Characteristics and Motivational Factors of Effective Extension Advisory Leaders: A Summary of Research Conducted by Teresa Joy Spearman- Part 1

As Extension educators, it is imperative that we review research related to Extension methodologies to ensure we are implementing best practices associated with Extension programming. One of the areas of scholarly inquiry that should be carefully evaluated is the characteristics and motivation factors of effective committee members.

Extension volunteers have been utilized in Extension for over 50 years, serving on program area committees to develop programs that meet the needs of local clientele. However, Extension educators should review various research and other scholarly work to determine the following:

  1. How effective are these committees today?
  2. What can we learn to improve our Agriculture and Natural Resources Program Area Committees?

In 2011, Teresa Spearman at North Carolina State University conducted a study to determine the characteristics and motivation factors of effective Extension Advisory Leaders. Committees, Leadership Advisory Boards, Coalitions, Youth Boards and Extension Advisory groups provide necessary input to ensure that Extension programs are relevant and responsive to local needs and/or issues.

The purpose of this study conducted with North Carolina Extension was to explore characteristics and motivational factors of effective Extension Advisory leaders for identifying, motivating, recruiting, retaining, and training effective Extension advisory leaders. This study answers the following research questions (Spearman, 2011):

  1. What are the characteristics of effective advisory leaders?
  2. What are the motivational factors that cause individuals to be effective advisory leaders for Cooperative Extension?
  3. What are the best ways to recruit effective advisory leaders for Cooperative Extension?
  4. What are the best ways to retain effective advisory leaders for Cooperative Extension?
  5. What areas of training are needed to prepare effective advisory leaders?

The researcher utilized a Delphi technique. The Delphi technique is a type of exploratory research where information is gathered from individuals who have expertise in an area. The Delphi technique gathers information anonymously with a series of individual rounds designed to gain feedback from experts (Spearman, 2011). The intent is to receive a consensus from the group (Dalkey & Helmer, 1963). This technique requires a varying number of rounds depending on the specific study. The researchers conducting this study utilized three rounds. The first round asked participants to brainstorm as many answers as possible to questions (Spearman, 2011). Answers were compiled and sent back to the group for round two so respondents could evaluate the group responses and add more ideas if feasible (Spearman, 2011). The compiled answers were sent back to the group for round three asking participants for more feedback and asking them to rank the previous answers (Spearman, 2011).

The researcher utilized two panels of experts for this study, which included State Advisory Council members, and County Extension Directors for North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service (Spearman, 2011). A letter from the Director of North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service was sent via email to the top 18 (three from each district) recommended County Extension Directors and all of the current State Advisory Council members encouraging them to participate in the study (Spearman, 2011). A reminder email was sent to the County Extension Directors and the State Advisory Council members that did not respond to the initial request after a two week period of time (Spearman, 2011). Three of the 18 recommended County Extension Directors did not respond (Spearman, 2011). Other County Extension Directors were then asked to participate from the prioritized list recommended by the District Extension Directors (Spearman, 2011). The initial group of 18 was not representative of ethnic balance, therefore selected County Extension Directors on the prioritized list were asked to participate to balance the study (Spearman, 2011). This continued until 20 County Extension Directors agreed to participate in the study (Spearman, 2011). Twenty out of the 30 currently active State Advisory Council members responded that they would participate in the study. As shown in Table 1, there were a total of 40 participants in the study (Spearman, 2011). Table 1 provides information related to the expert panel selection (Spearman,2011):

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Delphi technique was used to gather data and reach consensus on criteria for identifying, motivating, recruiting, retaining, and training effective advisory leaders (Spearman, 2011). The Delphi method is systematic and relies on input from independent experts (Spearman, 2011). The carefully selected experts answered questions provided to them electronically until consensus was reached among the respondents (Spearman, 2011).

This study utilized three rounds to gather data. For round one, each panel of experts received a group of questions that was administered through the online survey provider SurveyMonkey.com, LLC (Spearmen, 2011).

