Evaluation of Communication Between Land Grant Universities and Congress
Farm Foundation supported a project to evaluate communication between Land Grant universities and Congress. Final Report on Evaluation of the Communication Between Land Grant Universities and Congress (Kristina M. Boone, Mark Tucker, Jackie M. McClaskey. Manhattan, KS: Kansas State University, 2002) used both qualitative and quantitative methods to describe opinions and characteristics of this audience. The report may be viewed online here. A number of themes emerged from the results:
- Information they received was more valued if it could be easily understood by laypersons and was perceived to have current or future use.
- The primary contact at land-grant universities was the governmental relations personnel or faculty who worked in the policy area which the aide was interested. Land Grants were viewed as sources of policy information and analysis and producers of practical research related to rural settings and development of technology. In addition, they perceived the research to be practical.
- To improve communication, the participants felt more interaction with faculty at land-grants would be helpful, especially if the interaction occurred at a time when a pressing issue was at hand.
- In the qualitative portion of the study, the participants said they liked the format of the Impact Science and Education Fact Sheets, although none of the legislative aides reported seeing them prior to the focus group. They wanted a contact name added to the sheets.
- Congressional aides are a diverse group that defies simple demographic description in terms of age, education, or knowledge level.
- Congressional aides’ workloads and responsibilities vary greatly. There is also a great deal of variation in the average number of years reported in their current position, although the large majority reported 2 years or less.
- Congressional aides tend to favor interpersonal communication channels, such as personal contacts and e-mail, for receiving policy information. However, the Internet and World Wide Web tend to be mentioned as the single most preferred channels. Building and maintaining a presence of the Web is important. Thought should be given to positioning the Web site so it can be accessed through key word searches.
- Traditional media channels are not viewed equally by congressional aides. Newspapers and fact sheets continue to be used often by a majority of respondents for receiving policy information. Television and radio are used much less frequently.
- Congressional aides clearly favor internal sources of information, such as the Congressional Research Service and House/Senate agriculture committees, for researching agricultural policy topics.
- Paid-subscription sources were less likely to generate use among congressional aides than were free subscriptions.
- The Science and Education Impact Fact Sheets were recognized by about 50 percent of the congressional aides in the quantitative portion of this study. Fewer than 8 out of 10 respondents were aware of the National Impact Database.
- In general, the Science and Education Impact Fact Sheets were considered to be well-written, designed, and organized.
- Congressional aides had moderate to high levels of expectation that land-grant universities could serve as an information resource for a variety of topics. There is evidence, however, that respondents are not aware that land-grant universities are a viable information resource for non-agricultural andless traditional topics.
- Land-grant universities tend to receive high marks for their reliability, reputation, and level of knowledge. On other characteristics, such as their perceived responsiveness and influence, land-grant universities tended to be assessed positively, although a substantial minority of respondents were undecided. There is clearly room for improvement in these and other areas. Land-grant universities can leverage their visibility among Congressional aides by building a reputation as a valued source of information for agricultural and natural resource organizations and agribusiness.
- The most common leadership style used by the Congressional aides was continent reward, a transactional leadership style that focuses on an exchange (I’ll do this for you if you do this for me”). This finding may help explain the attitude of Congressional aides when sources provide information to them and suggests that land-grant universities and others adjust for that in their approach.
- While the majority of Congressional aides in this study reported regular communication with a land-grant university, a substantial minority indicated no contact with them or a lack of knowledge on whom to contact in the event they wished to do so.