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March 22, 2012

Are we disoriented about Extension's assets?

Module 7 of the Building Extension's Public Value workshop leads participants to answer the question "Why Extension?"--that is, why should Cooperative Extension, and not some other public or private entity, develop and deliver outreach education programs? We answer the question by listing the people and organizations that are perceived to deliver programs that are similar to what Extension does, and naming Extension's strengths relative to those alternative providers. The result is a type of asset inventory: a list of the qualities that make Extension a preferred source for programming or the assets that we bring to the table when we engage in partnerships. The inventory usually includes Extension's trained educators, research-based curricula, local knowledge, statewide and national networks, and connection to the land-grant university.

disorient.JPGIt can be affirming for Extension professionals to assemble this asset inventory and see the organization's strengths. However, the exercise also gives us an opportunity for transformative learning through a disorienting dilemma, an idea from Jack Mezirow that I learned from Nancy Franz and wrote about in these blog entries.

The fact is, we can only use our list of Extension's strengths to make our case for Extension funding if the items on the list are true. In the "Why Extension?" exercise, I challenge participants to think about whether their organization really does ensure that educators are using the best teaching methods, curricula are based on current research and local knowledge, and connections to the university and to key networks are maintained. Inevitably, I hear participants share that for their organization, there is frankly room for improvement in at least some of these areas.

I think this challenge can create a disorienting dilemma for some participants: they have been asked to switch from admiring their organization's strengths to recognizing some of its weaknesses. I suggest that the way out of the dilemma is to see the asset inventory as a list of possible investments that Extension administrators can make to shore up Extension's strengths. Investing in our strengths can help us make Extension's best case.

I thought about this opportunity for disorientation and transformative learning on Tuesday of this week when I lead the "Why Extension?" exercise for Virginia Cooperative Extension professionals. Were you at the VCE workshop? What did you think of the exercise? Have you taught this module? What approaches work for you?

March 20, 2012

Fund the arrows!

At the OMAFRA public value workshop last week, a participant suggested that in order to make a strong public value case for Extension programs, we cannot only provide funding for program delivery. We must also invest in research and program evaluation that will provide the data to support public value messages. She said that in the following diagram of a public value message, we need to "fund the arrows"--the links between the stages of the model. Not only will funding the arrows help us make our best funding case, it can also help us choose which programs to prioritize. For anyone with budgeting responsibility, what do you think? Should we "fund the arrows"?


March 19, 2012

Investors are buying what Extension is selling

In public value workshops, we emphasize that Extension programs' impacts create value for people who have no contact with the programs. We argue that creating value for these stakeholders--the greater community--helps us make the case for public sector funding for Extension programs.

VT.jpgToday at the 2012 Virginia Cooperative Extension Professional Development Conference, I heard Jill Bramble, Chief Development Officer for the National 4-H Council, make a case for private sector investments in Extension programs. Jill suggested that Extension organizations view private businesses as potential investors who have a stake in the impacts that our programs generate. When a local 4H program increases the supply of prepared workers in a community, local employers benefit. When a nutrition education program increases demand for farmer's market produce, local farmers benefit. By highlighting these kinds of impacts, we can help private businesses see how they will reap rewards by investing in Extension programs. As Jill put it, our programs generate the impacts, and businesses "want to buy that impact." Jill said that businesses are eager to engage in "impact investing," but we need to know and tell our programs' impact story.

Whether we want to make a case for public investments or private investments in Extension programs, it seems to all come down to measuring impacts.

Have you generated private funding for Extension programs? Were program impacts an important part of the case for that funding? What approaches have worked for you?

March 14, 2012

Women in Agriculture Educators Create Public Value

2012NavTop.JPGAre you an Extension or outreach educator who works with women in agriculture? Do you develop, evaluate or teach risk management education programs? Are you planning to attend the 2012 Women in Agriculture Educators Annual Conference in Memphis, TN? I will be there on March 29, 2012, to present "Creating Public Value with Risk Management Education."

How do you think risk management education programs create public value? How are programs targeted to women in agriculture different from more general programs? Whether you share your ideas here or bring them up at the conference, I look forward to hearing from you!

March 12, 2012

Creating Public Value with Animal Health and Welfare Programs

Last week I spoke about creating public value with animal health and welfare programs at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) Animal Health Forum in Guelph. cattle.JPGI also taught a public value workshop for OMAFRA and University of Guelph Extension professionals. If you picked up the url for this blog at the OMAFRA events, welcome! Feel free to explore the site and contribute comments and/or questions on any of the entries. Or, if you prefer, email your comments and questions to me at kalam002 at-sign umn dot edu. Also, if you participated in the March 9 workshop, look for an email with a link to an end-of-workshop survey. The survey contains only a few questions and should take very little time to complete. I will use the results to evaluate the workshop's effectiveness and to improve future public value offerings. Thank you for your feedback!