Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Oh my what has happened on the farm

What does a progressive farm look like? Consider the aspects of farms described by this New York Times article.
UD Irrigation Field Tour
  • Cloud computing
  • Data is everything (big data, data analysis, and shared and private data)
  • Potential robotics (weed detection)
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles (drones)
  • Satellite technologies: 
    • GPS
    • GIS
    • yield monitors (real time data on yield and moisture)
    • variable rate applicators (fertilizers, seed, and irrigation)
    • precision operations (inch accurate rows)
    • autosteer tractors (driveless)
    • electrical soil mapping
    • electrical charged soiled testing
  • Social media
  • Partnerships
What does this mean for agriculture in the United States? Possibly bigger farms and fewer diverse farms, which does not necessarily lead in a negative direction. It also means more information on environmental treatments and eventually leading to tracking food to its source.

Tom Farms recognizes, like most progressive businesses, that technology is used to garner and process lots of information for management decisions. Growth on these farms is dependent on managing and deciphering precise and massive amount of information. In part, Tom Farms' growth is enhanced by those farms that continue to look at using more inputs, fertilizers and horse power and are not utilizing the power of information.
Farmers still think tech means physical augmentation — more horsepower, more fertilizer,” Mr. Tom said. “They don’t see that technology now is about multiplying information.” With corn prices at almost half the level they have been in the past few years, “my growth is going to come from farmers who don’t embrace technology."
Enabling technology can also cause conflicts and adjustments in the way farmers work. Farmers tend to be very independent but with big data -- their own and their neighbors' data -- more information can yield benefits to all. On the flip side, there continues to be a need for proprietary control. Sharing data puts individual farmers at risk but also could yield benefits to them individually and collectively, similarly, much like other industries.
“We and the other farmers could pool all our harvest data in real time,” he said. “You think the big companies would like that? You bet they would. Farmers don’t trust that; they’re independent. Your neighbor is also your competitor.
The most competitive farms will utilize masses of precise information gathered via technology and are able to sift through and analyze these layers of data to make decisions. These farms will also use partnerships for strategic and collective benefit.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Leadership in the knowledge economy

Something is missing from our conversations about the 21st century Extension professional, skills of the future knowledge worker, Extension Reconsidered and the Second Machine Age. This missing piece is the discussion on what leadership for the knowledge and rapid changing environment should look like. 

_-_  complexity [1]Leadership in today’s globally connected, technology-charged, and democratized economy is not the same that as leadership that drove the industrial age--where goals were achieved with directed and controlled with top-down hierarchies. Traditional organizational theory focuses on the ability to avoid uncertainty. In the knowledge economy, knowledge producing organizations focus on organizing, creating, capturing, and distributing knowledge and information. Today’s leaders need to find ways to achieve adaptability and ongoing learning from within and outside of the organization in order to improve the capacity to address complex challenges with innovative solutions.

Mary Uhl-Bien, (mbien2 at unl.edu), Russ Marion, (marion2 at clemson.edu), and Bill McKelvey, (mckelvey at anderson.ucla.edu) developed the Complexity Leadership Theory which is a framework that describes three leadership functions--administrative, adaptive, and enabling of a modern knowledge organization.

Administrative leadership is the formal managerial functions of planning, controlling, coordinating, acquiring resources, building a vision, and managing organizational strategy that represents the hierarchical and bureaucratic functions of the organization. Complexity Leadership Theory suggests that administrative leadership exercises authority with consideration of the need for creativity, learning, and adaptability, so that its actions can have significant impact on these dynamics.

Adaptive leadership is an informal, emergent, and complex dynamic rather than a person of authority. The creative actions and learning that emerge from the interactions of adaptive systems are the sources of change for the organization. Tensions of constraints and conflicting needs, ideas, preferences, and cooperative efforts produce flexible outcomes in adaptive social systems.

