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Responding to questions from the public

CAFE POLICY: RESPONDING TO QUESTIONS FROM THE PUBLIC

Faculty and staff members in CAFE are often on the receiving end of questions from the public and should respond professionally and cordially. Sometimes the questions are appropriate to the people receiving them and sometimes they are not. This policy concerns how to handle all of the public questions we receive.

  1. Questions come in through publicly-accessible phone numbers or email addresses. Extension’s purpose includes providing accurate and unbiased information to our stakeholders. We do this to educate, inform discussion, and support people in making decisions. When possible, we present multiple possible solutions and options in problem-solving. It is important that we avoid advocacy of a particular stance on political or controversial topics and instead concentrate on providing information. When answering questions from the public, it is important to remember this supportive purpose of our organization.
  2. By ‘questions from the public’ we are not referring to questions that are coming from a professional in a field of inquiry.
    • Inquiries from professionals should be referred directly to the Extension staff or faculty member who is responsible for that area of expertise. If you are unsure, send the inquiry to the CAFE Director’s Office (CDO), 413-545-4800 or ag@cns.umass.edu.
  3. “No-Brainers” are inquiries about how to reach one of our public-facing units or another public-facing unit at the University. If that’s the case, please transfer them or give them the contact information for any of these units directly.
  4. Questions are often more substantive than the “no brainers” above. When and how should you offer an answer?
    • If the question is within your field of expertise, you may choose to answer. Extension staff and faculty are not obligated to answer questions from the general public. Be forewarned that by choosing to answer, you are opening up the possibility of follow-up calls or emails from the same person. If you choose not to answer the question, please treat the caller with courtesy and warmth and redirect them to staff in the CDO who will help them.
    • If the question is not within your field of expertise or you choose not to answer, please transfer the call or email to the CDO. Politely inform the caller you are transferring the call to someone who can better help them and transfer it to 545-4800. If you are off-campus and your phone has a transfer function, use that. If not, please give the questioner the 413-545-4800 phone number and ask them to call there. Emails should be acknowledged in a friendly fashion and forwarded to ag@cns.umass.edu.
  5. How does the Director’s Office handle questions? When a questioner calls the main line of CAFE/Extension or sends an email to the generic CAFE address, the question will be handled by support staff in the CDO. Calls or emails forwarded by other staff or faculty members are handled in the same fashion.
    • If the inquiry is a no-brainer, the questioner will be given the answer directly (see 3. above).
    • Some questions aren’t easily answered and have nothing to do with CAFE/Extension or the work done by our staff and affiliated faculty. In these cases, the questioner will be politely told that we are unable to help them.
    • If we know that another outside group or UMass office might be able to help, we give them that information with a disclaimer that we can’t vouch for the help of the other group or office.
    • If we are aware of an “expert” staff or faculty member who may be able to address the question, CDO staff take the following steps:
      • Explain to the caller that we need to do further research on who might be most helpful and ask for their number in order to call them back.
      • Contact the staff or faculty member who is the “expert” and ask if they are willing to address this question with the caller. If yes, we call back the questioner and give them the “expert’s” name and contact information.
      • If the inquiry came in an email, we forward it to the “expert” and ask if they are willing to answer it. If yes, we ask them to respond to the email with a copy to the generic CAFE email address. If no, we ask that they let us know as soon as possible that they are not willing.
      • If the “expert” is unwilling or unable to respond to the question, we get back to the questioner to let them know, and apologize for not being able to help them.
    • We always log the call, with the nature of the question, so that we have a record. If the interchange has been on email, we retain all of the questions and answers.
  6. Please DO NOT do the following when handling questions from the public:
    • Ignore an email or a voicemail. Please transfer it to 413-545-4800 or ag@cns.umass.edu.
    • Transfer the call or email directly to a non-CDO person whom you think could help.
      • Instead, if the questioner is on the phone, get their contact information and tell them someone will call them back, then call or email the CDO with the information the staff will need to respond appropriately to the questioner.
      • Or, if the question came in as an email or a voicemail please forward it to the CDO. In all cases, if you think you know a faculty or staff person who could be helpful to this questioner, please provide that information to the CDO staff.
    • Answer questions that are not in your field of expertise. Transfer it to the CDO!

Questions: contact Joe Shoenfeld at 413-545-5309 or shoenfeld@cns.umass.edu.

Download PDF version of page answering_questions_from_the_public_policy_final_9-23-19.pdf