J6.5 Enhancing Uptake of Climate Decision Support Tools Among Agricultural Community Through Comprehensive Project Evaluation

Tuesday, 24 January 2017: 5:00 PM
611 (Washington State Convention Center )
Amulya Rao Ponna Vishweshwer, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI; and V. Koundinya, J. Klink, C. Robinson, A. Singh, and T. Haigh

Useful to Usable (U2U) is a 5-year research and extension project funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, to provide tailored climate and production information to corn producers and their advisors in the Midwestern United States. U2U is designed to improve the resilience and profitability of farms in the Corn Belt (the 12-state North Central Region consisting of Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Michigan, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin), amid a changing climate, by improving the usability and uptake of climate information by developing decision support tools (DSTs) and training materials.

We will present aspects of U2U’s program evaluation that were meant to improve and inform the project team’s decision making related to the design and dissemination of DSTs. Both formative (during the project for improvement purposes) and summative evaluation (at the end of the project to analyze long-term outcomes and impact) were conducted to assess the short-, medium- and long-term outcomes from the project. The presentation will discuss methods that were used to evaluate these outcomes and share key results to help guide future efforts to disseminate usable climate information.

This presentation will be useful to AMS audiences for two reasons:

1)     Learning about evaluation methods that can help improve climate-related outreach programs

2)     Learning about the agricultural community’s perceptions and behaviors related to climate decision support tools

Short-term outcomes: Outreach events like presentations and hands-on workshops for farmers and agricultural advisors were evaluated in order to improve the DSTs and outreach strategies. Tools like post-event participant surveys, Google Analytics website data, event mapping using ArcGIS Online, and Smartsheet were used to conduct the evaluation. The DSTs were promoted at nearly 150 outreach events across the Corn Belt between 2013 and March 2016, 32 of which were evaluated. 85% of respondents (n= 866) reported being at least somewhat likely to use one or more DSTs in the next year. Most respondents (85-96%) found the DSTs to be relevant to their career. This data helped the project team understand progress they were making towards desired outcomes, how the DSTs needed to be improved, and in which states to ramp up outreach efforts.

Medium-term outcomes: With the goals of increasing awareness of DSTs and driving people to the project website, U2U launched a marketing campaign to reach farmers and agricultural advisors, which included direct mail (large folded postcard) and email advertisements. Evaluation efforts were aimed at studying the perceptions and behaviors of marketing recipients regarding DSTs, and at assessing the overall success of the marketing campaign. The change in the number of U2U website users (as tracked by Google Analytics) during the campaign weeks was statistically significant at the 0.05 level and positively correlated to the number of people the media campaign attempted to contact. The campaign had multiple rounds, and over time, the team improved how the recipients were targeted based on data from previous rounds.

Long-term outcomes: A random sample of farmers and a census of multiple types of agricultural advisors across the Corn Belt are now being surveyed with the goals of understanding the effectiveness of U2U DSTs and climate tools in general, studying how farmers use weather and climate information to inform their decision making, and determining how this information can be more effectively communicated. The results from these surveys can be used to inform decision making in other programs that are trying to transfer climate information to various audiences.

- Indicates paper has been withdrawn from meeting
- Indicates an Award Winner