Enabling leadership fosters and facilitates conditions for adaptive leadership to emerge and accelerate adaptive system dynamics. Enabling leadership is about creating conditions and dynamics that allow for cooperative interactions and knowledge flows to allow shared creativity, problem solving, and learning. Enabling leadership can be found anywhere.

The framework sets the stage to create ways to lead in complex adaptive environments and enables continuous creation and the capturing of knowledge. Organizations that are “complexly adaptive (possessing requisite complexity)” are optimized for knowledge development and adaptability. The Complexity Leadership Theory is specifically designed for knowledge producing organizations.

Complexity Leadership Theory suggests that managers should enable contexts and environments where informal learning can emerge. These three leadership functions are entangled. There are conditions in which authority needs to be invoked. At other times, complex environments are needed to address complex problems.

Specifically speaking of public universities and Cooperative Extension, how can we prepare and organize to be adaptive and encourage a design mindset, virtual collaboration and sensemaking? We talked about hiring new people who have these skills. We talked about helping our current professionals adopt new skills. We have not talked about the changes in the way we approach leadership.

As I read about Complexity Leadership Theory, I thought of some examples of more inclusive engagement and how some within the ranks--faculty and local educators are pursuing knowledge broadly from diverse sources. Through seeking knowledge and connections and working outloud, they are helping the organization adapt and are enabling change. Additionally there is some discussion that Extension could cultivate the way to build more engaged land-grants. We need to start discussions on how we can become a more open, participative, continuously learning organization.

Cooperative Extension and land-grant universities are no doubt knowledge-producing organizations. Complex Leadership Theory is about creating conditions--in relation to the bureaucratic structure--for which emergent learning, knowledge, and solutions can arise. In this democratized knowledge era, there is a greater need to absorb knowledge from many sources, make sense of that knowledge, and co-create operative solutions to complex problems. Traditional top down approaches will not be effective as they have in the past. The Creative Leadership Theory provides a framework for which we should consider in our Extension organizations. 

Note: Thanks to Jeff Miller who shared the Complexity Leadership Theory with me and to Gae Broadwater who helped edit this post.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Reasons to Quit Your Job

A week or so ago, one of the LinkedIn articles that popped up as a suggested read was "Four Reasons to Quit Your Job" by By Jack and Suzy Welch. I thought sharing the article may cause people to second guess me. Instead I believe the article is a general primer to ask pertinent questions about jobs and career paths. Here are my responses to the questions: 

Do you want to go to work every morning? 
Yes indeed. I enjoy my work and though I have certain objectives for each day, I don't know what will happen that may make me rethink, question, plan and react. I also love having a great deal of freedom at work. 
I admitted this week and over the last couple of years to a few close colleagues and now I am admitting openly that I would have difficulty going to a traditional position in my organization. I have experienced the benefits and challenges of working remotely, across organizations, with different federal agencies, connecting and learning with many smart people online, and seeing vast and diverse perspectives. Going back to a localized position that would not respect the ability to reach beyond the geographic boundaries would feel confining.
Do you enjoy spending time with your coworkers or do they generally bug the living daylights out of you? 
Yes, indeed I enjoy my coworkers. We have fun! I have been fortunate to have worked and am working with groups of people I enjoy and respect. Don't get me wrong. We debate, disagree, occasionally get angry, and become frustrated. I enjoy and find getting to know my colleagues helpful in working with them. Though it is sometimes believed that one should not ask and seek personal information about our work counterparts, I find knowing and understanding pieces of their personal lives, what makes them tick, and what ticks them as all very helpful in my working with my colleagues. I don't seek to learn about colleagues for the purpose of judgment but as matter of understanding. It is all fascinating to me.
It may seem corny that some of my colleagues have become my close confidants and wonderful friends. My close working groups over the last two decades 1) have good intentions, 2) want to make a difference, 3) are respectful, 4) speak their minds, 5) value working toward goals, and 6) have perspectives that vary greatly.
I also believe that the conflicts and disagreements we have are actually good for the organization to grow and improve.
Does your company help you fulfill your personal mission? 
Yes. I believe in the greater good. I believe in the value of higher education and the mission of education and for the purpose of improving the quality of life. My public servant work and life that is deeply rooted in education and a zest to find application through research is a great fit for me.
Can you picture yourself at your company in a year?
Yes. of course. Though, I think the question should be: "Can you picture yourself in the same organization and feeling that the organization is improving and that you are happy?" To that question I would also say "yes".
There are many pressures to perform in our organization--to show value. We are quite possibly at a crossroads to convince others of our value, change direction, and/or narrow our focus. The pressures are just that--pressures. Our executive director continues to tell us to "take care of yourselves"--it is great advice. He has seen the passion and desire for us to do the right thing--not only for our national efforts but for the overall federated system. The job in no way is an easy job right now, but it is important, very important, and very misunderstood.

