Tag Archives: creativity

Now More Than Ever: Cooperative Extension

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[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.

 

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Japanese Lessons for Cooperative Extension

Japanese-designed Robot Assimo

A growing number of Japanese entrepreneurs, whether consciously or unconsciously, grasp the fact that building platforms and ecosystems lies at the heart of efforts to return Japan to the front ranks of technological innovation.

How does an article about a Japanese company’s decision to adopt English as its official business language possibly relate the future of Cooperative Extension?

Short answer: In every conceivable way.

The scramble by this company and many other companies around the globe to embrace English underscores why we must understand the absolutely indispensable role platforms and ecosystems will play in our future.

An article published in the Harvard Business Review titled “Global Business Speaks English,” related why the Japanese Company, Rakuten, which aspires to the world’s number one Internet company, has enthroned English as its official business language.

The part in the article that fascinates me most isn’t so much that English has ascended to the front ranks of world languages — needless to say, a remarkable story in its own right — but that the language is increasingly viewed by companies throughout the world, whether consciously or unconsciously, as a platform.

Company CEO Hiroshi Mikitani, who spearheaded the effort within Rakuten, understands that adoption will enable his company to lower transaction costs.  But he also appears to understand the value of English adoption in another important way: as the basis for creating a more highly diverse workforce, one better equipped to share multiple ideas and perspectives — a platform, in other words.

Over the long run, English will better enable his company to capitalize on the massive sharing and social collaboration that has been generated by the Internet and, more recently, Web 2.0 — generative capacity, as I’ve come to call it.

By capitalizing on this generative capacity, Rakuten better ensures that ideas shared among an increasingly diverse workforce will meet, mate and morph, increasing the likelihood for higher levels of creativity and innovation.

Therein lies one of the big lessons for Cooperative Extension.  We must understand that platforms are critical to our organizational future.  Extension professionals at all levels of our work must cultivate a clear understanding of platforms, how they work and the role they serve in optimizing the rate at sharing occurs with the ultimate goal of enhancing the likelihood of higher levels of creativity and innovation.

However, we can’t stop with platforms.  Platforms merely serve as the basis for the construction of dense ecosystems which, in human terms, provide contexts within which the exchange and recycling of ideas can occur more efficiently and at vastly accelerated rates.

As another recent article relates, a growing number of Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs are beginning to realize the important role ecosystems will serve in helping their economically beleaguered nation regain its innovative edge.

Cultivating these ecosystems is as much about cultivating a mindset as anything else.  Japan must break out of its self-imposed isolation to cultivate a newer, more open mindset that embraces creativity and innovation — the same sort of mindset that propelled post-war Japan to the front ranks of economic leadership in the last century.  This will call for a deeper awareness that even the most seemingly insignificant of innovations and insights within organizational ranks offer potentially far-reaching implications.

Within Extension ranks, this will call for a strong institutional commitment to openness and, equally important, an awareness at all levels that ecosystems thrive only within institutional contexts in which out-of-the box thinking not only is valued but actively encouraged and rewarded.

Youngme Moon’s Anti-Creativity Checklist

Okay, I admit it: I’ve become an unrepentant member of the Youngme Moon fan club.

Watching this checklist, I was inevitably reminded of the struggles of a couple of close friends who are dealing with a similar collective mindset.

They are faculty members within a highly technical and applied field at a major U.S. land-grant university.  The outreach work they are undertaking on behalf of their department offers incalculable benefits to one of the fastest-growing segments of their state’s economy.  Their efforts already have garnered substantial private sector support and will undoubtedly set a benchmark for similar projects in other highly technical, applied disciplines throughout their university.  They’ve also developed a unique way to crowdsource their efforts.

The concept they’ve developed has the potential to place  their department and their institution on the political and economic radar in a way that comparatively few faculty members could conceive in the course of their careers.

Inexplicably, though, they have been stymied by other faculty members who have raised many of the same obstructive questions outlined by Moon. They steadfastly maintain that the department’s first priority should be keeping pace with their counterparts at other technological universities by enhancing the rigor of undergraduate and graduate admissions and teaching standards.

Therein lies the tragedy: As Moon would describe it, they’ve chosen to stick with the prevailing metrics rather than adopt behavior that has the real potential of distinguishing them in a uniquely different way.

There is a lesson here to Cooperative Extension professionals.  For a variety of reasons, our approach in the future must be creative – not only creative but also disruptive.