February 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 1 // Feature Articles // 1FEA1

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Extension's Values: A Bridge Across Turbulent Times

Values play important roles in determining how we function as individuals, family members, and professionals. Clarifying Cooperative Extension's values is critical to addressing successfully the rapid and severe changes Extension is experiencing both today and in the future. Based upon research conducted in North Carolina and Ohio, the authors identify organizational values for the respective state Extension organizations and suggest three organizational value systems for Cooperative Extension: Personnel, Process, and Product (Program). Through the use of critical success factors, the authors translate these abstract organizational values into examples of concrete programmatic action.

R. Dale Safrit, Ed.D.
Assistant Professor, Agricultural Education
Extension Specialist, Volunteerism
Internet address: safrit.1@osu.edu

Nikki L. Conklin, Ph.D.
Leader, Program Development
Assistant Professor

Jo M. Jones, Ed.D.
Assistant Professor, Agricultural Education
Associate Director

Ohio State University Extension
The Ohio State University

Every day, Extension professionals at all levels of the organization are challenged with critical decisions. As a result of unexpected cuts in state appropriations, Extension administration must decide which positions to fill and which to eliminate. An Extension agent is faced with the challenge of diversifying an advisory committee. A state youth development specialist ponders whether to address the increasing number of requests for AIDS educational materials.

The last decade of the 20th century has proven both transformational and turbulent for the Cooperative Extension system. Expansion into non-traditional audiences, issues programming, and budgetary and personnel retrenchment have challenged the system and its composite state organizations to reexamine mission, personnel, processes, and products (i.e., programs). As Cooperative Extension approaches the 21st century, Jimmerson (1989) suggests that "meeting the challenges of the information age will require attention to the values and beliefs that guide us as we work to provide our clients with information and help them solve problems" (p. 16).

The Importance of Values

A value is "an enduring belief that a specific mode of conduct or end-state of existence is personally or socially preferable to an opposite or converse mode of conduct or end-state of existence" (Rokeach, 1973, p. 5). Values play important roles in determining how we function as individuals, family members, and members of work teams.

Values are a product of our individual experiences. Consequently, we may organize separate values into identifiable groups or value systems based upon our daily experiences in our respective personal and professional roles. One value system guides our interactions with life partners and family members. Another value system determines how we behave in the work environment. And still another value system influences our actions and behaviors as a member of a specific profession. The enduring nature of values and value systems arises from the fact that they are neither completely stable nor unstable, but rather evolve continuously according to our changing physical, social, and emotional surroundings (Rokeach, 1973).

Hitt (1988) suggests that every profession or work organization is guided by certain beliefs or values. "These values communicate 'what we stand for' and 'what is important to us' ...values are the soul of the organization" (Hitt, 1988, p. 86). One sign of a healthy, productive organization is agreement between the organization's values and the daily behaviors of its members. This behavior is determined both by individuals' personal experiences as well as their experiences in a specific profession. Vaill (1990) emphasizes "how management and leadership in organizational contexts may be viewed as a process of ongoing values clarification. That is the most important business. That is the key job that needs doing, and that is the job whose significance we keep underestimating" (p. 59).

Although each of us may have unique personal value systems, we function best within organizations and professions where we share values with our colleagues. And, in transformational and turbulent periods, an organization's values serve as a solid bridge across such periods that enable it to focus constantly on the basic beliefs, concepts, and philosophies. Do we as Extension educators have a set of common beliefs that guide our professional actions and behaviors? If so, how do we relate these shared beliefs to the specific programs we conduct?

Organizational Values of the Cooperative Extension System

"An organizational value is any concept or idea that is held in high esteem by the members of an organization and that shapes the organization's philosophy, processes, and goals" (Conklin, Jones & Safrit, 1991, p. 1). Research studies conducted with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service and Ohio State University Extension identified organizational values for program personnel in the respective states (Safrit, 1990; Safrit, Jones & Conklin, 1994). Although actual wording may vary among the specific values identified for the two Extension organizations, several similarities in valued concepts are apparent. Furthermore, when compared with Rokeach's (1973) research, three values systems may be suggested for Cooperative Extension organizations: a Personnel Values System, a Process Values System, and a Product (Program) Values System.

The resulting Personnel Values Systems for both North Carolina and Ohio contain respective individual organizational values that, although not identical are very similar. Both systems suggest the importance that Cooperative Extension has both historically placed and currently places upon its internal human resources. The Process Values Systems of the two organizations share a value that is inherent in the Cooperative Extension philosophy, i.e., emphasizing educational programs that address current and emerging needs of people. The largest number of similarities between the two organizations' values is within the Product (Program) Values Systems. Again, four of the individual values reflect concepts that are philosophically inherent in Extension's role in the land-grant mission: (a) practical programs, (b) emphasis on excellence in educational programming, (c) high standards of excellence, and (d) expectations that help people address and alleviate needs or problems.

