WRITING EXTENSION IMPACT STATEMENTS
Richard L. Poling
Agricultural and Extension Education
University of Tennessee
You have successfully completed your Extension program. The program went well and the individuals who completed the program have made changes based on your program that have improved their lives. Now it is time to share your success with program stakeholders by writing an effective impact statement. What do you need to include in the impact statement to best present the results of your program? An effective impact statement can show the value of your programs to those who make decisions about program resources or those who influence the decision makers. This document discusses some of the key considerations necessary when considering the content and the organization of the impact statement. Click on one of the following links below to view a specific section of the document:
In 1996, the Cooperative States Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES), the Federal partner of the state Extension services, developed a national database for the collection and compilation of impact statements from the state/territorial Extension services and agricultural experiment stations. As a result of this national database, a format was developed for the impact statements submitted. The format has six information sections for each impact statement: the Title, the Issue, What has been done, the program Impact, the Funding source(s) and the program Contact(s). This format is a concise, straightforward way to document program accomplishments. In Tennessee, we have adopted this format for our Narrative Accomplishment Reports (NARS) that are submitted through the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service Management Information System (MIS).
The impact statement format has also allowed us to utilize NARS reports for a variety of accountability purposes, thereby reducing the number of reports requested of Extension personnel. It is hoped that additional uses of the information reported in impact statements will be found. (Back to Top)
Research and experience have shown us that decision makers have limited time to read reports. A study in North Carolina indicated that elected officials prefer to receive information in reports of one page or less. When writing an impact statement, keep in mind the audience(s) who will be reading the report. In most cases, they will be people with limited time. Try to keep an impact statement brief and to the point. Three important words to remember when writing an impact statement are: Brief. Concise and Readable. A one-page or less report can provide adequate information about what issue was addressed, what efforts were expended to address the issue and what happened as a result of those efforts. (Back to Top)
The impact statement title is a short descriptive statement that identifies the main idea or theme of the report. The title should give a reader a pretty good idea of what subject area will be addressed in the report. A title should not be too wordy.
In the Issue section, you should describe in one or two sentences what is the issue being addressed by the program. This section should identify who cares about this issue and why the issue is important enough to be addressed by the Extension program. In the case of programs that were planned in the Extension Plan of Work, the issue statement will probably come directly from the Statement of Issue(s) section of the Plan of Work narrative.
The issue statement should identify information that demonstrates that the issue is a problem. Avoid making sweeping statements that are not supported by some evidence that the issue is a problem or a priority in the county, district or statewide.
WHAT HAS BEEN DONE :
In describing what has been done, tell in a few sentences what program activities have been conducted. Program activities are those things that you did to deliver the educational program to achieve the objectives of the program. Program activities can include group educational meetings, one-on-one meetings with clientele, field days, tours, etc. When describing the program activities, identify the subject matter covered in the activities. Identify the quantity of program activities as much as possible. Instead of saying, "the program was delivered through group meetings and one-on-one consultation with program participants," you should identify specific numbers of activities, such as, "A series of four group educational sessions were conducted on the use of recommended forage handling practices followed by one-on-one on-farm visits with 32 forage producers to discuss utilization of practices for individual situations."
The Impact section is where you describe what happened as a result of the efforts described in the "What has been done" section. The impact described should reflect what has happened to the program participants as a result of their participation. Using the Bennett/Rockwell Targeting Outcomes of Programs (T.O.P.) Model, this is where we identify what changes have taken place in the participants’ knowledge, skills, attitudes or aspirations (KASA); what practices or behaviors have been adopted or used to a greater degree (Practice Change); and what social, economic or environmental changes have occurred as a result of the adoption of those practices (SEEC Changes). The changes that have occurred should be supported by evidence collected as part of the program evaluation process. In many cases, this evidence will be quantitative in nature, but qualitative, anecdotal evidence can also be used to document impact of programs. The combination of quantitative and qualitative evidence can be powerful evidence of impact.
Types of Quantitative Data
Program inputs and results can be quantified at any level of the program. Statistical information can be reported for the resources expended in conducting the program; the number of program activities that took place; the number of individuals participating in the program; the numerical changes that took place in the participants’ knowledge, attitudes, skills and aspirations; the number of individuals who adopted new practices or behaviors; and the numerical social, economic and environmental changes that took place. Most often the quantitative data collected to demonstrate impact of a program is identified during the program planning process. As you develop a program Plan of Work, keep in mind the types of information that you will need to collect to demonstrate program impact and develop an evaluation plan to collect them.
The following list contains typical types of quantitative program information collected and reported in impact statements:
C Data about level of involvement
C Number of participants involved
C Percent change in enrollment or participation (e.g. enrollment increased by 50%)
C Actual numerical change in enrollment or participation (e.g. enrollment grew from 32 to 78 participants)
C Data about knowledge, attitude, skills and aspiration changes
C Changes in knowledge scores
C Percent change in knowledge
C Actual change scores (e.g. the average knowledge increased from 50 correct on the pre-test to 75 on the posttest)
C Data concerning practice changes
C Number of people who adopted new practices/behaviors
C Percent change in adoption
C Actual number of individuals changing (e.g. the number of individuals washing their hands before preparing food increased from 25 to 73)
C Data concerning social, economic or environmental conditions
C Calculation of cost/benefit ratio
C Numbers of people who benefited
C Increases in yield or income
C Decreases in actual number of cases (e.g. resulted in a reduction of two applications of pesticide)
Qualitative data in impact statements usually are quotes taken from comments collected as part of the program evaluation. The most useful
qualitative data are the perceptions and opinions expressed by program participants or by external, unbiased observers of program results. A statement by an Extension agent that the program had a positive impact on participants or the community sounds a little self-serving, but a similar comment from a participant, a parent, a teacher or a community leader is strong evidence of the impact of the program. When using qualitative evidence, be sure to identify the source of the comment, not by name, but by title (e.g. program participant, a parent, a teacher, etc.).
