A New Focus – eXtension’s Critical Success Factors/Metrics

In the 2011-2014 eXtension Strategic Roadmap, one of the important areas of focus was on performance measurement. More specifically, eXtension would create a “dashboard of performance metrics that the entire Cooperative Extension System would find appropriate and acceptable.” The purpose of this effort was to identify a concise set of Critical Success Factors/Metrics (CSF/M) that represent what eXtension is about, what can reasonably be documented and reported, and represents the added value eXtension brings as a resource to the Cooperative Extension System.

In late 2011, an initial set of CSF/M was developed based upon input and review by a CSF/M Task Force including Extension Director/Administrator representatives from each of the five Cooperative Extension System regions, a USDA/NIFA representative, and an eXtension Governing Committee representative. The CSF/M developed were presented to the Cooperative Extension System for review and input at three national discussion sessions attended by 70 individuals and adjustments were consequently made by the Task Force. The CSF/M were then presented to the eXtension Governing Committee in November, 2011. The Governing Committee passed a motion to endorse the CSF/M, including input made during the discussion.

In this and subsequent eXtension UPDATE articles, we will focus on each of the nine Critical Success Factors/Metrics developed in late 2011. While there are some metrics on which we will not be able to report at this time, we will fill these gaps in 2012 as we move forward. Note that in some cases, data will reflect periods prior to 2011.

Critical Success Factor 1: eXtension provides system-wide expertise to respond to client questions, leveraging Cooperative Extension System subject matter knowledge for institutions.

Explanation: Ask an Expert is a robust application that allows the collective resources of the Cooperative Extension System to respond to questions from users of the eXtension public website regardless of the expertise within a state. Metrics focus on the volume of Ask an Expert questions answered by faculty in states other than their own (filling an expertise gap). Cooperative Extension System users win regardless of state content expertise capabilities.

Metrics data: The total number of questions resolved through Ask an Expert from 2006-2011 was 73,195. At the end of 2010, this total was 45,602. Thus the total number of Ask an Expert questions resolved in 2011 was 27,593 or a 60% increase over 2010 (see Overall eXtension Metrics Report at http://create.extension.org/node/2790 for more information).

Experts residing outside the state from which the question originated answered 10,933 questions (40%). Experts residing in the state from which the question originated answered 16,660 questions (60%). This is compelling evidence of how Ask an Expert leverages the collective resources of the Cooperative Extension System to respond to questions from users regardless of the expertise within a state (see eXtension State and Institutional Reports at http://create.extension.org/node/2308 for specific state Ask an Expert information.)

More substantive information about the Ask an Expert application was collected in a 2009 Ask an Expert study conducted by eXtension. Noteworthy results revealed:

Ask an Expert is reaching new clientele. Twenty-nine percent of the people asking questions had never heard of Cooperative Extension prior to using the Ask an Expert application; another 27% were aware of Cooperative Extension but had never accessed it previously.
Respondents believed that the answers provided by the Ask an Expert application are science based. In addition, they believed that the answers were from a trusted and unbiased source. These results indicate that the Cooperative Extension System is perceived as being true to its mission even with people who have had little or no previous familiarity with the system.
Respondents asked questions that they consider to be of personal and economic importance. Ask an Expert is not being used to ask trivial questions or to inquire about things considered a curiosity.
The one variable that impacts the utility of the answers provided is the rapidity with which an answer is provided. After two days, respondents indicated that the usefulness of the answer in helping them resolve their issue was diminished.
Testimonials from Ask an Expert users have also been quite positive. Several comments include:

I got a reply that, although not what I wanted to hear, I trusted.
A Google search provided an answer but I needed someone with authority and experience to corroborate.
I didn’t expect an answer so quickly. In the matter of an hour or so the response was very helpful. I am thrilled with this service.

We will be posting a link to the full report in the near future. If you have questions or comments, please contact Mike Lambur (mike.lambur@extension.org).