Supported, empowered, inspired
There’s a lot of communicating going on, but maybe not so much communication. My mental bandwidth is finite and, alas, contracting with age, so that I can’t absorb but a fraction of the messages aimed at me from the printed page, digital devices, and voices near and far.
At least that’s how I explain intermittent listening to my wife.
I’m pretty sure a lot of other people are also coping with information overload by tuning out, deleting, skim reading, and just plain ignoring much of the communication sent their way. Which begs the question, what makes people engage?
It’s an odd question for a USDA program to ask, but Northeast SARE did ask, because we want to encourage broad participation in our grants and widespread use of our educational resources. At the behest of our communication specialist, we recently embarked on an assessment of qualitative perceptions of our program. We surveyed the staff, Administrative Council, Technical Committee, and recent grantees in all our programs, asking them questions we’ve never asked before.
Unlike evaluation of projects or review of processes, this time we were trying to understand people’s feelings and attitudes. The answers were not multiple choice but open-ended, so lots of words and phrases were collected in response to a simple question like What is the benefit of the Northeast SARE program? Some top responses were practical information, opportunities, funding.
When asked How does Northeast SARE make people feel?, common replies were that people felt supported, inspired, and empowered. The question What is Northeast SARE trying to achieve? yielded innovation, environmental protection, and farmer success in the top tier of responses.
Why does Northeast SARE want to achieve this? resulted in many versions of help farmers, help communities, and help the future.
This information may help us communicate more effectively, not so much with our core stakeholders but with those unaware of or yet to engage with our program. It also helps me see connections among the many projects we fund that cover a wide variety of seemingly unrelated subject matter. Across the board, there are common motivations and aspirations for our work.