Marketing Critical to Extension’s Future in the Digital Age, Says Marketing Director

Emery Tschetter

Emery Tschetter, who heads Alabama Extension’s Marketing and Communications effort, says effective marketing will be a critical ingredient of success in the digital age.

Emery Tschetter is one of a growing number of Cooperative Extension administrators who not only perceive the digital revolution taking place around us but also how it will transform Extension work.

Tschetter, who leads the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Communication and Marketing effort, not only acknowledges this challenge but also stresses that it could be the most daunting one Extension has faced in its 100-year history.

And, yes, he is the first to concede that it’s a thoroughgoing revolution that will affect Extension educators and professionals at all levels.

He’s especially struck by how quickly this revolution is unfolding among younger generations, having observed his own teenage daughter, who exhibits a level of digital literacy that eludes many older people.

“It’s so pervasive, and if we don’t come to terms with it, if we ignore it, we’ll no longer remain relevant,” says Tschetter, whose manner is as direct and straightforward as the prairies of South Dakota, where he grew up.

New Technologies No Panacea

But he’s not one of those change advocates who points to a comprehensive list of new technologies as the solution.

Tschetter, who initially cut his professional teeth as a broadcasting professional with South Dakota State University Extension, is old enough remember how the initial enthusiasm for Betamax videotape eventually soured — one reason why he’s unwilling to hitch Extension’s fortune to any emerging technology, no matter how promising.

Coming to terms with these new digital demands will not involve embracing a clutch of emerging new technologies.  No, as Tschetter sees it, the solution lies in cultivating a new understanding of an old practice — marketing, something that only a few decades ago distinguished Cooperative Extension as the gold standard of educational outreach.

A New Approach to Marketing

It’s about a acquiring a new approach to marketing, one that should start with a thoroughgoing and effective analysis not only of who is served by Extension products but also how they expect to be served.

As Tschetter likes to say, “Going digital has to be a process grounded in data.”

“Good data drives good analytics.  We’ve got to understand our users in the same way companies like Apple strive to do — for instance, to understand how long people stay on our pages and which products they find most useful and enduring — and we’ve got to learn how to use that data to make adjustments along the way.”

Tschetter is an optimist.  He is confident Extension will rise to this challenge, though he acknowledges that it will present Extension professionals with some acute challenges along the way.

“We’ve done some aspects of marketing exceptionally well in the past,” he observes.  At one time, we cornered the quality end of the market and we told our story extremely well.”

Conceiving and Designing within a Crowded Marketplace

But all of this has gotten harder within the last few decades, partly because Extension is having to conceive and design products within an increasingly crowded marketplace. Everyone is dealing with products that must be distinguished from many others — all the more reason why effective market analysis will be a paramount concern for Extension in the future, Tschetter stresses.

“We find it difficult to talk about competition, but the truth is, we’ve competed with other players from the very beginning.”

In spite of all these challenges, Extension still has several critical factors working decidedly in its favor, Tschetter says.

One of them is the close collaboration of its specialists and its grassroots educators — one of Extension’s greatest assets and one that Tschetter perceives will acquire even greater significance in the future.

Ignoring Reality at Our Peril

Despite these advantages, he says Extension professionals ignore the realities of the 21st century at their own peril: Products must be sold within an unusually dense landscape, and only those carefully conceived and developed based on an effective data collection and marketing strategy will succeed.

“We got to borrow a page from Hollywood, which has a history as almost as old as Cooperative Extension,” Tschetter says. “We’ve not only got to make good things, but we’ve got to keep making them.”

“And we’ve got to design and develop the products that people expect.”

A 12-Point Recovery Plan for Extension?

Internet Map

A map illustrating the dense network connections of the Internet.

I’m an unrepentant movie buff.  I can’t get enough of old movies, virtually all types of movies, and I catch myself every day mentally replaying scenes from some of my favorite flicks, much as one would an endearing old tune.

