November 2009 Archives

Needs Assessment and Market Research

A key to successful outreach programs is addressing relevant issues in a timely fashion.  Chapter 8 outlines the differences between traditional needs assessment and market research. 


Extension Program Business Plans

"No Money, No Mission."  This is a lesson that many Extension programs are learning the hard way.  While public funding has provided the majority of the support for Extension programs, this is becoming scarce.  Programs which want to survive over the long run need to find sustainable sources of funding.  However, as outlined in Chapter 7, funding was not the primary benefit of doing program business plans in the new Minnesota model.  You will be surprised at the primary benefits.

Comments and Questions:  What do you see as the primary benefits and costs of this approach to program planning?  How does it differ from the approach used in your state.

Benefits and Costs to Counties

Counties continue to be an important part of the Minnesota regional/county model, even though the relationship between Extension and counties has changed in fundamental ways.  Chapter 6 outlines the benefits and costs to counties of the new model.  Further, it provides data that shows employment in the field is probably higher than it would have been under the old system.

Comments or Questions:  What questions about the benefits and costs to counties in the Minnesota model are not answered in this chapter?  How do the number of local positions in counties in your state compare to the numbers in Minnesota counties as shown in Tables 6.3 and 6.4? 



Regional Specialization: A Solution?

Chapter 2:

Chapter 2 explores the theory of specialization and comparative advantage.  Economic theory suggests that specialization increases productivity.  Does this apply to education or Extension Educators?  A review of the literature shows that many economists and extension leaders think it does.  A review of the initial steps by Extension Services to encourage specialization suggests that few, if any, states have found the institutional arrangements needed to encourage specialization.

Updates since book publication:

Iowa State University Extension's 2009 Restructuring

Iowa State University announced a new regional model in the spring of 2009.  The new Iowa model has some features which are the same as the Minnesota model and some that appear different.  Similar to the Minnesota model, counties can purchase local positions but have to pay the full cost rather than getting a major portion covered by the state Extension office.  All of the state and federal funds go to fund "program specialists," which includes both specialized field educators and campus faculty.  The program specialists work over multi-county regions and/or the entire state. Unlike Minnesota, there are no regional offices.  The field program specialists have virtual offices, with some also using county offices.

For a more detailed description of these changes see:   

Comments:   Has your state taken steps to encourage regionalization and/or specialization?  If so, what are they?  Are there any research reports or journal articles about the effectiveness of these new arrangements? 

Specialized Extension Educators

Chapter 5 defines specialization for field extension educators as:  "A specialized Extension Educator concentrates on an area of expertise, provides leadership on a statewide program team that develops and delivers outreach programs for a community of interest, and contributes to the scholarship related to outreach education." (The Minnesota Response, 2009, p. 99).

Empricial results are presented on six features of Minnesota Regional Extension Educators (REEs), with comparisons before and after the implementation of the regional/county system.  For example, 47 percent of all REEs now have statewide program responsibilities compared to only 9 percent before the changes in 2004. 

Comments:  If your state has a regional delivery system of some sort, what are the system features that encourage specialization by field educators?   What features discourage specialization? 

What Readers Are Saying



Here is what readers are saying about "The Minnesota Response".....


"As land-grant universities seek to rebuild programs based on "best practices," this book contributes valuable, experienced-based insights into the choices available as Extension programs continue to evolve and respond. The Minnesota model as presented here should prove informative to many others." Michael V. Martin, Ph.D. Chancellor of Louisiana State University and Cooperative Extension's 2007 Justin Smith Morrill Memorial Award winner.


