I absolutely believe Extension is Broken. I'm not a negative guy, I'm an opportunist. Look, if we weren't underperforming, we would not be underfunded. My car in high school was broken, but it still ran. It was a fun process learning how to fix it and get it to running efficiently. The good news is that broken stuff presents tremendous opportunities for people like you and me.
In this series of How to Fix Extension blog posts, I've had the opportunity to share and discuss a handful of things that I think we should change in the Cooperative Extension system. One fundamental thing that I've been reminded of is: attitude.
1. Stay hungry. In the book Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman by Yvon Chouinard, I learned why a falconer keeps her falcons in a yarak. This is a term for when your falcon is super alert, hungry but not weak, and ready to hunt. Extension is not hungry. In many ways we have lost focus and motivation because we've been fed well. Now that many of our programs are losing funding, we often sniff out whatever grant money we can find and make mistakes out of desperation.
2. Care hard. Commenting on a Facebook thread about this series of blog posts, a colleague of mine, Dave Francis, recently shared:
...Soon after I started with Extension [in Utah], the new VP of Extension at the time (Jack Payne) got up in front of the group and stated that the Extension machine was broken, there was no sacred cows and it was time to clear the plate and start over to become relevant. At the end of his remarks, everyone got up, grabbed refreshments and didn't mention anything about his ideas. The biggest issue isn't technology, it is our attitude.
He then referenced a blog post about attitude by MIT's Garrison Keillor. In summary, even if it's low-stakes softball, there is still some level of respect for the game and caring we cannot afford to lose in Extension.
3. Shift to entrepreneurial. One of my heroes is Don Floyd, CEO of the National 4-H Council. I enjoy following him on Twitter and seeing his work in taking 4-H to the world. He also provided incredible insight on a Facebook thread about this series:
The attitude issue is pretty interesting. Shifting from entitled to entrepreneurial has been the motto for some really cool innovations....we just need to scale them...globally. Why is it that the world is trying to create Extension and we are oblivious to that demand? Smallholders everywhere want to learn.
I really appreciate how more Extension professionals are sharing their thoughts and ideas in the #FixExt movement. Right now I'm following the North Carolina Cooperative Extension System very closely. They're in the pruning process and transparently working to create a new strategic vision and plan for the next 100 years.
I want to know about your ideas and what you are doing. Please tweet me or find me on Instagram and lets share. I want to fix Extension (#FixExt) together.
Paul Hill, Ph.D.
I design, plan, and evaluate economic development programs for Utah State University.
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