My current jobs are the types of challenges that energize me. 

I am blessed. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Guest lecture on Extension engagement and eXtension

I was asked to guest lecture for a graduate level Extension Methods class and to cover in 40 minutes eXtension, use of social media in Extension, engaging traditional and non-traditional audience via technology. Other instructions were: “Have some fun with the group. Include anything (relevant) that you wish you knew at a young Extension agent/ what skills will tomorrow’s agent need to be successful.”
I was rushed and frankly did not prepare enough for an explanation of eXtension. This post is my attempt to explain eXtension and share openly some of the discussion. I am trying to become better at “working outloud” as Harold Jarche drove home the point in the panel discussion at National eXtension Conference.

I start most of my presentations with questions to the people in the room. The answer to the first question, “What is Cooperative Extension’s best resource?” is always “its people”. I have never heard anything different. The reason I asked this question is that it is people who build relationships. It is those relationships should be made and maintained online—just as we expect Extension professional to establish relationships in their physical meetings.
The second question was: “What makes Cooperative Extension the best choice—the optimal choice—possibly the only choice for its mission?” One lady answered it is the people and diversity of expertise Extension has (apologies to the engaging lady for my severe shortening her response. The other response was that Extension provides research-based information.
By all means Cooperative Extension needs to continue to provide research-based information, but Cooperative Extension is not the only organization or individuals who are doing that. Citizens provide research-based information as well as other universities. We are all aware of that there are many people and organizations that share information that is not grounded in research. We also have to remember that research can sometimes provide mixed, conflicting, and undecipherable information. There is growing evidence that the trust of universities is waning. People do trust other people who are in their friend and colleague circles.
There are several references on the topic of trust in universities. These are just a sampling:
Cooperative Extension’s Past
At one time, everyone knew the Extension agents. Extension agents were seen as responsive. They not only provided home & farm visits, but they included farmers and others in research. The local Extension agent was known as the link to the land grant universities. They were the connection to the most recent research and they were the ones who introduced young people in the community to higher education and land grant institutions. Extension agents were a part of the elite group in the community with college degrees.
Cooperative Extension’s Present
 In 1993, Dave King wrote a Journal of Extension article about Cooperative Extension’s image deficit. We also know from the 2009 Copernicus study that the younger the generation is less likely to know of Cooperative Extension or will have ever used Cooperative Extension. Though the study concentrated on the branding issues and not making the link from our flagship programs—4-H and Master Gardeners—I also believe that we are not reaching enough people. The study also showed that for those people who have used Cooperative Extension they thought Cooperative Extension provided value.

Who has heard of and used Cooperative Extension?

We can’t talk about changes in last few decades without talking about the significance of Tim Berners-Lee proposal in 1989 that created what we now know as the Web. Berners-Lee released the code for free for an “information management” system. We not only owe Berners-Lee for his foresight in technology but also his vision and continued voice in understanding the depth and breadth of the advantage of that the “free code” and campaigning for Net Neutrality.

