Winter 1992 // Volume 30 // Number 4 // To The Point // 4TP3
Vision Should Direct Extension's Mission
Before we can discuss, or even define our mission, all of us...must have a futurist vision for our organization. Our clientele will ultimately decide whether we're delivering high-quality educational programs that meet societal needs. ...as an organization our greatest weakness is communicating our accomplishments at the grassroots.
Jones did an excellent job of highlighting some of the issues Cooperative Extension must address to remain a viable organization in the future. About five years ago, Jim Hildreth, now retired executive director of The Farm Foundation, stated that "The Land Grant System including Cooperative Extension is in the process of renewing its social contract with the people and our very survival depends on how well we understand this concept." My fear is that too many of us either didn't understand what Hildreth was talking about or failed to take him seriously. Recent events in many states has made us re-examine not only our mission as Jones does, but also our vision.
Before we can discuss, or even define our mission, all of us in the Cooperative Extension System must have a futuristic vision for our organization. We can attain a positive sense of direction only if we have an idealistic vision for the future. This vision must be shared and shaped by those who will be living it- Extension faculty and clientele. Only then can we define our mission and the goals necessary to achieve our objectives.
In his comments on quality programs, Jones is accurate in reinforcing the view that Extension professionals must be recognized as equals by their peers in academia. Quality Extension programs aren't, however, defined by scholarly achievements. If we subscribe to the concept of Total Quality Management, which many organizations do, then the quality of our programs must be judged by the consumer. Our clientele will ultimately decide whether we're delivering high-quality educational programs that meet societal needs, not a classroom teacher.
As we discuss diversity, we need to recognize this is only a first step toward building a system that takes advantage of societal differences. The next step is to recognize pluralism defines an organizational culture that expects and encourages differences and recognizes the value of broadening our clientele base.
Jones reinforces the need for planning to start at the grassroots. However, when clientele are involved and have ownership in the process, they also expect, as a result of their efforts, something will happen. Do we have accountability back to all of our stakeholders? I believe that as an organization our greatest weakness is communicating our accomplishments at the grassroots. We falsely assume these are the people we're closest to and they should know what we're doing.
In the future, Extension will be addressing issues that make us uncomfortable, go beyond our areas of expertise, and are controversial. Issues are complex by their very nature, but can be divided into a series of problems. We can address problems we can solve, farm out those we can't, and as Jones states, build bridges and share ownership with other organizations.
I'm not as optimistic as Jones about our future. Too many in our organization resist change or bury their heads in the sand, hoping that this too will go away. They've forgotten that Cooperative Extension isn't my organization or theirs-it belongs to our clientele. Only if the people at the grassroots have a pride of ownership will we successfully achieve our vision for this organization.