Fall 1986 // Volume 24 // Number 3 // Research in Brief // 3RIB2

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The Paradox of Success


Corinne M. Rowe
Extension Rural Sociologist
University of Idaho-Moscow

The Paradox of Success: The Impact on Priority Setting in Agricultural Research and Extension. Jean Lipman-Blumen and Susan Schram. Washington, D.C.: U.S. D.A., Science and Education, Office of the Assistant Secretary, June, 1984. 120 pp.

Some of the best research related to program planning and evaluation in agricultural research and Extension (R&E) rarely reaches the eyes and ears of Extension faculty in the field. This action-research study is one that should. Conducted under contract with U.S.D.A., the work of Lipman-Blumen and Schram of LBS International Ltd., provides valuable insight into the forces driving our program planning activities. Of interest to both Extension field staff and to Extension administrators, it's the kind of study that stimulates many "aha's" by providing missing pieces that help explain events occurring over the past few years.

In 1984, the Extension Accountability/Evaluation System (A&E System) was implemented, replacing the old EMIS-SEMIS model used for designing and recording Extension efforts. With this new system came major changes in how we plan and report Extension programs and accomplishments. The A&E System incorporates a proactive, systematic approach to problem solving that coordinates and integrates resources across program areas and discipline lines. The end result is an attempt to demonstrate significant program results in response to local, state, and national priority concerns. For many of us, the identification and use of priority concerns as the focus of our program planning and evaluation was new, although generally accepted with little question.

At about the same time as the A&E System was being introduced, some of us became aware of major priority-setting exercises being conducted at the regional and national level, primarily by our administrative representatives (ECOP). Few of us paid much attention to all of this at the time because activities beyond our state boundaries appeared to have little affect on local planning. Today, with the real possibility of the Gram m-Rudman-Hollings bill taking effect, it becomes increasingly important that we understand what lies behind priority setting beyond state borders.

The authors explore current paradoxes surrounding our nation's food and fiber system and the impressive successes that have provoked extensive criticism of the R&E system. A historical perspective of the priority-setting debate within the political environment is developed. This includes the change in definition from the cumulative "wish list" (new programs research and Extension could do given additional funding) to actual reallocation of resources and elimination of some traditional programs to compete for budget with other agencies at both federal and state levels. This changed definition is worthy of emphasis as all parts of the system begin to feel the greater constraints of reduced resource availability.

Other sections of the study of particular interest to Extension faculty include an exploration of the culture and ethos of the agricultural community; a description of the agricultural research and Extension system including Agricultural Research Service, Cooperative State Research Service, Extension, and their partners as well as structures such as the Joint Council, the Users Advisory Board, and ECOP; and an analysis of the plethora of prioritysetting mechanisms and practices, both formal and informal, that characterizes the research and Extension system at the federal, state, and local levels.

The study concludes with 46 recommendations for planning consideration as the agricultural research and Extension system faces the challenges of the 21st century.