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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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Social media and marketing

Paul Chaney shared his keynote "Conversations Create Clients: Using conversation marketing to turn strangers into friends and friends into customers" from the Real Estate Barcamp Houston conference.

Though the presentation is 82 slides long, it is worth the time to glance through it. 

Here are notables from the presentation:

Five consumer trends:

1. There is consumer skepticism and resistance to advertising.

67% of consumer good sales are based on word of mouth

2. Media fragmentation is out of control.

Daily advertising messages: 274 to 3000.

3. Increasingly, the consumer is in control.

4. The pressure is on to improve targeting--to achieve relevance and minimize waste.

5. Companies are held to new levels of accountability.

Other points:

Conversational media is about people, not technology.

"Markets are conversations" and "participation is marketing" The Cluetrain Manifesto.

No longer target audiences; we participate in communities.

"Advertising will get more and more targeted until it disappears, because perfectly targeted advertising is just information. And that's good." Dave Winer

Conversation marketing strategy is to: listen, respond, engage. (See slide 48).

My conclusion: Use the online tools to

  • Listen to customers, potential customers, and trends.
  • Respond to the customers (listening and not responding is like you are not listening).
  • Engage in the conversations.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Google Docs Guide

Amit Agarwal created "Google Docs Guide: How to do Stuff with Google Docs". Some topics covered in this tutorial are:

  • How to upload all your Microsoft Office documents from the desktop on to Google Docs
  • How to associate the common Office file extensions like doc/xls/ppt with Google Docs so that desktop documents open directly in the web browser
  • How to download all documents from Google Docs locally and burn them on to a CD
  • How to add watermarks (like PRIVATE, CONFIDENTIAL, etc.) to your Google Documents
  • How to translate documents in Google Docs to another language
  • How to track who read the document and when
  • How to know when people open your Google Documents
  • What more creative uses of Google Docs
  • What are some desktop applications that work with Google Docs

Monday, October 13, 2008

Not information overload--filter failure

Clay Shirky presented "It's not information overload. It's filter failure" at Web 2.0 Expo NY. Here are my notes.

  • The assumption is that the information is going to keep increasing .
  • Before the Internet, the source was the filter.
    • My rewording: Newspapers and book publishers decided what was filtered because it was costly to publish (i.e., What if we publish, but no one bought the book?)
    • Now the cost of publishing is negligible so where is the filter? When the source doesn't filter, how is it information filtered? Individuals have to learn to filter.
  • We have to get better at filtering and keep re-tuning those filters.
  • Filters for information must be automated, manually constructed, and continuously re-tuned. All solutions for filters are temporary.
  • It's not an information overload problem, it's a filter failure, and we, as individuals, have to create, rethink, and re-tuned the filters.
  • Managing privacy information flow is unnatural for most of us because before the Internet, providing private information was difficult, inconvenient, and inefficient.
    • My thoughts: it's a new paradigm and we rethink the social social structure, expectations, the underlying way for which we decide what to share and not share.
  • Today, we design the filters so the privacy works the way we want it?
  • Large groups are tolerant of free riders where small groups are not tolerant of free riders.
    • My rewording: In large groups you can easily have lurkers. In small groups, you must be able to contribute in some way--just lurking is not permitted.
  • It's a mental shift--rethinking the model--we are the same as fish in the ocean--we are just in the flow.
    • My rewording: The ocean isn't the problem. The question is: how do we navigate the flow?
  • Rethinking the model because before the Internet the filter of the information was at the source. Now the filters are with the people.
  • Updating the old filters is not the fix.
  • We should re-think the social norms.
  • When you think you have information overload, think about what filters broke.
    • How is email broken? What are the solutions? Other methods of sharing, wikis, blogs, Twitter,FriendFeed, instant messaging.
    • How are feeds from newsreaders broken? How do I streamline and choose what feeds I read? Constantly changing feeds in my reader.
    • What about other solutions? Friendfeed and Twitter for manual filtering?
    • Still not working? More solutions coming.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Wiki--not email--for collaboration

Recently, I have conducted several social media workshops. Often participants express that social media seems overwhelming. The participants say that they already feel like they have information overload, and they don't know how to handle more information.

My responses are usually:

  • Social media helps one keep up better with new information and ideas than current tools, like email.
  • Social media, particularly reading feeds, is much more efficient than not using them and allows one to increase access to more (much more) information.
  • Social media allows one to read and find information outside of one's normal colleague and knowledge circles.
  • Social media allows matching tasks and tools. Email simply is not the right tool for many of tasks we use it for. For example, wikis are better for collaboration than email. I usually have participants tell me how they work on projects together. The left side of the Wikinomics graphic is indicative of their description.



Email, although useful for some uses, is not a good collaboration tool. 

This Wikinomics graphic, originally created by Chris Rasmussen at US National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, obviously shows which is the better collaboration tool.  


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