Planning Programs

framework chartPlanning educational programs offers an opportunity to learn more about our communities and sets the direction for our work. Planning programs is about understanding our context.  This involves identifying needs and assets, and articulating priorities.

While planning occurs at all levels of program development, it fits most closely into “Understand the Context” and “Conceptualize the Change” sections of Extension’s Framework for Ongoing Program Development.

Our programs sit within a particular setting or situation comprised of relational, socioeconomic, environmental, and political conditions.  We make a number of decisions to deepen our understanding of this context.  These include:

  • who we will involve in the process,
  • determining what we already know, 
  • identifying what we don’t know and want to learn, and
  • Identifying needs and assets.

Basic overview of Needs Assessments for Extension educators


Enhancing Program Performance with Logic Models

This course provides a holistic approach to planning and evaluating education and outreach programs. It helps program practitioners use and apply logic models – a framework and way of thinking to help us improve our work and be accountable for results. You will learn what a logic model is and how to use one for planning, implementation, evaluation or communicating about your program.


Additional support materials

Involving Others

Identifying who we involve to help us understand the context of our work is a good place to start.  Given our commitment to inclusion in educational programming, as well as federal and state statute, we’re intentional about gaining a diversity of perspectives.

      • The Diversity Matrix is an Excel spreadsheet tool that helps us identify the variety of perspectives we might include in our situational analysis. 
      • The Stakeholder Identification Worksheet helps us identify any person or group that might care about the outcomes of, provide resources for, and/or is affected by our program.
      • The Stakeholder Analysis Worksheet is a tool to use once we’ve identified the different perspectives and stakeholders of our work. It helps us make explicit the interests of others so that we can decide if and how we might involve them in understanding our programming context.

Determining What You Already Know

Begin with existing information and reports.  By including such information in our situational analysis, we show how we’re building on rather than duplicating the work of others.  Since the work already exists, our job is to reflect on and articulate what this means for our programs.

      • The Existing Assessments Tool can help you identify existing information.  It also outlines an approach for engaging diverse perspectives in understanding and identifying the implications of existing assessments, reports, etc.
      • This resource includes secondary data sources related to Understanding the Situation and Context in Agriculture.
      • While the existing assessments tool identifies an approach we might use to engage external perspectives, the focus of the What You Already Know Worksheet tool is to consider the collective wisdom of yourself and your colleagues.
      • The Applied Population Lab is a rich source of information and tools for applied demography, health geography, spatial analysis, and information systems.

Identifying What You Want to Learn

What are the questions we don’t have answers to, or more than a hunch about what the answer might be?  This is the step where we begin to plan for learning and deepening our understanding of the context of our work.

Decide How to Collect Information

Before deciding on which methods, we need to step back and become familiar with different ways of collecting data and the pros and cons to each.  Here are a couple of tools that can help us make decisions across a variety of options.

Collecting Information From Groups

      • Use the S.W.O.T. Analysis Worksheet to identify the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) to your county office that could affect what sort of educational programming you provide over the next few years.
      • Help a group of community members brainstorm about trends they see that could affect the direction of your educational programming by using the Nominal Group Technique.
      • Solicit expert, possibly conflicting, information without face-to-face meetings by using the Delphi Technique.
      • Gain in-depth information from groups of people who are similar on a particular characteristic by the use of Focus Group Interviews.
      • For a physical and visual process of gathering and organizing ideas provided by a group of people, use the Affinity Diagram approach.
      • If the group you want information from prefers to be contacted by mail, and has little or no literacy barriers, try Survey Procedures to solicit information from them.
      • Low response rates limit what you can say about the people you surveyed. Read How to Get a Respectable Response Rate to learn how to increase rates.
      • If few people have responded to your survey try some different techniques. Read What You Should Do If You Haven’t Gotten a Respectable Response Rate.

Collect Information From Individuals

      • Gather information from influential, local experts by using the Key Informant Approach.
      • One-on-one Personal Interviews can be a good way to learn about people and to build relationships. Prepare a list of questions and be ready to use different techniques to help your interviewee to open up. Read Principles of Good Interviewing to learn how.

Reviewing the Results

Priority Setting

Situational analysis provides a picture of the issues and concerns that matter most to our stakeholders and the organizations and broader communities they represent. From our analysis comes priority setting. Seldom can we undertake everything so we have to prioritize. Priority setting is finding the points of intersection between what matters most to our community and what matters most to our organization.