One film that will remain deeply etched in my mind is “I’ll Cry Tomorrow,” starring Susan Hayward, an exceptionally well-acted biopic about the late singer/entertainer Lillian Roth.

Through a series of unusual misfortunes, beginning with a psychologically domineering and manipulative stage mother, Roth developed a debilitating alcohol addiction.  The movie depicts the horrific downward spiral that followed until Roth finally summoned the courage to follow AA’s 12-Point Recovery Program.

Oddly, that movie popped into my mind in the course of reflecting on Cathann Kress’s very considerate and thoughtful reply to a piece I posted last month titled “The Coming Extension Extinction,” which has ignited some impassioned discussion within Cooperative Extension ranks in the weeks since it was posted.

Dr. Kress’s response eloquently expressed a theme reflected in many of the other critiques I’ve received within the last few weeks.  She contends that the digital imperative does not present Extension with any sort of existential crisis.  We can have our cake and eat it too.  We can still do what we’ve always done so well — reach people with meetings and workshops, even as we gear up to address the digital challenges.

Addictive Extension Behavior?

With all due respect to Dr. Kress’s thoughtful comments, that’s the part that not only worries me but also reminds me of Lillian Roth’s perennial struggle with addiction.

In some respects, our fixation on traditional delivery methods resembles a self-destructive addiction. My fear is that this pattern of thinking amounts to a kind of psychological entrapment. It presents too many of us with the excuse to stick with business as usual — in many cases, to lapse into what my father often described as “Let George do it-style” thinking.

“I’m already past the midpoint my Extension career,” says the typical forty-something Extension professional.  “I’ve built a strong program reaching my people through workshops and field days. Let the younger agents worry about all this digital stuff.”

And considering that the median age of Extension professionals is likely well past 40, this kind of entrenched mindset will exert even more corrosive effects in the future.

Extension Needs a 12-Point Recovery Program

This brings me back to AA and the Twelve-Point Recovery Program.  In a real sense, Extension needs to flesh out a series of systematic steps toward recovery — some strategy to break us of this ironclad commitment to older delivery methods.  And along with this, we need to conceive ways to reach the growing numbers of younger clients for whom face-to-face encounters are not considered as convenient or as valuable as virtual interactions.

And allow me to raise once again the added challenge of generative capacity. The massive sharing and social collaboration made possible by networking enables information to be generated at vastly accelerated volumes.

The Golden Rule of Success

That is why success in the 21st century is succinctly expressed in this corruption of the Golden Rule: He who builds the most adaptive, fluid and generative networks rules.  Success in the digital era is all about who builds the most fluid and adaptive digital networks, the most highly reciprocal and generative networks — networks that are responsive to the needs of contemporary learners, especially younger ones.

We can’t secure this kind of generative capacity through old delivery methods.  Why? Because they are not generative enough — they no longer generate adequate volumes of information. To put it another way, the networks constructed via these older delivery methods simply aren’t scalable for growing numbers of people, especially younger people.

Yes, as I’ve said before, there is a place for traditional one-to-one delivery methods.  Even younger people occasionally want to enhance their virtual interactions with one-to-one engagement.

But make no mistake, the future is digital.

The future belongs to those who not only appreciate the awesome power of generative capacity but who actively harness it.  The future belongs only to those who build highly fluid, highly generative, digital networks.

‘Nuff said.

Have a nice day.

Cultivating the Introverts in Our Ranks

Le Penseur

Extension must employ more introverts – moreover, it should cultivate the skills of introverts already employed in its ranks.

Extension administrators: Listen to your introverts. They may save you in the future.

In fact, Cooperative Extension’s unwillingness to listen to the introverts in its ranks may come at a very heavy cost in the future.  It may even prove to be a factor that drives Extension to extinction.

To be sure, Extension is and ever shall be an extroverted organization. Extroversion is its lifeblood. Up to now, our primary support has come from sources that require a helluva lot of, well, schmoozing. We owe a significant debt to generations of super-changed, highly extroverted directors, county directors and rank-and-file agents who have forged lasting, highly lucrative relationships with legislators, commodity group leaders, county commissioners and sundry other supporters — stakeholders in Cooperative Extension parlance.

