As long as we are in the realm of ‘I finished my program, now I need to evaluate it’ we are not serving diverse, or really any, audiences as well as we could.
When Julie Huetteman saw the call for applications for a joint eXtension/National Association for Extension Program and Staff Development Professionals (NAEPSDP) fellowship, she was intrigued.
In her role as Strategic Initiatives Coordinator at Purdue University, Julie tracks metrics, reads every impact report, and analyzes the impact of Purdue Extension and how it fits with the University strategic plan. She interacts with people in many different positions, all the way from individual consultations on program evaluation to system-wide reporting. As she puts it, she gets to see both the forest and the trees.
It was also because of these many roles, that she has a unique perspective on the “busy-ness” experienced by most Extension professionals.
The busy-ness of Extension has created a reality in which we ‘add-on’ evaluation. It is something we have to get done. We don’t take the time to engage the stakeholder and fully consider their perspectives.
Huetteman applied for the Fellowship because she saw a moment where she could step forward and focus on the most important part of her job, evaluation. The Fellowship gave her the permission and the time to pursue additional knowledge and skills and focus on something she is passionate about, program evaluation that is responsive and inclusive. She not only saw the opportunity to apply a new approach to her own program but also a platform to influence other Extension professionals’ approaches to evaluation.
As she read literature and connected with colleagues for recommended resources, she soon gravitated toward an emerging approach known as Culturally Responsive Evaluation or CRE. CRE requires engaging the stakeholders at the beginning so that the program evaluation uses culturally appropriate ways to collect, interpret, and share data that is valuable to the audience. It is a way for data and information to serve the culture and not the evaluation itself.
Instead of ‘I’m the evaluation specialist and we need to do this’, we need their perspectives from the beginning to learn what is of value to them and so we can adjust our approach as needed.
This seems self-evident, but it is not how many Extension professionals have traditionally evaluated their programs. During her fellowship, Huetteman served as a key informant for the Diversity & Inclusion Issue Corps (now known as the Impact Collaborative). Through her interactions with different projects, she found herself repeating the same question….”Have you asked them?” She was surprised to hear how often that the answer was “No”.
She suspects one reason for this, beyond the busy-ness of Extension, is that Extension has served a fairly traditional audience that is somewhat homogeneous (at a system-scale). This is changing in many areas and has caused some Extension professionals to rethink their approach. She recently toured an Extension office whose 4-H program largely serves a diverse, urban audience. “They are completely changing their way of thinking and considering new ways to serve their audience differently.”
The hard part of CRE, according to Huetteman, is that every program evaluation effort will be different. Every audience, every program, and every change in context requires a different approach.
What’s next? Huetteman plans to use what she learned and created during her Fellowship to help Extension professionals at Purdue approach program evaluation in a new way. She is also part of a network in the North Central. Each person holds a unique program evaluation role at their respective institutions, and by working together they hope to share resources, consult, mentor, and form a critical mass that can advocate for an engaged and responsive approach to program evaluation as the norm for Extension.
Considering the polarized political climate we all live in, taking time to listen and adapt our approaches and appreciate the perspectives of other people is more important than ever.
Learn more about the National Association of Extension Program and Staff Development Professionals (NAEPSDP)
Learn more about eXtension