Building a New Open-Source Extension Platform: The First Step

Construction workers on steel beams.

Extension's next big challenge: constructing a new open-source platform for the 21st century.

Based on a hefty amount of reading, discussion and reflection over the past few years, I’m more convinced than ever that Extension’s future will depend on how well it builds a new open-source platform  on behalf of its users — a platform dense enough and generative enough to stand the test of time.

How will this challenge summon Extension educators to act in the future?

For starters, I think there is no getting around one fact: the best Extension educators in the future will be topnotch aggregators and curators.  Yes, I know that there is a strong emphasis among some social network advocates on team blogging and other forms of collaborative social media outreach efforts.

I respect that view.  As a matter of fact, I agree with it.  Like all human beings, our educators bring different strengths to the table. Some are highly adept at planning and organizing meetings, while others are as prized for their ability to cultivate close working relationships with clients, partners and other stakeholders.

Both of these longstanding Extension attributes and many others will prove as valuable in the future as they have in the past.  They will be integral components of the new open-source environment we ultimately construct.

Even so, the critical skills of the future will be the ability to link vast amounts of information in new ways and to assemble them into forms that our clients can understand.

The best Extension educators will possess those skills.

Small wonder why: People need help surfing the tidal waves of words, symbols and music that wash out of their laptops, iPads and Blackberries.

It will only get worse.  Indeed, some technological pundits contend that within only a few more years the amount of Internet information will double every 72 hours — yes, I said hours, not months.

“The detached analysis of an algorithm will no longer be enough to find what we are looking for,” writes social media pundit and strategist Rohit Bhargava.

Consequently, there will be a critical need in the future for people who can help others make sense of all this information, he says.

To an increasing degree, journalists are grasping this hard truth.

As The Economist’s science and technology blog, Babbage, related recently, cobbling together a list of links is no small task.  For starters, it calls for the ability “to scan a vast range of material, determine what’s reliable, relevant and sufficiently objective” — aggregation.

Beyond that lies an even more valuable skill: the ability to arrange it in a way that works for the end user — curation.

Of course, aggregation and curation are two things Extension educators have been doing for a long time, albeit in a different context — by that I mean a pre-Web 2.0 context.

I would even go so far to argue that aggregation and curation are as deeply etched into our DNA as open-source ecology.  It’s always been our job to assimilate lots of complicated information and then put it into a form that is accessible to our clients.

The only difference now is that this critical task will become more immediate and routine.

Mind you, though, this is only the first step in a series of steps critical toward our transformation into a bona fide 21st century open-source platform.

More about that later.

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