Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Extension Guidepoints

In September, at Galaxy III Conference--an Extension professional development conference--W. Gaines Smith, Director of Alabama Cooperative Extension System presented broad challenges that are critical to Extension in the Distinguished Ruby Lecture, Extension Guidepoints. This post is an abbreviated version of his lecture.

These guidepoints are those that we in Alabama and in other states have developed, updated, and evolved during the past several years. They are not hard-and-fast rules, but directions of movement and trends.

None of the 6 guideposts are revolutionary. All will be familiar in some context. What I hope to do is offer some insight on each point that will take you beyond your current level of comfort and security.

1. Relevant Programs With Impacts and Outcomes That Make a Difference

Programs must meet local needs to the individual, family, or community, but we must also be able to aggregate the results to show impact at the state level and beyond. with statewide impact, multi-state impact, and national impact.

Customers (and they are customers) don’t care which organizational unit the program comes from; they just expect results.

Use of technology in the design and implementation of our programs cannot be an afterthought. While we acknowledge the needs of those without Internet access, we now know that 70 + percent of our customers have internet access. Our traditional methods of individual contacts, group activities, print media, and electronic media remain viable, but they must be balanced with individual contacts through the Internet. Texting, blogs, wikis, Moodle, Twitter, eXtension, and various social networking techniques increase in importance in the future.

These mass-individual methodologies allow us to do a much better job of customer segmentation, tailoring audiences' specific needs--when they want them. 

The challenge is to provide significant programs that people can’t do without.

2. Motivated Employees

“The future success of our Extension system is dependent on people who care.” Dr. David Petritz from 2007 Distinguished Ruby Lecture.

Are we seeking individuals with the right characteristics in potential employees we recruit and hire? We are beginning to acknowledge the generational differences in work style and approach, but we must go further.

Are we willing to hire nontraditional educators who don’t look, think, or act the way we do? Many of us absolutely believe that working 8 to 5 plus whatever it takes is imperative. Recent entrants are more focused on results and outcomes than on the hours they put in.

We have to rethink our concept of employment: tenure track and continuing appointments for a 30-year career versus a 3- to 5-year term of employment. Young professionals are quite comfortable with the latter. And, this fits some of our funding stream.

An effective performance management system begins with self-motivated employees who clearly understand what’s expected of them, and includes opportunities to grow and develop professionally. Recognition and rewards should include appropriate pay for the type of work expected plus other non-monetary benefits. What are these benefits for the employees of tomorrow?

Our programs and our people are inextricably linked.

The challenge is to successfully connect our employees to our customers with significant programs that people cannot do without.

3. A Viable, Dynamic Funding Stream

Extension programs and people must be supported by a sustained, yet ever-changing revenue stream from multiple sources.

Level or decreased funding is expected from the federal, state, and local level. Capacity (the Smith-Lever formula) funds have been level to slightly decreased, with a modest increase projected. The 2008 Food, Conservation, and Energy Act (the farm bill) significantly enhances our opportunity for growth, but with a very different mechanism than we have become accustomed. Success in the new approach will depend on our Extension educators at all levels becoming engaged in the process.

Local funds from county and municipal governments are under the same pressure. At best, the traditional state, federal, and local funds are and have been critical in maintaining our basic programming structure and in keeping program continuity in place. It is imperative that we maintain this capacity throughout the national Extension system. This existing structure and its continuity are critical factors in attracting nontraditional funding.

Grants and contracts have brought varying success to our programs. It is important that we stay on-mission and not over commit our existing structure without appropriate capacity-maximizing funding.

Gifts and endowments are other somewhat new revenue sources for us in Extension. University capital campaigns have been quite successful. Extension has to be a part of these in the future.

Revenue from our programs and educational products has generally been regarded as inappropriate and even distasteful. As a public, tax-supported organization, we are not comfortable going to fees, charges, and sales. Experience has shown that our customers willingly pay for quality programs that meet their needs. Our biggest hurdle seems to be our own mindset.

Private/public funding partnerships are great unexplored opportunities. We’re not yet sure how these can or should be structured to meet our public responsibilities without compromising our credibility as unbiased sources of research-based educational opportunities.

Our future depends on making a culture change that involves new perspectives on how we do business seeking non-traditional revenue streams.