John Hartley, a student in the class, referred to some opinions that mobile devices are killing the idea of hyperlinks because data are sitting in silos and not including hyperlinking—the foundational concept of the Web. The social online abilities are obvious changes as well.

Skills for Cooperative Extension Professionals.
We briefly talked about the six drivers of change that the Institute of the Future describes in their report on the work skills needed for future knowledge workers.  The drivers are: rise of smart machines and systems, globally connected world, superstructed organizations, new media ecology, computational world, and extreme longevity. In this report, IFTF describes 10 skills needed for the future.

We also talked about the Extension Committee on Organization & Policy (ECOP) sponsored a study on the skills needed for the 21st Century Extension professional. Skills from both of these studies are shown in this table.  

Future of Extension
In one slide I talked about the future of Extension and these are some of the things that I discussed that Cooperative Extension needs to be doing:

  • Build new relationships and maintain traditional relationships online.
We cannot scale ourselves by with our current face-to-face relationships. Also there are many potential clientele who simply do not have a desire to drive to the county office or attend a physical meeting. Even some of our current clientele are asking for more flexibility in learning opportunities.  
  • Learn informally through information flow and others online.
Cooperative Extension professionals are the epitome of knowledge workers. Extension, like many organizations, does not have the capacity to provide all training and knowledge to its professionals. Cooperative Extension professionals should have the desire and flexibility to learn informally from others through online networks. Using the relationships with others to filter and focus on pertinent information. 
  • Seek diversity.
Cooperative Extension has tried to provide services and employment by seeking demographic diversity. We also need to be more cognitive of seeking out clientele and others who have different political ideals, social beliefs, disciplines, and culture. Diversity of thought provides opportunities for innovation and improvement our reach and impact of our programs.
  • Integrate research and extension beyond what we currently do.
  • Know that we are not the only experts and that complex problems cannot be solved and forced (i.e., through logic models).  
The Cynefin framework describes how solutions for complex problems derive different results and cannot fit into neat model. Rather that complex problems should be address in a probe, sense, and respond.
  • Learn outloud and curate.
    • Extension has traditional been very good curators, putting information into context and meaningful descriptions. To increase our reach and impact, we should provide our knowledge and curate online in open and transparent forums.

A few of my own thoughts on the attributes are a successful future for ExtensionTransparency and openness in our work, decisions, and findings.
  • More open licenses.
All Cooperative Extension materials were public domain before 1990. Creating and scaling our work cannot be done easily through all rights reserved products (Creative Commons licenses that allow for easy sharing and remixing).
  • Inclusion of people outside of Extension, particularly passionate amateurs in our work this allows for scaling our work without growing our organizations.
  • Ability to test (and fail) more easily to acquire more agility and innovativeness.

There is no federal or centralized system for Cooperative Extension. Cooperative Extension obviously has federal ties with USDA, ECOP and Association of Public Land-grant Universities.  eXtension provides opportunity to find synergies across state lines with a national online presence. eXtension is more than a web site—it’s a presence, it’s professional development, and it’s a mechanism to breakout of our geographic buckets.

eXtension is currently funded through New Technologies of Ag Extension (NTAE) and assessments from the Cooperative Extension institutions.

Content is built through collaborative efforts among Cooperative Extension faculty. Communities of Practice (CoPs) provide the mechanism to develop content (content is more than the text, content is also videos, webinars, social media, etc.). There are opportunities for
CoPs sometimes include others outside of Cooperative Extension. www.extension.org is the hub for eXtension.

Ask an Expert https://ask.extension.org/ is an opportunity for anyone to ask questions on through widgets. These widgets can be installed on any web site. AaE provides one-to-one engagement prospects that are analogous to telephone calls that come into county offices.  People ask questions through Ask an Expert widgets and Cooperative Extension/University staff and volunteers answer them. AaE widgets can be customized for area of interests—generally around the CoP topics or locale. Many county offices use the widgets and direct the questions to their own staff. Questions can be distributed throughout the Cooperative Extension system, in other words the system has the “local offices’ back”. A public option is available for the questions so the questions can be searched and commented on increasing the opportunities for discoverability and engagement.  Reports are available by state and individual. This feature is helpful for end of year reporting for Extension professionals.

