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Factors affecting program evaluation behaviours of natural resource extension practitioners in the United States Morford, Shawn

Abstract

The systematic process of measuring and reporting on impacts of publicly funded programs, referred to as "program evaluation," is receiving increased attention among federal, provincial/state, and local organizations throughout North America, including education programs funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Cooperative State Research and Extension Education Service (CSREES). Extension professionals who deliver these programs are expected to collect evaluation data that show how programs change knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviours of clientele as well as longer-term impacts of interventions. Despite the demand for accountability of Extension programs, the frequency and level of program evaluation conducted by natural resource Extension professionals are highly variable across individuals and states. Using a survey, this study investigated motivation, attitude, perceived organizational commitment, and personal characteristics of natural resource extension professionals (NREPs) as they related to the level of program evaluation conducted. Using Analysis of Variance, Multiple Linear Regression and Cross tabulations, this study examined program evaluation behaviours and attitudes of NREPs who work under the CSREES system in the United States in fields such as watershed stewardship, forest products marketing, land use planning, flood mitigation, and forestry. The study examined how factors such as position classification, tenure status, personnel appraisal criteria, perceived organizational commitment, years of experience, and other factors influence program evaluation behaviour. The study showed that age, years of experience in Extension, belief that performance appraisal is linked to evaluation behaviour, and attitude about program evaluation influence the level of evaluation conducted by NREPs. Position classification (i.e tenure-track/non-tenure track), access to evaluation specialists, perceived organizational commitment to evaluation, access to evaluation specialists, and confidence levels in conducting evaluation also may be linked with level of evaluation conducted but results are less conclusive for those variables. Recommendations are offered to improve the amount and quality of program evaluation. The results will contribute to the body of knowledge that will enhance the evaluation capacity within organizations, especially Extension, and ultimately lead to more effective, efficient, and well-funded natural resource Extension programming.

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