The following questions were asked of the County Extension Directors (Spearman, 2011):

  1. What are the characteristics of effective advisory leaders?
  2. What are the motivational factors that cause individuals to be effective volunteers for Cooperative Extension?
  3. What are the best ways to recruit effective advisory leaders for Cooperative Extension?
  4. What are the best ways to retain effective advisory leaders for Cooperative Extension?
  5. What areas of training are needed to prepare effective advisory leaders?

The following questions were asked from the State Advisory Council members (Spearman, 2011):

  1. Why do you volunteer for North Carolina Cooperative Extension?
  2. What are the best ways to recruit effective advisory leaders for Cooperative Extension?
  3. What are the best ways to retain effective advisory leaders for Cooperative Extension?
  4. What areas of training are needed to prepare effective advisory leaders?

The responses received for round one were summarized and developed into an online survey for round two (Spearman, 2011). The researcher summarized participant’s answers and organized them into like categories (Spearman, 2011). During round two, participants the researcher asked the participants to review the list and rate listed responses on a five-point Likert scale with one being not important and five being extremely important (Spearman, 2011).

Round three was utilized to verify consensus (Spearman, 2011). When consensus was reached after round three, no additional questions were posed to the participants (Spearman, 2011).

Table 2 provides details regarding participation in each round of the survey (Spearman, 2011):

 

 

 

 

 

 

For round two, the researcher developed a survey instrument for each of the two expert panels using the information gathered in round one (Spearman, 2011). The survey instrument for the State Advisory Council panel had 46 categories identified in round one and the survey instrument for the County Extension Director panel had 57 categories identified in round one. When analyzing all of the actual responses from round one, they were identified into the best fitting category (Spearman, 2011). Participants in the study were asked to rate the importance of the categories using a five-point Likert scale with one being not important and five being extremely important (Spearman, 2011). Both panels were also asked by the researcher to suggest a better title if they disagreed with the given category (Spearman, 2011). At the end of round two, respondents had the opportunity to provide any missing categories or other information (Spearman, 2011). Nineteen out of the 20 State Advisory Council members responded to round two. Nineteen out of the 20 County Extension Directors responded to round two.

The researcher utilized PASW Statistics, Rel. 18.0.0 to determine the mean and standard deviation for each of the categories from round three responses. There were 46 like categories for State Advisory Council members and 57 like categories for County Extension Directors. The responses from round three were placed in order based on mean and standard deviation for each of the questions (Spearman,2011).

In this installment of Next Step to Success, the results of round two and three associated with the research the question regarding reasons for volunteering will be reported (Spearman, 2011).  The results for round two related to the question regarding the reason for volunteering are summarized in Table 3 (Spearman, 2011):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All nine reasons for volunteering listed in Table 3 were rated as very important by the State Advisory Council members (Spearman, 2011). While all categories were rated as very important, the highest rated category was ‘desire to serve others and improve the community’ (Spearman, 2011).  The lowest rated category was ‘positive feedback and productive working environment’ (Spearman, 2011)

During round three the  State Advisory Council members was asked by the researcher to rank the importance of the identified nine reasons for volunteering in Extension using a nine-point ranking scale ranging from one being most important to nine being the least important. The mean of their responses ranged from 3.21 to 7.16 as summarized in Table 4 (Spearman, 2011).  The results of round three for the State Advisory Council Member are provided in Table 4 (Spearman, 2011):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lowest mean reported in Table 4 was ‘desire to serve others and improve the community’ indicating that it was the most important reason for someone to volunteer in Extension followed by ‘give back to society through Cooperative Extension volunteerism.’ (Spearman, 2011). The highest mean reported was ‘maximizing volunteer talents and skills’ indicating that it was the least important reason for someone to volunteer in Extension out of the nine reasons ranked (Spearman, 2011).

In Future Next Step to Success more insights gleaned from this research regarding the characteristics of an effective Advisory Leaders as reported by County Extension Directors participating in this study.

Reference

Dalkey, N. C., & Helmer, O. (1963). An experimental application of the delphi method to the use of experts. Management Science, 9(3), 458-467.

Spearman, T.J., (2011). Characteristics and Motivational Factors of Effective Extension Advisory Leaders. Unpublished manuscript, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina.

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