Alabama Cooperative Extension Increases Emphasis on Ask an Expert

Jonathan  Davis and Virginia White
Jonathan Davis and Virginia White

When the AaE system was introduced, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) embedded Ask widgets on all 67 county web sites. County office administrators reassign questions to appropriate agents as the questions are submitted. ACES provided initial training and followed up through the years with updates and notices about related eXtension Learn events.

Given some turnover in field staff and major changes to the AaE system, Jonathan Davis and Virginia Morgan White presented six webinars in April 2013. Three webinars targeted county office administrative assistants and three were intended for specialists and regional agents. The content was the same for each webinar so participants could choose which date worked best in his or her schedule. The presenters included a slightly modified version of Michigan State Extension’s Lela Vandenberg’s “How to Help Clients with Questions” document with the email announcement and reminders sent to all office administrative professionals, regional agents and specialists.

Most of the Alabama county groups have only one person in the group. This creates a problem when that person is on vacation or leaves the organization, so, during each of the webinars, Davis and White encouraged participants to let others know they are needed in the system to help reassign or answer questions. The goals are to have at least two people join each county group; have complete regional agent and specialist profiles; and have active county widgets.

In May, Davis and White promoted the new reports feature at the monthly Program Team meeting. They wanted the assistant and associate directors to see how the reports are easy to access and that they can be used to document engagement with the community (local, state, and outside Alabama). They also promoted the Ask An Expert “How To” Handbook to ACES.

ACES plans are to provide training to their Program Priority Teams. At the same time, they will help counties promote their Ask widgets so that they receive more questions via the Ask an Expert system.