New in Ask an Expert: I’m Working on This

If you’ve been working in the Ask an Expert application, you’ve probably had a question assigned to you by either the automated Ask-bot (our routing algorithm), a Question Wrangler, or one of your colleagues.

In a perfect world, the question assignment came at a convenient time and in a relevant subject area. But we know that’s not always the case. A question assignment may come in when you are swamped, or completely offline. Or it’s a content area beyond your expertise. Or perhaps, you have time available to work on a question and none are assigned to you. If any of these problems sound familiar, we hope you’ll like our latest addition to Ask an Expert.

Coming Monday, March 23rd is the ability to indicate when a question being worked on. We call it “I’m working on this.” Basically, you tell us when you are actively working on a question, and we’ll spread the word.

A new graphic banner at the top of every question page indicates whether anyone is working on a question. When you view an unanswered question, you’ll see that it’s either up for grabs:
or being worked on:

The “being working on” status will also be indicated in the Incoming Question queue:


So, how does this change affect your workflow?

When you have time to work on a question, you need to click the big, green “I’m working on this” button at the top of the page.
That will update the banner on the question page and “gray out” the question in the incoming queue. If you need more time to answer it, you can click the button again to get another 2 hours. There’s no limit to how many times you can request “2 more hours”, but once the time expires, the question is up for grabs by other responders.

The net effect is that once everyone indicates what they are working on, the remaining questions will stand-out. If you have time to answer questions and none are assigned to you, it’s easy to scan the incoming question list and see whether a question is up for grabs or if someone is currently working on it. Previously, you may have seen an “easy” question in the incoming question queue, but didn’t want to take it away from the assigned expert. This new feature makes it easier to everyone to work around their own schedule, without stepping on any toes.

We want to hear from you

Positive or negative, we’d really like to hear how the change affects your work. You are welcome to comment here, but we’ve also created a Get Satisfaction thread to specifically collect feedback on this new feature.


on “New in Ask an Expert: I’m Working on This”

  1. 1 Barbara Harlan

    The 2 hr time span is MUCH TOO SHORT. What happened to the 48 hours we had??? If a question is assigned and we are at work, that mean someone can grab the question before we even have a chance to answer. Guess I might as well drop out after all these years of answering questions……..

  2. 2 Ben MacNeill

    Hi Barbara,

    I’m sorry for the frustration. The 48 hour guideline is still in effect, but we look at that as an upper bound. We’re striving to get questions answered as quickly as possible. If we are able to get a question accurately answered in 45 mins, then aren’t we serving the public that much better?

    In your example, if you get a question at work and someone else answers it first, isn’t that good for the person who asked the question?

    I really hope you won’t drop out, but instead will visit the incoming question queue when you want to volunteer but don’t have any questions assigned. And then you can select an unanswered question to work on.

  3. 3 alice henneman

    I just received a queation and must decline as I am traveling with limited Internet access. I am using my blackberry to post this as I can’t tell from its tiny screen where to click to decline.

  4. 4 Ben MacNeill

    Thanks for the comment. We are going to be creating small-screen stylesheets for the AaE application so it will play nicer with mobile devices.

  5. 5 Michael Wilson

    I have to agree with Barbara. I am getting ready to bring a new CoP into the Ask an Expert application. 48hrs simply will not fly. I disagree that quicker answers server the public better. We serve the public best when things run efficiently so as to serve more clientele. If someone else answers a question that I have spent the past few days to research to answer correctly, that is not efficient and I reduced my available time to serve the public. Also the accuracy of answers is critical. This may take a number of days to get good answers. I would say 48 hrs should be the lower limit of time it might take.

    The “I’m working on this” feature would be very good at improving efficiency, but not with the 2hr rule. I see that as worse then not having it at all, and will make my job harder trying to recruit new CoP members to participate in Ask an Expert.

  6. 6 Julie Weisenhorn

    Hi Ben:

    I have to agree with Barb. Two hours may be reasonable if one is employed to do a job. Two hours is a very short time frame when that person is volunteering their free time to help out. I can appreciate the goal to answer questions as quickly as possible, but if eXtension is going to depend on volunteers to do the answering, it’s important to be mindful of their schedules. Otherwise, eXtension could very well end up with no volunteers.