"This is important work at a critical time for land-grant universities and 
cooperative extension services. George Morse chose to release the information 
about Minnesota's response to the crises they face quickly through iUniverse 
rather than through the slow process of a university press...This book is timely,
 carefully researched, and well written." Cornelia Butler Flora, Ph.D. Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Agriculture and Life Sciences, Iowa State University, in Rural Sociology, 75 (2), June 2010. Available as an ejournal through most university libraries. 
"We always hear about the "teachable moment." George Morse's book 
The Minnesota Response is released at the "Extension moment." Most states 
are currently experiencing a severe money crisis and are or will be facing the 
crisis Minnesota Extension faced in 2004. In my opinion, this is a must read 
for all extension workers in states facing a budget crisis and/or
considering restructuring." Gerald Doeksen, Regents Professor, Oklahoma State University

"Morse's book is very interesting and well-crafted. I haven't read the whole

thing cover to cover, but my copy is getting quite dog-eared." Robert Sams, Director and Chief Information Officer, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources

"I'm quite impressed by the thought that went into the changes you've made,
and equally impressed (and thankful) that you took the time to document
your lessons." Timothy W. Kelsey, Ph.D., State Program Leader, Economic & 
Community Development, and Professor of Agricultural Economics, Penn State 

"I've been using your book with my students and in Extension work here at

Virginia Tech. Thank you documenting some important insights about the

changing nature of Extension." Nancy K. Franz, Ph.D., Professor, Extension Specialist Program Development, Virginia Tech


"I really enjoy your book and the questions you ask about our entire 
extension system." William C. Kleiner, Regional Director - Southeast Region, 
Penn State Cooperative Extension
"We are reading with interest your recent book on Minnesota's Cooperative 
Extension system." Karl Pillemer, Ph.D., Hazel E. Reed Professor of Human 
Development, Cornell University, Associate Dean for Extension and Outreach, 
College of Human Ecology

Regional Specialization: A Solution?

Chapter 2 sets the stage for dealing with these questions:  "As Extension resources decline, does true specialization of Extension educators result in greater access for the public, in closer campus faculty collaboration, in higher program quality, in greater public value and public support?  Alternatively, does greater specialization and regionalization of Extension educators diminish some or all of these?  In short, will specialization of Extension educators allow Extension to do more with less or will it weaken Extension?" (The Minnesota Response, 2009, p. 15)  

Comments and Suggestions? 

Your comments and suggestions are welcome.  In particular, share with us articles or books which are related but not included in our book.

1) A number of trends are outlined as affecting the need for greater specialization. Did I miss any or claim some that don't really fit?

2)  A series of advantages and disadvantages of field Extension Educator specialization are suggested as possibilities?  Any omissions or errors?  Recall that these are just possibilities or hypotheses at this stage, not claims that they actually exist. The vericity of these will be checked later in the book.

3) The history of field specialization is likely to be incomplete.  Already, Iowa State University Extension has made major changes which are not fully captured in this book.  What about your state? 







Extension's Money and Mission Crisis

Chapter 1:

Even though Cooperative Extension has been one of the most successful outreach institutions in the USA for nearly 100 years and has been widely copied by other nations, it has a mission and money crisis now.  This is documented in Chapter 1.

Updates since the book:

Fischer, Karen. "Economy Forces Land-Grant Universities to Reshape Extension Work" The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 13, 2009.

This article does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of the "do more with less" dilemma. It provides examples from Oregon, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Louisiana, and Minnesota.

The article describes two important features of the Minnesota regional system: county choice of additional local staff and the program business plans.  Note, however, that the business plans were done by each program on a state-wide basis, pulling in faculty from all of the relevant campus departments and regional educators in a given area of expertise, rather than by regional centers.

While these two features, local choice and business plans, were two critical elements to the model Minnesota adopted in 2004, there are at least eight others which are closely connected to these.  They are: authentic specialization by regional extension educators, new funding arrangements for regional educators versus county ones, state-wide program teams on most programs, supervision of all field educators by program specialists rather than by geographic supervisors, new approaches to needs assessment and market research, new regional support systems, new external relations approaches with increased use of public value statements and regional director networks, and new scholarship and promotion expectations for field staff.

As shown in "The Minnesota Response: Cooperative Extension's Money and Mission Crisis," each of the above elements has been crucial to the success of the Minnesota model.

Questions and Comments:

What is happening in your state?  Is your state facing a mission and money crisis in Extension? Are there articles which document the increasing demands and fewer resources?  If so, please share these in the comments section. 

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