Focus Group and Forums: Useful Methods for Agricultural Extension Programming in Broad Regional Areas

Name and Title: 
Chris Mondak, Dairy Field Specialist

Fiscal Year Submitted:

POW Title and Number: 
110 Dairy

Focus Group and Forums:  Useful Methods for Agricultural Extension Programming in Broad Regional Areas

Issue:  As university extension systems adapt to budget constraints, extension educators may be assigned to large regional area.  The traditional methods of having a face-to-face presence (i.e. large group meetings/conferences or frequent on-farm visits) are sometimes not effective (target audience reluctant to travel several hours to a central meeting location), or not feasible (reduced travel budget; not enough time to meet all producers in the region.)

What Did You Do?:
Work is in progress to offer small group formats such as focus group/peer group/forum/workshops as a cost effective and time efficient way to host face-to-face meetings with dairy producers to address topics of general industry concern and topics of specific concern or interest to individual groups.

In NW Iowa, six dairy peer groups/focus groups have been formed throughout the region to meet the various needs of a diversified dairy target audience.  One group addresses the needs of larger farms characterized by recent expansion projects and hired non-family employee crews,    3 groups meet the needs of smaller traditional family-based dairies, one group addresses the concerns of young dairy producers (20yr-40yr age range), and another group is a DairyWomen Peer Group that draws in women from a 5-6 county area.

In winter/spring 2010 program season, 14 small group sessions hosted in the region resulted in 195 participants or 390 contact hours with dairy producers and professionals who serve them.  

Some discussion topics were in response to producers’ requests (Improving profitability through good young calf care management practices; ways to build communication and coalitions within the dairy industry; updates on dairy promotion efforts,), and some sessions were designed to address common concerns (Manure management and stewardship; building personal leadership skills to improve farm management).

The small group format allows sessions to be planned with specific learning objectives, strategies and follow-up evaluation.  The format gives planners an opportunity to measure immediate changes in knowledge or awareness, provides a framework for 6-8 month post-meeting evaluation, and a process to always be directly in touch with producers’ interests and concerns. 

This is an example of immediate measure of knowledge/awareness change seen in 3 focus group sessions about improving young calf management accomplished through a pre-post quiz on the day of the meeting:

Plans are being made to follow-up with a questionnaire to attendees of the focus group sessions to determine if they made any management changes based on information learned at the winter time session.  


110  Dairy


Page last updated: June 30, 2010
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