We’ll make a number of decisions as we set priorities.  These include reviewing the results of our analysis, clarifying the context of our work, and communicating priorities in the form of issue statements.

The resource Focus on Priority Setting provides an overview of priority setting.

During situational analysis, we encounter issues and concerns that fall outside the scope of our organization’s work.  Here are some strategies and resources that can help us determine whether or not a response is appropriate for a particular concern.

Begin by reviewing organizational purpose, vision and values.  These Purpose, Vision, Values statements capture what matters most to our organization. 

Familiarize (re-familiarize) yourself with organizational mandates. Mandates are things we are required to do (and not do) by external authorities. Formal mandates are found in laws, statutes, ordinances, codes, rules, articles of incorporation, charters, etc.

Mandates that are Relevant to Program Planning

Next, review the themes, issues and concerns, identified during situational analysis and ask, “How does this particular theme, issue or concern relate to our mission, vision, values and mandates?”

If you can’t articulate a relationship between a particular finding from your situational analysis, and…

What matters to our organization (purpose, vision and values) and/or

What we are required to do (mandates) by external authorities

then it is probably a finding that, while may be important, is not a priority that we should address.

If you can articulate a relationship between a finding from your situational analysis, and our mission, vision, values and mandates, then it may be a priority issue. Before you decide whether or not it is a priority, clarify your context.

Assessing Capability and Capacity

During situational analysis, we encounter issues and concerns that directly align with our purpose, vision, values, and mandates. While there may be alignment, this does not mean that they are, by definition, priority issues and concerns. Clarifying our own capability and capacity can help us determine where to focus our energies.

Conducting a basic Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats (SWOT) Analysis using the S.W.O.T. Analysis Worksheet is an effective way to assess quickly the environment of the issues that surfaced during situational analysis and help determine whether or not these are issues we should address.

The Decision Matrix Technique can help us determine how you will decide which issues are important.

Communicate Priorities

Now that we’ve identified the priority issues we intend to address with our educational programs, we can communicate them in a variety of ways.  Issues statements are one way to communicate priorities to others.

Issue statements capture fundamental challenges identified during situational analysis. They may arise from a variety of vantage points such as:

  • Educational programs that we are currently delivering
  • New and/or changing partnerships in our counties/communities
  • Reaching out to a new audiences in light of changing demographics
  • Changes in public policy that directly impact our work
  • New research and scholarship

Issue statements are based on the following assumptions:

  • The challenge is something that is appropriate for us to address in light of our mission, vision, values, and/or mandates
  • The challenge is something that we can realistically address. That is, it is something that we can influence
  • There is more than one way to address the challenge through educational programs.


Expanding Access

As a recipient of federal funding, University of Wisconsin – Division of Extension is obligated to comply with federal civil rights, equal opportunity, and nondiscrimination laws. The goal of civil rights in program planning is to expand access to Extension education for those who have not traditionally been represented among our program participants and to groups protected by the civil rights laws. The Expanding Access & Inclusion, and the Language Access & Support websites provides practical information and resources on how we accomplish civil rights compliance in Division of Extension.

Former Access & Inclusion Initiatives

  • Inclusion Excellence is the active and intentional engagement, appreciation and welcoming of diversity and differences in ideas, in people, in our educational programming and in the communities we serve. Diversity and inclusion are essential to our sustainability and central to our mission, our values and our strategic directions. As such, diversity and inclusion are central aspects of our program development models and processes. Inclusive Excellence is built on a foundation of compliance with civil rights, affirmative action and equal opportunity laws and policies and special outreach to audiences that historically have been neglected.
  • In 2015, leaders at the University of Wisconsin –  Extension expressed interest in understanding the extent to which inclusive excellence is modeled in educational programming. The Program Development & Evaluation unit was charged with the task of conducting a study on inclusive excellence as it relates to programming and sharing learning around what seems to be working well, as well as challenges that prevent colleagues from working in inclusive ways. The IE Research Project page contains study findings and a tool for colleagues to use as they plan for and implement culturally responsive programming to diverse audiences. Inclusive Excellence Research Project Page
  • The Sustainable Equitable Engagement Process (SEEP) was an initiative of University of Wisconsin-Cooperative Extension that supported colleagues in intentionally meeting the needs of diverse and underserved communities. SEEP was comprised of three components: mapping workshops, case studies and learning communities. Together, these efforts aimed to create systematic change to promote institution-wide involvement in community engagement that reflected the perspectives and priorities of diverse and underserved audiences.