Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 9, Issue 1 - June, 2016


Using a Community Partner to Help Assess Extension Program Needs

Caron, M., Extension Assistant Professor, Horticulture, Utah State University
Linden Greenhalgh, Extension Associate Professor, Utah State University
Stephen Ashton, Director of Audience Research, Thanksgiving Point Institute


New extension faculty often have many choices in programs they can offer in their areas. Conducting needs-assessment surveys can help fine-tune program choices to be of most benefit to the community. In this case, a new extension faculty partnered with a local non-profit and community partner to develop a large online survey for help assessing programming needs in the local area. An incentive was offered for those that participated in the survey; the survey had 570 participants. Survey results showed which class topics were of most interest. Participants were also asked about their willingness to pay for classes. Seventy-three percent of participants indicated they would be willing to pay $10 or more for classes.


New extension faculty are often faced with many programming options they can choose to offer in their counties (Caravella, 2006). Given budget and personnel restraints common to extension, an effective needs assessment is important in determining the most worthwhile programs that would benefit the most people (Hammond, 2001). Identifying and pooling available resources in creative ways is becoming an increasingly important process for successful extension programming (Strieter & Blalock, 2006). Through collaboration with a key community partner, Utah State University Extension (USU) was able to conduct a large-scale program needs assessment. USU is partnered with Thanksgiving Point Institute (TPI) in Lehi, UT to help provide education outreach. TPI is a non-profit 501(c)(3) farm, garden, and museum complex, and is a popular destination for families in Utah and Salt Lake Counties of Utah. TPI has a large membership and client base. In August 2013, USU and TPI worked together to conduct an online needs assessment. The purpose of this evaluation was to learn what topics, particularly those related to gardening, were of most interest to TPI clientele. Results have helped guide both new and existing programs offered by USU at TPI.

Partnership History

Thanksgiving Point Institute began in 1996 as a small demonstration farm. In 2000, a 55-acre garden and natural history museum opened. TPI contacted USU for help with the farm. USU began offering gardening and landscaping classes to adults and youth, and coordinating elementary school field trips. TPI and USU continue to build on this early relationship with a robust offering of youth and adult gardening classes and related programs. USU also operates a large Master Gardener program at TPI, which trains volunteers to help teach classes and provide service to the 55-acre garden, vegetable demonstration garden, and Extension research projects.


The survey was administered online using Qualtrics web-based software (  Qualtrics software allows organizations to do several kinds of online data collection and analysis, including market research and customer satisfaction. Of 605 people who were emailed the survey link, 241 replied for a response rate 39.8%. It was decided to open the survey to additional people in hopes of receiving at least 300 responses. It was posted on the TPI Facebook page, which had about 10,000 likes (followers). An additional 329 participants opted to take the survey, increasing the total to 570. Names were generated from a TPI visitor list of those who previously agreed to be contacted.

An incentive was offered to anyone who chose to participate in the survey. Participants had the option to be entered into a drawing to receive a free TPI Family (or Grandparent) Membership, or renewal for those who were already members ($200 value). Participants were asked a combination of close-ended multiple-choice questions and open-ended qualitative questions to measure participants’ knowledge, attitude, and interest in various extension subjects.


Seventy-two percent of survey participants already knew there were classes being offered at TPI. We also learned which class topics were of greatest interest to participants. In the category of agriculture/horticulture classes, the three most popular, out of 32 options on the survey, were “How to Grow Vegetables,” “Basic Backyard Gardening,” and “Landscape Design” (Table 1). In the category of cooking classes, the three most popular, out of 12 options, were “Healthy Eating”, “Ethnic Cooking (Asian, French, Italian, Mexican, etc.)”, and “Food Preservation” (Table 1).

Participants were asked about their interest in other class topics unrelated to agriculture/horticulture or cooking. The three most popular other classes out of a list of 30 options were “Basic Photography,” “First Aid/CPR,” and “Making Cleaning Easier and More Efficient” (Table 2).

Participants were also asked how much they were willing to pay for the classes (Figure 1 and Table 3). Interestingly, 27% of participants, on average, indicated they were only willing to take a class if it were free. The other 73% were willing to pay $10 or more for classes.


Figure 1. Graph showing the average number of survey respondents willing to pay a certain amount for classes. Values may not add to 100% due to rounding.

Lastly, it was learned what ages our participants were (Figure 2). This was useful in designing the classes and ensuring they were relevant for attendees. 0% were younger than 18.

Figure 2. Graph showing the average number of survey respondents within a certain age range. Values may not add to 100% due to rounding.


With the joint partnership between TPI and USU, classes about agriculture/horticulture and cooking had already been taught. However, this evaluation helped to see what specific topics within agriculture/horticulture and cooking were most interesting to participants. A disappointing observation has been that even a well-crafted needs assessment survey does not necessarily translate into actual bodies in class. Classes at the top of the list, including food preservation and healthy eating, were offered but were canceled due to lack of interest. While classes near the bottom of the list, such as Beekeeping and Greenhouse Design were offered with good attendance. Perhaps time of day, or day of the week classes were offered had an effect on number of registrants; we did not ask when participants would be most likely to attend classes.

 Perhaps the most interesting findings were willingness to pay for classes. We have long believed that most people are willing to pay at least a nominal amount for classes. This survey validated that idea and gave good information on what to charge for classes based on willingness to pay. It has been our experience that in offering free classes, turnout is often low to none, perhaps due to perceived value being low.


Caravella, J. (2006). A needs assessment method for extension educators. Journal of Extension, [On-line], 44(1). Available at

Hammond, M. S. (2001). Career centers and needs assessments: getting the information you need to increase your success. Journal of Career Development, Vol. 27, No. 3.

Strieter, L., Blalock, L. (2006). Journey to successful collaborations. Journal of Extension, [On-line], 44(1). Available at