There were 48,000 questions last year answered through AaE. 54% of the people asking questions had never heard of Cooperative Extension. 44% of the people described that their questions had some or significant economic value.

Texas answered the most questions. Many questions come from metropolitan areas, like Houston (Harris County).

Learn https://learn.extension.org/ is a listing of synchronous online professional development and other learning opportunities. Events listed maybe hosted by eXtension, others in Cooperative Extension and other entities. Anyone can post events in Learn with Google, Twitter, Facebook or eXtension IDs.  Each page for each learn event can serve as holding place for everything related to the event. Those posting the events can include descriptions, time, dates, connection information, slidesets, additional reading material and recording links.

Those interested in the events can add them to their calendar, follow the event for changes, and comment on the events by logging in with Google, Twitter, Facebook or eXtension IDs.  Those who “follow” events can see are listing of all the events they participated and presented.

There were 494 webinars listed in Learn in 2013.

Campus http://campus.extension.org/ is an asynchronous integrated online learning platform using Moodle. Campus provides course delivery tools and services that can uniquely combine web pages, videos, books, lessons, assignments, forums, chat, certificates, databases, glossaries, quizzes, journals, and questionnaires into personalized learning environments.
Courses can have closed or open enrollments. Courses can be fee-based or free.

The CoPs issued almost 15,000 certificates in 2013 and had 21,000 active users. There are more than 573 courses in Campus.

Create http://create.extension.org/  is the main place where the CoPs collaborate. Create is also used an internal work space. When articles are written collaboratively in Create, reviewed by peers, and copy edited they are then published to published to www.extension.org  where the content is indexed in search engines. Though anyone can see the content in Create, one must have an eXtension ID and belong to the community to edit anything in Create.

People https://people.extension.org/  is where one obtains an eXtension ID, creates a profile, list social networks and interests, and indicates profile settings for Ask an Expert, Create, Learn, and Data. People serves a springboard for any work that requires an eXtension ID. People is great way to find communities and colleagues .

In closing, I proposed these questions for the students to consider:
  • What are the forces important for Extension and land-grants to adjust to?
  • What should Extension focus on that will make us successful in the future?
  • How do those focus areas affect our work force?


Starting to work out loud by Harold Jarche http://www.jarche.com/2012/12/starting-to-work-out-loud/

National eXtension Conference Master Panelists https://learn.extension.org/events/1548

Online book, Trust in Universities, written by academics address several issues with trust in universities. http://www.portlandpress.com/pp/books/online/wg86/default.htm
Facing the Image Deficit by Dave King http://www.joe.org/joe/1993fall/tp1.php)

An analysis of the priority needs of Cooperative Extension at the county level by Harder, Lamm and Strong http://www.jae-online.org/attachments/article/56/Harder_etal_50_3_11-21.pdf

How the iPhone is killing the ‘Net http://www.networkworld.com/news/2008/040908-zittrain.html

The 21st Century Extension Professional (the ECOP sponsored study) Webinar and Slideset  https://learn.extension.org/events/1073

Skills for 2020 Knowledge Workers http://www.iftf.org/futureworkskills

Learning and Working within a Learning Network

Other recommended readings:

Harold Jarche’s blog: http://www.jarche.com/

Ongoing finds in connected organizations http://www.scoop.it/t/connected-communities

Ongoing finds in personal learning http://www.scoop.it/t/approachtolearning

Dave Gray’s eXtension National Conference Keynote https://learn.extension.org/events/1544

Jane Hart’s eXtension National Conference Keynote https://learn.extension.org/events/1546

Jane Hart’s blog Learning in Social Workplace http://www.c4lpt.co.uk/blog/