And, yes, the efforts of these extroverted schmoozers are the reason why Extension is distinguished throughout our nation and even the world as a high touch organization.

The Price of Extroversion

But this this almost obsessive organizational focus on extroversion has come at a price.

Too many times throughout our history, this emphasis on extroversion has come at the expense of the introverts in our ranks — the thoughtful people who not only stay abreast of current trends, but also think about them, discuss them with other Extension professionals, typically like-minded introverts, and, in the course of which, gain a deeper, more refined understanding of the long-term trends that will shape Extension’s future.

Years ago, an Extension colleague of mine who had recently announced her retirement asked me a point-blank question: “Why do I feel that I’m being pushed out the door?”

I knew her well enough to know that she expected a straight answer.  So, with as much tactfulness as I could muster, I replied, “Because you are an introvert within an extroverted organization.”

She had poured her life into Extension work.   And she was an asset to the organization, albeit a woefully under-appreciated one.  If she had managed to win over a sufficient number of decision-makers in the course of her career, Cooperative Extension would be far better prepared to meet the challenges of the digital age.

A Luxury We No Longer Can Afford

And that brings me back to my original point. A couple of decades ago, Extension administrators could afford the luxury of ignoring the introverts in their midst.  There were ways that big strategic problems could be glossed over by schmoozing the right funding sources.  But this was before the advent of digital technology and federal, state and local revenue shortfalls.

Extroversion will only take Extension so far in the 21st century.  In fact, I think that our extroversion works against us in several notable ways.

Extroverts, for example, do workshops, field days and other other traditional face-to-face outreach well, exceedingly well — and, so easily.  Sometimes it also seems that Extension professionals cover up their anxieties about the future with more frenetic activity — more workshops and field days. Reporting tools, still deeply immersed in the plan-and-push methods of the last century, only reinforce these behaviors.  These traditional outreach methods are like the Sirens in Greek mythology.  They are distracting us from cultivating a new mindset, one that takes full account of the digital imperatives of the flat world.

Yes, we always will be a high-touch organization.  And, yes, extroverts will always occupy the highest and most visible rungs in our ranks. But the kind of high-touch outreach organization that we must become in the 21st century will require the sort of deep, refined thinking that the introverts within our ranks are the best equipped to provide.

The Debt We Owe Introverts

As counterintuitive as it seems to many extroverts, the introverts of the world conceived and developed the technology that made the highly networked and interconnected world of the 21st century possible, and the only way Extension will survive in the future is by bringing more of these introverts into its ranks, even as it cultivates the ones it already has.

These under-appreciated introverts are not only the best equipped to build these technologies but also to show how these disparate digital trends will intersect within an outreach context in the years to come.

Without more of these analytical minds in our ranks, I don’t think that Cooperative Extension will be fully prepared to compete in this new digital environment  — I really mean that.

The Coming Extension Extinction

tar pit

What must Cooperative Extension do to avoid consignment to the digital tar pit?

There is a longstanding and very cynical corruption of the Golden Rule: “He who has the gold rules.”

In the digital learning world, it works a little differently. Only those who build the most fluid and adaptive digital networks — networks that are highly reciprocal, generative and, most important of all, responsive to the needs of contemporary learners — will survive and rule in the future.

As a few of you may know, I retired last September from the Cooperative Extension System.   Frankly, I don’t regret my decision. It appears, based on some experiences within the last few years of my career, that Cooperative Extension, despite its long and illustrious history, is one of those entities consigned for for digital extinction.

Frankly, as I consider all that is happening, I hold out little hope.

A Lumbering Dinosaur

Quite honestly, Cooperative Extension is a living, breathing dinosaur lumbering around only because there is still an available food source within its reach: a few legislators and funders still willing, however reluctantly, to support antiquated delivery methods.