The data you use as evidence of impact may be adequate in explaining the value of the program. However, you may need to include a short statement clarifying the value of the outcomes described. For instance, if the impact of the program is increased knowledge of the participants, you may want to identify what the value of having this knowledge will be to the participants (e.g. youth increasing their knowledge of educational requirements for their desired careers will help them as they select their courses in high school or change their post-secondary education plans).
FUNDING SOURCES :
Identifying funding sources of a program can help show how we often utilize resources from a variety of sources to conduct our programs. This section is especially important if the program receives funding support from sources other than regular Extension funds. Identify the sources of funds that have helped in the planning and delivery of the program, including regular Extension funds. Examples of external funding sources might be: grant providers, local businesses, commodity groups, professional organizations, etc.).
Identify the individual or individuals who would be the program contact person(s) for someone who wanted more information about the program. Include the following information about each person identified as a contact: name, address, phone number, fax, e-mail. (Back to Top)
How the narrative sections of the impact statement are written and formatted effects how easily the narrative can be read, or if it is read at all. The following are suggestions for writing the narrative so that it is easier to read and understand.
Packing It In
Sometimes there is a tendency to pack a lot of information into a written paragraph. If a narrative is describing a number of different ideas and their supporting details in one long paragraph, this can be very confusing and tedious to read. The "packed" paragraph can be improved by discussing each idea in a separate paragraph or bulleted statement.
It is tempting, especially if the "official" deadline for submitting impact statements is fast approaching, to try and squeeze several similar, yet distinct programs into one impact statement. If topics included in an impact statement are really describing more than one program effort, a good idea would be to separate the two and create an impact statement for each program effort. It may take a little more time to create the extra statement, but it will be much more valuable for the reader to be able to see each program effort more clearly.
Avoid Vague Words
Vague words, such as: relatively, few, almost, some, usually, approximately, highly, often, appreciable, nearly, many and significant. Even a reader familiar with Extension will not know how many program participants are a "significant" number of participants.
Remember, three words you need to remember when writing an impact statement are: Brief. Concise and Readable. One thing that can be done to contribute to all three of these ideas is to delete extra words, even whole sentences that do not contribute to telling the story or that add no new information. Being able to pare down sentences is a skill best learned through practice. Read over the impact statement narrative specifically looking for words or sentences that can be deleted without negatively affecting the story.
Use Active Voice Sentences
In an active voice sentence, the subject of the sentence does the action of the verb. In a passive voice sentence, the subject receives the action. The passive voice, a form of to be followed by a participle (e.g. was presented ), is a wordier sentence construction than is the active voice and lacks the active voice’s strength. Whenever possible and appropriate, use the active voice to emphasize what your program does or what people do . not what is being done .
Proofread Your Narrative
An impact statement full of errors, whether factual, grammatical or spelling, looks unprofessional. The reader of such a document may even question your credibility. After you have finished writing your narrative, check it for typographical, grammatical and other errors, and correct them. Asking someone else to read your impact statement is another good way of spotting problems. Someone who is not so close to either the program or the written statement may spot errors that you may have overlooked or raise questions about how the narrative explains the program and its results.
Plan Your Impact Statement When you Plan Your Program
When you are developing your Plan of Work, it is not too early to be thinking about how the impact statement for that program might look. If the Statement of Issue(s) section of your POW is well done, the Issues section of the impact statement is almost completed. If the Key Program Components section of the POW is well thought out, you will already have an idea of how the What Has Been Done section of the impact statement might look. If your POW program objectives are clear and the evaluation framework has identified what measures will be collected to evaluate the program, you should also have a pretty good idea of what the Impact section of the impact statement will include as evidence of program success. Asking yourself how the impact statement might look while completing the Plan of Work may help you in clarifying the POW. At that point, it’s just a matter of conducting the program and writing about its success in the impact statement!
View Examples of Extension Impact Statements from Across the Country
The CSREES Impact Statement database is a searchable database containing impact statements from the land-grant university system across the country. Impact statements can be searched by state, by topic area and by using a keyword search. To search for and view theses impact statements on the World Wide Web, point your Internet browser to the following URL:
(Back to Top)
Richardson, J. G. (1999). Developing and Communicating Effective Program Success Stories for
Enhanced Accountability. Paper presented at the Southern Association of Agricultural Scientists Conference, Memphis, TN.
Taylor, C. L. & Fugate, A. (1993). Writing the County Report of Accomplishment:
Accomplishments/Impact Narrative (Circular PE-42). Florida Cooperative Extension Service. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida.
The following examples of Impact Statements were selected from the Narrative Accomplishment Reports submitted to the Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service Management Information System (MIS). While there is no such thing as a "perfect" impact statement, these examples were selected because they, for the most part, present a clear and concise statement of why the program was conducted, what took place in the program and what were the results/impacts of the program. The statements are presented not so much to serve as templates for impact statements, to be used as fill-in-the-blanks forms, but as representative ways in which impact statements can be written that are useful for accountability purposes with our stakeholders.
For additional information about writing impact statements, contact: