The Cooperative Extension System (CES) offers some unique challenges when addressing evaluation concerns having developed and grown in educational capacity over the past hundred years. CES is a large educationally focused organization based within the land-grant university system existing in some capacity in every state and national territory. Nongovernmental funds including grants from public and private agencies, such as the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, assist in the development and delivery of unique programs within specific state systems; however, the majority of funding for extension programs comes from local, state, and federal dollars. Therefore, a primary driver for program evaluation within the CES is accountability for public funds.
Evaluation has always been a part of extension program implementation; however, these efforts have historically been considered a necessary component rather than a priority in terms of organizational thinking and accountability efforts. Most recently the federal government has rapidly increased extension accountability requirements through legislation but the CES continues to exist with very little data showing programmatic worth. Without enhanced evaluation driven environments, the state and federal extension systems will continue to be inadequate at reporting programmatic successes, resulting in a lower perceived public value of extension programs. Therefore, questions exist as to how an enhanced evaluation driven environment can be established.
The purpose of this research was to determine how the organizational evaluation structures of state extension systems influenced the evaluation behaviors of extension professionals in the field. Research examining the impact that organizational structure can have on the behaviors of individuals within an organizational system has revealed there are multiple levels of influence: transformational, transactional, individual performance factors, and personal and professional characteristics which became the areas of interest for this study. A survey was used to collect data from extension professionals in eight state extension systems including the evaluation behaviors they engage in, personal and professional characteristics, and their perceptions of transformational, transactional, and individual performance evaluation factors. Using structural equation modeling, the effects extension professionals' perceived transformational, transactional, and individual performance evaluation factors had on their evaluation behaviors were examined. Hierarchical linear modeling was also used to examine how the individual performance evaluation factors and personal and professional characteristics influenced extension professionals' evaluation behavior and if their influence varied between the state organizations in which they were employed.
Results from the data analysis show different aspects of an organization play a role in influencing the behaviors of those working within it (ie. leadership, structure, work unit climate, subjective norm, tenure status). By pinpointing the influence of each organizational and individual aspect, recommendations for organizational changes including the addition of an evaluation incentive program, enhanced communication regarding evaluation, incorporating discussions around evaluation at monthly staff meetings, and evaluation skills professional development can be used to enhance the evaluation environment system-wide. Given the national nature of the data collection, the implications and recommendations resulting from this research can be used to alter and impact extension evaluation structures nationwide, thereby enhancing program evaluations and increasing educational accountability.