Shortly before I retired, my very gracious department head called me into his office to conduct an impromptu exit interview. “If you could reinvent the Cooperative Extension System, what would you do?”

“That’s easy,” I replied.  “Devote the overwhelming bulk of funding within the next decade to transform Extension into a bona fide digital delivery system.”

As I see it, this transformation should be undertaken with the same seriousness with which an emergency room staff struggles to resuscitate a dying man.

The future of Cooperative Extension lies in developing the apps and other online digital technologies that will engage a new generation of learners within highly fluid networks — learners who consider traditional forms of delivery as passe or, at the very best, enhancements to digital delivery methods.

For most Extension educators, the next question is likely to be this: “What happens to the Extension grassroots educators?”

A Newly Conceived Role for Educators

Quite honestly, I think the times are calling on us to completely reconceive the role of grassroots Cooperative Extension System professionals.  As painful as this new reality may seem, the primary role of grassroots Cooperative Extension professional in the future will be serving primarily as technical professionals supporting the apps and other digital technology conceived, designed and distributed via their state headquarters or in cooperative with other Extension and land-grant university entities.

To be sure, an agent’s educational background in, say, agricultural education, will be helpful in this new role.  And, yes, there will still be the need for traditional Extension agents to continue reaching older client groups with traditional methods.  And, admittedly, there will be the continuing need for Extension professionals to lend a hand to clients who, for whatever reason, occasionally must go off the grid and experiment with some technique or learning methods for which digital delivery methods are unsuited.

But make no mistake: Digital delivery methods are the future.  Either Cooperative Extension undertakes a wholesale transformation very soon, or it will be completely swamped by this digital tsunami.  I’m reminded of that riveting scene of the astronauts in the new science fiction thriller Interstellar who have a difficult but essential technical task to complete before they are completely swamped by the extraterrestrial tsunami-force wave.  Cooperative Extension is in a remarkably similar predicament.

Will We Adapt Quickly Enough?

But will we adapt soon enough?  Frankly, I have serious doubts.  A couple of years ago, a close friend related an unusually unsettling story to me.  While she was paying a visit to her state Extension director, she pointed out an Extension specialist who had gone to great lengths in warning other Extension professionals about these threats to Cooperative Extension’s survival.

Through blogging and other digital techniques, he had managed to carve out a reasonably large national following and, along with a handful of other intrepid Extension professionals, had even managed to spark a dialogue in Cooperative Extension ranks.

“Well, that’s good,” the Extension director replied, “but we don’t pay him to do that.”

Reflect on that statement for a few moments: “We don’t pay him to do that.”

If one phrase in the future is likely to constitute the most fitting epitaph for a failed educational movement, it is that one. At the risk of sounding exceedingly blunt, if not impertinent, state Extension directors all across this country had darn well better start paying people to think their way through these challenges — and soon.

But again, I harbor serious doubts that they will.

Attend any Extension planning meeting anywhere in the country and the main topic of discussion is inevitably about workshops — workshops, workshops, workshops — and, oh, mind you, check your e-mail for accompanying pdf forms and press releases!

And, if these workshop planners are really technically savvy (for Extension professionals) they’ll remind everyone to be sure “to report these workshops through their appropriate social media channels.”

As I said, our leadership and much of our rank and file are lumbering dinosaurs inching their way to the tar pits.

Is there a way out?  We had better get busy finding it.


What Makes Cooperative Extension Unique

4-H Inquiry-based learning

4-H inquiry-based learning: an example of how Cooperative Extension strives to remain relevant to the needs of our diverse audiences more than 100 years since its inception.

The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof ignited a firestorm of debate recently when he argued in his Feb. 15 column “Professors, We Need You!” that the publish-or-perish tenure process has worked to wall off much of higher education from the real issues of the day.

We can’t speak for the rest of higher education, but we can make the strong case that one facet of higher education, Cooperative Extension, effectively inoculated itself against this kind of irrelevancy a century ago.