Implications for Extension Educators

Although the literature and our professional culture may provide insight into the shared beliefs of Extension educators, these beliefs are brought to life and translated into action through our organizational values. Personal satisfaction can only occur when there is congruency between our professional beliefs and the values evident within our work environment. Hitt (1988) believes that harmony between guiding organizational beliefs and daily actions of organizational members has a significant impact on overall performance of an organization. Have you ever listened to students in a marching band tuning up their instruments? It is not a sound we would want to listen to for long. The sound doesn't become music until the director brings the band together in harmony.

Our organizational values also provide a consistent basis for making difficult decisions. In times of fiscal retrenchment and increasing competition for resources, development of exciting yet challenging coalitions, and a need to reach expanded numbers of clientele from extremely diverse backgrounds, our organizational values serve as an important "conceptual yardstick" with which to measure alternative solutions to complex problems and issues.

What can we as Extension educators do to assure that our professional values are in harmony with our actions and those of our leaders and peers? We must first answer the question "what must actually be happening in order to reflect the values?" To help answer that question, an organization can use the concept of critical success factors. Critical success factors are criteria that really make the difference between success and failure, those factors that contribute to congruency between an organization's values and the daily behaviors of its members.

What are the critical success factors necessary to indicate that we "walk our talk" in Extension? Identifying critical success factors helps us move from abstract organizational values to concrete programmatic actions. Using organizational values shared between the North Carolina and Ohio Extension organizations, the authors have translated these values into critical success factors and programmatic action that may have implication for other state Cooperative Extension systems (Appendix A).

As individuals, as members of work groups, and as professionals, our values communicate what we stand for and what is important to us. They provide a solid foundation upon which Extension educators may evaluate the changes and issues facing them. This yardstick will prove invaluable in sifting through the complexities and turbulence that are becoming daily phenomena in the system. When we model our organizational values, and support the Cooperative Extension system in maintaining these values, we are taking an important initial step towards fulfilling our responsibilities as professional Extension educators.


Conklin, N. L., Jones, J. M., & Safrit, R. D. (1991). Ohio Cooperative Extension service organizational values questionnaire. Research instrument for organizational values study. Columbus: Ohio State University, Ohio Cooperative Extension Service.

Hitt, W. D. (1988). The leader-manager: Guidelines for action. Columbus, OH: Battelle.

Jimmerson, R. M. (1989). What values will guide Extension's future? Journal of Extension, XXVII(Fall), 16-18.

Rokeach, M. (1973). The nature of human values. New York: Free Press.

Safrit, R. D. (1990). Values clarification in the strategic planning process of an adult education organization. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, North Carolina State University, Raleigh.

Safrit, R. D., Jones, J. M., & Conklin, N. L. (1994, August). Clarifying Ohio State University Extension's organizational values [7612 bytes]. Journal of Extension [On-line serial], 32(2). Available E-mail: almanac@joe.org Message: send joe august 1994 research 3.

Vaill, P. B. (1990). Managing as a performing art. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Appendix A

Translating Similar Organizational Values
Into Programmatic Action for Extension Personnel


NC: Quick response to societal needs.
OH: Quick response to clientele concerns.

Utilize computer programs, information hot lines, teletips, electronic mail, and computerized kiosks in public areas.

Develop futuring skills in scanning the environment for emerging needs that could be addressed by Extension educational programs.

Establish a programmatic expansion committee to identify new audiences for existing educational program.


NC: Problem-solving emphasis.
OH: Extension programs that help people solve problems.

Critique workshops and presentations to determine if they include instructional strategies that foster critical thinking.

Strive to be more than just "depositors of information" by incorporating dialogue, questioning, and reflecting into Extension teaching environments.

When presenting research-based information, ask questions to stimulate the audience to apply the information to their own situations and problems.


NC: Pragmatic/practical programs.
OH: Useful/practical programs.

Place emphasis on developing programs that meet the contemporary critical needs of youth, families, and communities.

Design Extension programs applicable to real life situations. Utilize role plays to simulate real life situations when teaching a farm management program.

Utilize Role plays to simulate real life situations when teaching a farm management program.

Increase input from user groups in planning educational programs.


NC: High standards of excellence.
OH: An emphasis on excellence in educational programming.

Continuously evaluate Extension programs by involving advisory committees consisting of clients, Extension peers, and business and community leaders.

Ask peers and superiors to observe teaching and provide feedback.

Update Extension programs regularly to incorporate current research findings and technologies.

Update Extension programs regularly to incorporate current research findings and technologies.

Ask an advisory committee to critique a curriculum for a infant care short course.

Conduct impact evaluations of programs to determine not only immediate outcomes but to identify long term behavioral changes.