  7. 7 Ben MacNeill

    Hi Michael, Julie:

    Thanks for the feedback about the response time for providing an answer. We’re also collecting data to determine what kind of response time the public expects. We’ll be combining this research with feedback from AaE volunteers and sharing the findings in a few months.

    Thanks also for the feedback about the two hours. The two hours is designed to be a temporarily hold placed on a question while an expert constructs the answer. However, it can be extended if more time is needed. The two hours is not intended to be the total response time to the public.

    If two hours is too short, what’s a good number? Once you say you will answer a question, how long should a question be grayed out of the incoming queue? thanks!

  8. 8 Ann LaVigna

    Hello Ben,

    How about making 2 hours the default, but let the person who is putting it on hold increase it up to 48 hours. That way, if a person sees a question that they would like to answer, but they know it will take a whole day to craft the answer, they can specify that. Sometimes you know in advance that it will take a whole day because you want to ask one of your colleages, retrieve a relevant article from home, or you have a 4 hour meeting to attend before getting time to answer it.

  9. 9 Ben MacNeill

    Hi Ann,
    Thanks for the feedback! I have one question about setting longer times: If you had a 4-hour meeting, and you locked down the question until after the meeting, wouldn’t it possibly keep someone else (who had time to answer questions) from answering it sooner?

  10. 10 Ann LaVigna

    Hello Ben,

    Yes, but maybe I really want to be the person to answer it. For example, if I have a widget on my blog, or if I have a widget on my county hort page, I might feel more personally responsible for that particular question.

  11. 11 Ben MacNeill

    Just to reframe the situation from the perspective of the person submitting the question, I would wager that the submitter probably doesn’t mind who answers the question as long as the answer is accurate. And if accuracy is constant, then faster responses are much more desirable.

    I hear how important ownership of a question is to you. Thanks for speaking to that issue. We’re going to revisit the details of this feature once we wrap up the AaE research we’re currently conducting. We’ll talk about the results here.

  12. 12 Mike Frinsko

    As a Specialized Area Agent, I keep receiving questions outside my area of expertise (aquaculture). What can I do to ensure only questions that are in my area are directed my way?

    Also, when I’m out covering my 15 counties, I don’t always have time to read over my e-mails until the evening when I return home. By that time the question may have been posted over 10 hours. The 2 hour limit is just too short for me to be expected to respond within.

  13. 13 Kevin Gamble


    The reason you’re getting these questions is that you have the “Auto-assign me these questions” for the widgets in these counties:

    # Auto Route Widget Questions (NC_CES_Brunswick widget)
    # Auto Route Widget Questions (NC_CES_Carteret widget)
    # Auto Route Widget Questions (NC_CES_Craven widget)
    # Auto Route Widget Questions (NC_CES_Duplin widget)
    # Auto Route Widget Questions (NC_CES_Greene widget)
    # Auto Route Widget Questions (NC_CES_Johnston widget)
    # Auto Route Widget Questions (NC_CES_Jones widget)
    # Auto Route Widget Questions (NC_CES_Lenoir widget)
    # Auto Route Widget Questions (NC_CES_NewHanover widget)
    # Auto Route Widget Questions (NC_CES_Onslow widget)
    # Auto Route Widget Questions (NC_CES_Pamlico widget)
    # Auto Route Widget Questions (NC_CES_Pender widget)
    # Auto Route Widget Questions (NC_CES_Sampson widget)
    # Auto Route Widget Questions (NC_CES_Wayne widget)
    # Auto Route Widget Questions (NC_CES_Wilson widget)

    You need to go to this page in the Ask an Expert application and deselect the auto route options:

    We continue to discuss the length of time where you may “lock” a question. The intent of this feature is to lock it while you are “actively” researching an answer. If the two hours needs to be longer is something under consideration.

    Thank you for your message.


  14. 14 Maurice W. Dorsey

    Yes, There are two strategic plans: Pathways to Diversity (October, 1991) and Pathways to Diversity Reaffirmed (October, 2003) Neither document is electronic because they are “too old” to go up on our CSREES Web Page. However the information is just as relevant today as it was 20 years ago.

  15. 15 Kurt H. Schindler

    yes, need much more than 2 hours. 48 hours would be a minimum amount of time..

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