Improvising a Professional Standard

It was a hard-fought struggle. The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 established a nationwide Cooperative Extension program in name but not in substance. Young people enlisted in the growing ranks of Extension educators were faced with a host of challenges in the years following passage of this legislation. None of them was provided with a how-to manual. They were being challenged to invent a professional standard literally as they went along.

The times called on them to improvise. And sometimes, this improvisation took place under exceptionally grueling circumstances.

Their traveling days were often spent slogging down muddy roads on horses or in carriages — long days that often ended in overnight stays at the home of the last farmer they had visited.

Thomas Monroe CampbellTuskegee Institute’s Thomas Campbell, the nation’s first Cooperative Extension agent, recalls how he was often kept awake during many of these overnight visits by voracious bedbugs.

Amid all these daily challenges, Campbell and other pioneering Extension educators developed a set of professional standards that have been passed from one generation of educators to the next.

Earned Respect

To be sure, many of these young professionals were exceptionally well-educated for their era. They possessed 4-year college degrees — a rare thing in the early 20th century — but these credentials, impressive as they were at the time, were not enough to ensure the respect of those they served.

These educators learned through experience that this respect had to be earned through the forging of close working relationships with farmers and, as Extension programming expanded over time, with their spouses and children.
The day-to-day challenges of Extension work also drove home another valuable lesson to these early educators: that Extension programming must always be results-driven — closely tied with securing tangible, positive changes on behalf of clients.

In the years following passage of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, three attributes of Cooperative Extension work emerged — three key characteristic that comprise the foundation of our mission: a strong commitment to research-based knowledge as the basis of our educational outreach; a strong emphasis on building positive working relationships with those we serve; and an unwavering commitment to providing relevant programs, namely programs designed to meet the practical needs of our diverse audiences where they live and work.

The Basis for an All-Consuming Passion

These three values secured Extension educators a basis on which to provide people from diverse backgrounds with the working knowledge they needed to make lasting, meaningful changes in all aspects of their lives.
People ask why so many Cooperative Extension educators develop such an all-consuming passion for their work. These three characteristics account for much of this passion.

The demands of this increasingly interconnected, global information economy are calling on the current generation of Extension educators to reassess the way our products are deliver to clients. We are being challenged to deliver the bulk of products through digital means. But even as we reassess and expand our delivery methods, the three key attributes of Extension — research-based, relevant and relationship-driven programming — will remain just as integral and vital to our mission.

They account for our uniqueness and our enduring relevancy.



Now More Than Ever: Cooperative Extension


[Note: This was prepared as a resource for Extension professionals searching for ways to explain our continued relevance to our diverse audiences and stakeholders during our centennial celebration. This may prove especially useful as the basis for newspaper op-eds.]

The digital demands of the 21st century present Cooperative Extension with a host of challenges —small wonder why Extension educators in every state are revamping their outreach methods, making greater use of online technologies to ensure that they continue to serve our clients in the most relevant and effective ways possible.

Yes, our methods are changing, but we remain true to the core principle of Cooperative Extension: to provide our diverse audiences with working knowledge, showing them how to use knowledge to make lasting, meaningful improvements in their everyday lives and work.

Respect, Openness and Creativity and Innovation

This core principle encompasses other values that underscore life in this increasingly interconnected global society: mutual respect, openness, creativity and innovation. All of these values have formed the bedrock of Cooperative Extension work from the beginning of our history.

They were first affirmed in the farm demonstration efforts of pioneering Extension visionary Seaman Knapp, who encouraged feedback from and sharing among farmers participating in his crop demonstrations in Louisiana.

We’ve contributed our share of creativity and innovation, too. One notable example is the Extension-sponsored boll weevil eradication efforts in the South, which led to many other advances, including crop entomology, crop dusting and crop scouting, to name only a few.

Our outreach efforts spawned other advances — the U.S. Farm Bureau system, public health education, applied home economics, soil conservation and community economic development, to name only a few.

We Are Human Infrastructure!

