Winter 1992 // Volume 30 // Number 4 // Forum // 4FRM2
Forging One Extension System
By articulating system rather than program foci, by communicating impacts and budget requests in a systems framework, and by identifying the relationships among educational efforts rather than the discrete entities within our system, we can become increasingly known as one system addressing key needs of people.
Do clientele and decision makers view Extension as one educational system with clear foci or as a diverse array of programs? Do agents and specialists believe they're part of one educational system or that they're part of an agriculture, 4-H, community development, or home economics program? When we ask for budget support, do we describe Extension as one system or in terms of its program areas and the programming within these structures? Who is still listening when we complete this lengthy description? Clientele, decision makers, and taxpayers are more interested in what Extension accomplishes than in how it's structured.
The 1987 Extension Futures Task Force report entitled, Extension in Transition: Bridging the Gap Between Vision and Reality, states:
The system must restate its mission, develop a vision for the future,
and formulate plans for the necessary transition to achieve the desired
Although the Futures Task Force treats Extension as one system, many state Extension Services continue to function with multisystems called program areas and in some instances as an outreach of disciplines.
If Extension is to be understood as one system, programming must be conceptualized in systemwide terms rather than by program areas or disciplines. The tremendous variety of educational programs and activities that exist throughout the system should be grouped within a few systemwide foci that can be described in concise and readily understood terms. For example, one potential set of systemwide program foci is: (1) the economy, (2) youth and families, and (3) the environment. The particular issues addressed by Extension through these will change over time, but this articulation clearly and concisely identifies programming throughout the entire system. Current issues within these broad foci identify and communicate the type of educational programming being provided by Extension (see Table 1).
|Table 1. System programming conceptualization.|
Profitability in agriculture
Family money management
Youth skill development for employment
Business expansion and retention
Focus: youth and families|
Youth at risk
Diet and health
Balancing work and family
Intergenerational business relationships
Reduction of pesticide use
Management of natural resources
Consumer decision making
This view of programming could be used to clarify what Extension does under its current structure or organization. It could also be the basis for a new vision. These three foci are fundamental categories encompassing significant, long-term problems and issues facing citizens. They can also guide our rethinking of programming from a total system perspective, and could be used as a basis for restructuring Extension to function as one system.
A one system model implies that professionals would be hired to address components of the system's broad foci rather than to fill vacancies in a department or program area. Extension faculty should be affiliated with departments, but their role would be to apply their disciplinary expertise in addressing issues within these broad areas. Rather than investing in specific positions long-term, Extension could commit support for a limited number of faculty positions for base programs and then contract with individuals in various departments to provide leadership for other programming. The expertise for base programming would be central to the three broad areas of focus. Budget allocations could be made to the broad areas to support programming similar to the way many states now fund issues programming.
By articulating system rather than program foci, by communicating impacts and budget requests in a systems framework, and by identifying the relationships among educational efforts rather than the discrete entities within our system, we can become increasingly known as one system addressing key needs of people. Developing this clear understanding of our system is vital for setting future program direction and for securing budget support.
1. ECOP Futures Task Force, Extension in Transition: Bridging the Gap Between Vision and Reality (Blacksburg: Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, 1987).