Tag Archives: logic models

Why we care about measuring impacts

As we have formulated logic models and work plans to articulate the focus of our programs, we often find ourselves trying to summarize the importance of the work we do. Often the easiest measures are ones that measure importance in a way that may tell us how many people use our programs or how frequently people contact us for our services. For example, we know that our Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development programs reach 11 percent of the youth in our state. That’s good to know, and even more valuable is knowing whether that percentage is increasing or decreasing. Certainly, an increase in the percent of youth reached is indicative of how broad our reach is and how effective our programs are at recruiting and retaining participants and the volunteers who serve them. Yet, as education professionals, we want to know more than just who showed up. We really don’t know how lives are changed by simply recording the number of participants. We need to know and we need to be able to report on what difference our programs made to those participants.

 In today’s story about the Deford Dazzlers 4-H Rocket Team, it’s pretty cool to celebrate what those youth accomplished, and ranking 10th in the nation is nothing to take lightly. But how will that rocketry experience affect the Dazzlers when they are adults? And what outcomes would we want to see? In 4-H, we say that we want to help prepare youth to be competent, confident, connected, caring, contributing adults. How do we measure that, and how do we determine the role that 4-H played in their development? Those are really difficult questions to answer, and scholars spend entire careers trying to find ways to measure those impacts. We’re fortunate to have colleagues at MSU and at land-grant universities across the country who help us make those measurements. Those long-term impacts are the most challenging to measure. If a Dazzler from 2012 ends up as head of NASA, do we take credit for that? Of course not. Yet, I don’t think anyone would deny that our program had an impact on that youth’s education and career choices that resulted in appointment as NASA director. What if another Dazzler ends up farming in Tuscola County? Do we say the 4-H experience had no impact on their educational and career choices? Of course not. Every experience a youth encounters has an impact on their future trajectory. What the youth learned from rocketry probably will have a lot of relevance to operating agricultural equipment in the 21st century. But that youth has gained much more than a deep understanding of physics and chemistry. He or she has learned how to work with others on a team, has learned how to appreciate the skills of others, has learned how to communicate effectively with peers and with adults.

 I’m really happy for the Dazzlers – nothing is more exhilarating than watching a rocket take off successfully, disappear into the sky, and then reappear with parachute fully deployed. And to do it so successfully is simply awesome. It’s a tremendous accomplishment for them and for the adults like Mark Hansen who help them with their projects. I’m confident that they are more likely to be competent, confident, connected, caring and contributing adults as a result of their efforts. I look forward to the day that we’ll know what contributions those Dazzlers make as adults to test the confidence I have in their experiences. And I appreciate all efforts that my MSUE colleagues make to measure even the short-term impacts of our programs so that we can show the value of our work to others. And I appreciate all efforts that my MSUE colleagues make to expand our reach to serve even more than 11 percent of the youth in Michigan. They all need experiences like the Dazzlers’ to ensure Michigan’s future success.

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Tracking collaborative efforts in the North Central States

On the biweekly Michigan State University Extension Redesign Web Conference this week, I mentioned several developments from the North Central Cooperative Extension Association (NCCEA) meeting held last week in St. Louis, Missouri, including a forthcoming workshop on grant writing for teams and efforts to develop outcome indicators that measure the broad impacts of Cooperative Extension programming on economic development, citizen engagement, and other community outcomes. I mentioned that I would provide links to the NCCEA web site and the resources there. For example, you can find a link to each of the regional logic models for each program area at the site. And you can find links to the webinar series presented by NCCEA this summer related to region-wide efforts to develop programming related to metropolitan food systems on the NCCEA home page. And the Battelle study on regional opportunities for ag-bio economic development is on the website as well. Dr. Robin Shepard serves as executive director for NCCEA and is a consummate Extension professional himself, with a background in community and natural resources development.

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What’s on your dashboard?

Governor Snyder presented his first State-of-the-State address last night, and delivered a message consistent with what he has said throughout his campaign and in the months following his election success: Michigan’s economy needs a boost, and the most immediate outcome that boost needs to generate is jobs.

 His speech was targeted more at the big ideas of where he intends to lead the state, but he did share a few more concrete examples to help illustrate his intention. One of those examples was the Michigan Dashboard – a quick way of documenting the metrics that he feels we need to improve. These are the metrics that will tell us whether his programs and other changes that the Legislature enacts are leading towards the creation of new jobs for Michigan residents.

 The metrics are organized in five categories: Economic Strength, Health and Education, Value for Government, Quality of Life and Public Safety. Among those five categories, 21 individual metrics are listed, and for each, data from the previous five years are given, and comparisons to other states are listed as well.

 The notion that government would be held accountable to a set of metrics isn’t entirely new. Six years ago, leadership in the Legislature determined that they wanted to use an accountability methodology based on the book “The Price of Government,” authored by David Osborne and Peter Hutchinson. Unfortunately, leadership in the House was more interested than leadership in the Senate, and the governor’s office seemed even less interested in that approach. Even so, at that time, my predecessor, Maggie Bethel, led the charge to show how Michigan State University Extension was able to deliver on the metrics of concern to legislators, and MSUE took the effort more seriously than any other organization inside or outside of state government. The impact papers that Maggie and her communications team generated were remarkable and have continued to influence the way we communicate about MSUE with decision makers.

 Governor Snyder’s approach may be more lasting, if for no other reason than the fact that it is originating from the Executive branch this time. Whether it lasts or not, I think it’s prudent for MSUE staff to once again ask ourselves how we contribute or can contribute to improving the metrics on the dashboard.

 For example, work our state and local government team conducts that assists local governments in finding ways to collaborate on services across jurisdictional lines should help to improve the metric on state and local government operating costs as a percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). Work we do on nutrition education should help to improve on infant mortality, obesity in the population and college readiness. Our Greening Michigan teams can contribute to the clean and safe water resources water quality index. And there are others.

 We need to challenge ourselves to be able to show how our work is contributing to these metrics. They are not our only means of accountability, but they are among our important means of accountability. I challenge each of you to think about how your work and the productivity of your work team can contribute to one or more of these 21 metrics. Where appropriate, we need to build these into our logic models as metrics for measuring our program impacts.

 I’d like to hear from you with your ideas about MSUE contributing to these metrics. Before you hit the “reply” button and send your ideas just to me, please make a few more clicks by going to my blog and add your suggestions as comments to this posting so that others in MSUE, on your work team and outside of MSUE can read your thoughts as well.

 This is a time when we need to be able to once again rise to the challenge, and with the same confidence and boldness that Maggie demonstrated in 2005, speak clearly and demonstrate the value of MSUE for Michigan’s future.


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Animal Agriculture Initiative pre-proposals due on Oct. 1

Michigan State University’s Animal Agriculture Initiative (AAI), Michigan’s animal agriculture research, teaching and Extension initiative, invites MSU faculty members and MSU Extension staff members to submit pre-proposals for the 2011–2012 funding year (July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012) by Oct. 1.

 These preliminary project proposals should focus on developing solutions to problems defined by one of the following five broad research categories identified as high priority by the state’s animal industry groups: environment, health, imminent or emerging issues, profitability and welfare.  All of these connect well with the logic models in the Agriculture/Agribusiness Institute and the Greening Michigan Institute.

 The AAI Coalition, the governing board of the AAI, will review all preliminary proposals. They will select which proposals will move on to the full proposal round and make final selections in December.

 Go online and check out some of the past research projects that AAI has invested in at www.aai.msu.edu. You can download the preliminary proposal guidelines at the same site. If you have questions about proposal submission, contact Faye Watson at cotton@msu.edu.

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