We hear a lot about how infrastructure — roads, railways and airport terminals — has contributed to our material progress. We have even seen renewed emphasis in recent years on the need to build more of this infrastructure to keep pace with the mounting challenges of the global economy.

The types of human infrastructure that Cooperative Extension has routinely provided for decades through its dense network of grassroots educators will be more important than ever in the 21st century as farming gears up to feed a projected 9.5 billion people by mid-century. The challenges farmers face are daunting: They are being called to meet these new demands even as they expected to develop safer, greener production systems with more emphasis on organically and locally grown foods.

But the enduring value of Cooperative Extension is not limited to farming. Nutrition educators are working to address one of the most serious health epidemics of the 21st century — rising levels of obesity among Americans of all ages and the chronic diseases that typically accompany it. Their counterparts in food safety are striving to educate Americans about the risks of eating from an international table comprised of some foods that are neither produced nor processed in accordance with the hygienic practices commonly taken for granted in the United States.

Forestry educators are equipping landowners will the tools to deal with increasing threats posed by invasive plant species to forestland understories and, ultimately, to trees.

Collaborative Knowledge and Our Role in It

Extension work in the early 20th century also foreshadowed the sorts of open-sourced, shared knowledge that is being adopted all over the world today.

But we bring another critically needed asset to the table. Despite the seemingly inexhaustible sources of information now available online, we still provide our diverse audiences with knowledge in deep, enriched contexts. And we show our audiences how to use this knowledge to enhance their lives in lasting, meaningful ways — back to that core Extension principle: working knowledge.
We continue to succeed because we walk in the footsteps of the earliest generation of Extension pioneers who strove to be knowledge enablers — change agents who add value to knowledge by demonstrating how practical, meaningful and lasting use can be derived from it. They strove to be agents of working knowledge.

This is the proud and enduring legacy that we will carry through the 21st century.


Transforming Cooperative Extension into a Platform-Ready Knowledge Organization

condo-constructionSitting in on a media interview recently filled me with some new insights into the critical need to render Cooperative Extension not only platform friendly but also platform ready.  And by “ready,” I mean an organization that is not only congenial to platforms but also fully equipped to be early adopters and, in some cases, innovators of open-source platforms.

Indeed, this interview not only filled me with new insights but also with a resolve to drive home this critical truth: Cooperative Extension’s very survival depends on our transforming ourselves into a platform-ready organization.

What Are Platforms?

In human terms, platforms are the outgrowth of open, freewheeling communications environments.  One notable example: the coffeehouses that emerged in 17th century Britain.  These coffeehouses turned out to be fluid environments of information exchange that provided the basis for new ways of thinking and acting.  Over time, they gave rise to a host of open-source platforms, conceptual foundations on which far-reaching intellectual, scientific and technological innovations were built over the course of years, decades, even centuries. The effects of these platforms are still felt today, r

William Hogarth's painting of a spirited 18th century political dinner at a restaurant tavern.

William Hogarth’s painting of a spirited 17th century political dinner at a restaurant tavern.

oughly 500 years later.

Needless to say, the increasing levels of social networking that have followed the advent of Web 2.0 have significantly enhanced the conditions out of which these platforms emerge.

The Interview

The interview that prompted these new insights into platforms involved a reporter from a major Alabama news outlet and Dr. John Fulton, a highly respected Alabama Extension specialist and Auburn University and precision farming pioneer, who discussed the implications of data-management to farming — not only how it will affect farmers but also how it will transform the work of Cooperative Extension educators.

Precision Farming Tractor

Land-grant educators exploring a fully equipped precision-farming tractor

Fulton contends that 2012 will be remembered as the watershed year of farm data management — the year when companies began investing significantly into improving their product and service offerings by providing farmers with ways to aggregate and curate the reams of data generated by farm-related technologies, particularly those associated with precision technology.

