights when you make rules, so they must be fair, clearly understood and few in number. Be extremely careful with rules that exclude individuals or class of individuals. Be consistent. Avoid favoritism.
- If you are running a contest, determine if you need a protest review committee. Extension workers must avoid making arbitrary decisions. There are times when decisions must be made, and the event must proceed. But if there is disagreement, and there will be, how can questions be resolved in a manner that is fair to the participant? Those with complaints want to be heard even though they do not win the argument. Decide ahead of time how you are going to handle disagreements.
- What are the logistics and needed paperwork? Are there registrations or entries? When are the deadlines? Does information need to be sent to those who sign up? Computers are wonderful, but they do not think very well. Use the computer efficiently.
- How will the event be publicized? You can control newsletters, but you cannot control newspaper stories unless you pay for the ad. Newsletters have limited pulling power. Consider how people can help you promote. Who can you count on to help sell the program - volunteers, committees and/or community leaders?
- When the big day for your event arrives, who will be the up-front people? Are they well informed? Who will handle introductions? Are the necessary supplies and equipment ready? PA systems and other electronic equipment can cause inexperienced people great embarrassment.
- If you have outside judges or resource people participating in the event, make certain:
- they are scheduled well ahead of time,
- travel and lodging have been arranged,
- the starting time is clearly understood,
- they have clear directions to the site, and
- time is allowed for orientation of your guest.
- Recognize those who helped you. Everybody wants to be recognized for their efforts toward a successful program. If it flops, nobody wants recognition and you will likely stand alone! Recognition should be tasteful.
- Report results. Who needs to know? Who wants to know? Remember the permanent reports for the file, reports for VIP's, the planning committee, EARS and year-end reports. Decide ahead of time what reports will be generated by whom and when.
- Evaluate. Did you reach your goals? If not, why not? What did you learn for next time? Should the program be continued or dropped? Not everything needs to become an annual event. Make recommendations for next year at the close of the program when ideas are fresh in the minds of those who participated.
- Who will do the program next? Is there a management notebook or file that can be passed to the next person? A successful program passed successfully to the next person is a high compliment to the professionalism of leaders.
- Above all, manage the event. Do not let the event manage you.
Enhancing Program Performance with Logic Models
The link below provides a holistic approach to planning and evaluating education and outreach programs. It helps program practitioners use and apply logic models - a framework and way of thinking to help us improve our work and be accountable for results. You will learn what a logic model is and how to use one for planning, implementation, evaluation or communicating about your program.