4. Beyond Diversity to Inclusiveness

Over time we have focused on civil rights, then diversity, and now inclusiveness. Regardless of how it is characterized, the concept is important in our programs, to our audiences, and to our own employees.

The long-term discussion has now expanded beyond women, African Americans, and Hispanics to include heritage, country of origin, religion, culture, family structure, lifestyle, blended families, and many other cultural and social identities.

Perhaps it is time for a new descriptive term—maybe the term “inclusiveness,” or some other term yet to emerge. In fact, a legitimate question could be, "Do we really have minorities as traditionally defined?" As the blending of our society continues, maybe we should be thinking in terms of people and their various needs without labeling them.

We have important issues to address:

  • How do we meet the needs of one minority group of individuals without ignoring or offending the needs of others?
  • How do we program to multiple non-English-speaking audiences?
  • How do we effectively document our EEO/AA requirements in a blended society?

On this last point, traditional categories of black, white, Hispanic, and other are no longer functional. Recently, a national survey that gave respondents 22 different choices to consider; “other” was still included. What does this really tell us?

It seems likely that 2008 will become known as a time when society moved ahead on this topic and leave our bureaucracies behind. It is imperative that we address inclusiveness.

5. Security and Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery

Security issues and emergencies vary in size and scale from local to national. Tornadoes affect relatively small geographic areas, bringing devastation to those affected. Hurricanes, such as Katrina, create widespread regional damage with national implications. The 9/11 attack left local devastation with international repercussions. Regardless, there is always an effect where we work and do our business: locally.

Another factor is the varying time we have to anticipate, plan, and prepare. For 9/11, we had minutes; Katrina, days; drought, weeks and months; climate change, decades. This factor is significant as we address security and emergency preparedness needs.

There are two components to this issue:

Internally, how do we operate when our employees have damage and devastation to their homes and communities? How does Extension operate without communication, offices, and supplies? An organized emergency contingency plans are necessary.

Externally, we need to plan in advance for how Extension can address preparedness, response, and recovery. In preparedness and recovery, we have, over the past few years, developed educational resources that are effective and relevant.

As a general rule, Cooperative Extension is not viewed as a first responder at the height of an incident. It seems that our greatest opportunity to be significant is in the advance identification, recruitment, training, and coordination of volunteers. In a recent presentation, a state emergency management director stated that volunteers readily came forward, but many lacked an understanding of the needs and how to be effective in coordinating with others.

6. Excellence in Extension

Chester Fehlis addressed Excellence in Extension in his 2004 Distinguished Ruby Lecture.

Most of us are quite passionate about in our work. The real challenge in this area and, in fact, in all of these guidepoints, is to move our programs beyond success to significance. People, especially decision makers, must believe—know—that our programs are necessary for their daily lives and for a prosperous future.

The excellence in Extension work that Paul Warner, Kentucky Extension, is provides methods for measuring Excellence in Extension.


My comments are closing on two overarching points.

First, leadership—effective leadership, visionary leadership, committed leadership—is needed to keep Cooperative Extension on track to continue our tremendous heritage of success. Without this type of leadership, these guideposts and others that develop in the future are worthless. Leadership is key.

Second, Where will this leadership come from? A one-word answer is YOU! This “you” includes those in the audience today, others attending this conference, and your coworkers back home.

Leadership occurs at every point in the Extension organization. We often look to the top, but frequently the most effective leadership may be at some point well removed from the top. Central leadership is important but cannot be totally successful when leadership throughout the system is lacking.

Consider these guidepoints and that they will generate others of equal importance. After reflection, go to the text of the presentation and ponder each point, especially as it applies to your situation.

Successful leaders will use this occasion and conference to grow.

Successful leaders must continue to learn and develop over time.

Please access the entire script of the 2008 Distinguished Ruby Lecture, Extension Guidepoints as presented by Dr. W. Gaines Smith.

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Eli Sagor said...

Anne, thanks for capturing and posting the high points from what sounds like an insightful lecture. This content sounds similar to the remarks from U. of Minnesota Extension dean Bev Durgan a few weeks ago. It's good to see recognition of the need to change the way we work spreading throughout the Extension system.

Unknown said...

Thanks Eli for the comment.

Gaines was kind to let me share.

I think too that we need to be talking about our future nationally. Talking about ways to address these changes are so important.

Too, I wonder what other guidepoints you and others would add to the list.