To put it another way, the immense amounts of data generated by all these farming technologies have reached a critical mass. In fact, farmers don’t know quite how to assimilate all this data — little wonder why a growing number of entrepreneurs have not only begun noticing this trend  but are also formulating ways to aggregate and curate it on their behalf.  The impression I get is that it has the makings of an entrepreneurial free-for-all, sort of like the mad dash for land and wealth that followed the European settlement of the Americas, Australia and parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

The Makings of an Open-Source Platform

At some point during the interview the realization struck me: This critical mass of farming data constitutes a platform, the basis on which a growing number of entrepreneurs hope to conceive and develop profitable innovations and technologies.

A Lesson for Cooperative Extension

The exchange prompted few random thoughts about the implications of platforms to the future of Cooperative Extension.

First, the data-management issue in farming is a prime example of emergence, basically how a handful of unintentional interactions eventually contribute to great leaps in thinking, which, in the course of leading to new ways of looking at things, provide the basis for new ideas and concepts and, in a few cases, to full-blown innovation.  These new insights sometimes form the basis for highly generative platforms, much as coffeehouses did in the 17th century.

Second, this farm-data trend has been playing out for years.  Yet, even many of the best and brightest in Cooperative Extension, including Fulton, scarcely noticed it until now. Consequently, this development, entirely unforeseen, has presented Cooperative Extension with some real challenges.  If everyone and his brother are trying to build off this platform — to aggregate and curate this data for the benefit of farmers — where does this leave Extension?   What will happen to us as other players manage to capitalize on this platform and others that follow, becoming better equipped along the way to aggregate and curate this data on behalf of farmers?

Third, do our current 20th century linear programming models blind us to change?  Are they preventing us from seeing platforms that are emerging all around us? I think a strong case could be made that they do. These obsoleting programming models —obsoleting is probably a too generous word in this context — are hampering our ability to adapt to the demands of this highly generative information landscape emerging around us.

These points prompt a series of questions, some rather thought-provoking:

  • Could professional training enable us to recognize a platform when we see one?
  •   Is it possible to equip Extension educators with the skills to perceive platforms in the making?
  • Through heightened awareness, is it possible not only to recognize these emerging platforms but also to capitalize on them before they develop into full-fledged platforms?
  • For that matter, is it possible to recognize the environments in which these platforms are likely to emerge so that we can build platforms ahead of everyone else?

Some Parting Thoughts

I suspect that an ability recognize and emerging platforms when you see one is s skill, arguable a critical 21st century job skill, which can be cultivated as readily as other job skills. For the sake of our survival, I think it is incumbent on Extension educators to cultivate an ability to recognize emerging platforms.

This begs the question: If the ability to identify emergent platforms represents a critical new job skill, what kind of professional training would enable Extension professionals to readily acquire these skills? For that matter, how could Extension’s work environment be reconfigured to foster these skills?

One thing of which I’m reasonably certain: We need to formulate ways to incentivize platforms-based thinking — for starters, to reward people who develop the capacity to know an emergent platform when they see one. And remember: This is not something that we can opt to do but that we must do for the sake of our survival.

We must also focus on the specific ways that linear programming models hamper us not only from seeing but also from fully capitalizing on the emerging platforms around us. Likewise, we should identify the most optimal ways to instill our employees with an understanding the nuts and bolts of platforms, not only how these provide the basis for all manner of innovation but also how many of these innovations may ultimately form the basis for even newer, more generative platforms.

What are some of the things that can be undertaken immediately to render Extension not only more platform-ready but also more platform-friendly?

Aside from extensive retraining within our ranks, I think we also should explore ways to create more innovative physical space — in other words, transform Extension working environments to more closely resemble the open, free-wheeling environments that drive innovation.

All of us must also understand how potentially disruptive all of this will be and how it will affect our day-to-day work.  While some of us this sort of talk unsettling, we shouldn’t be surprised by it at all. Platforms not only provide the basis for far-reaching innovations but, in some cases, sweeping transformations, a few of which many threaten many, if not all, facets of our work.

Granted, it’s a bitter pill for many of us, but like it or not, that is the new reality of the 21st century.