The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the feasibility of using the Continuous Response Measurement (CRM) tool together with focus group discussion among CRM users to evaluate the effectiveness of Extension education videos that feature controversial subject matter. In this case, CRM was employed to measure live audience perception and response while viewing a video titled “Mitigation of Greenhouse Gases in Animal Agriculture” produced by the USDA NIFA sponsored Animal Agriculture in a Climate Change project.
The CRM technique (or dial testing) was employed to assess response from 32 Cooperative Extension agents and NRCS technical service providers at the October 2016 ‘Cattle & Climate Conversations Workshop’ held in Denver, Colorado. Participants represented multiple states in the U.S. Southwest with expertise and clientele involved in cattle production. Each participant used a small hand-held dial to continuously evaluate the mitigation video (shown in two 15-minute segments) and rate their agreement with the statement “This is effective at encouraging adoption of mitigation techniques.” Following the CRM activity, participants took part in a focus group discussion to provide qualitative feedback on the video. A sample of “critical moments” in the video were replayed and participants provided explanation and feedback into why these moments elicited strong positive or negative responses. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, with funding by USDA NIFA Competitive Grant 2011-67003-30206, contracted with the Texas Tech University College of Media and Communication to conduct the CRM activity, forum discussion, and to prepare the final report.
In many ways, cooperative extension agents and NRCS technical service providers serve as information gatekeepers to ensure that local agriculture producers and clientele within their service area receive scientifically-valid, researched-based, objective information on a range of relevant issues. They are also keenly sensitive to how educational content (and particularly those that involve controversial topics) will be perceived by clientele. The CRM technique with focus group discussion is an effective tool for generating both quantitative and qualitative data that can be used to improve audience perception and increase receptivity.
The CRM activity elicited several interesting ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ responses as participants viewed the mitigation video. For example, participants indicated positive responses as the video featured actual agricultural producers, when economic benefits were mentioned along with mitigation strategies, and during footage of working field technology. Conversely, interview footage of academic experts “offering redundant or unnecessary information”, dense charts and illustration with no succinct benefits, and explicit references to “climate change” coincided with the most negative responses.
During focus group discussions, participants offered several constructive suggestions to improve the overall message and perception. Recommendations included shortening the video to shorter segments, eliminating repetitive information (particularly among academic experts), tailoring content to specific types of production (e.g., pasture-based cattle production, feedlot cattle production) and region, and featuring agricultural producers using a technology with a relevant success story including economic benefits.
While the CRM technique provides important and useful insight into audience perception of existing educational content, this tool offers great benefit to Extension educators during product development. Future projects should consider CRM and focus group testing as a means to evaluate the effectiveness of educational content for intended audiences, thereby improving the overall perception and usefulness of the final product. A Journal of Extension article with more information on this CRM activity is currently being drafted.
David W. Smith, Extension Program Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
Saqib Mukhtar, University of Florida IFAS/Extension; Glenn Cummings, Texas Tech University; Coy Callison, Texas Tech University
Full paper to be submitted to Journal of Extension April 2016.
Funding for this effort provided by USDA-NIFA Competitive Grant 2011-67003-30206. Special thanks to the Texas Tech University College of Media and Communication.