I've been watching this thread for a few days now and finally have to
put in my 2 cents worth.
There have been some very good points brought out and some good
Jed Lindholm asked:
> How do you know extension's current level of contact with ag. stakholders is
> more, less, or about the same as it was 10 years ago?
> It seems, we have to re-orient ourselves to the current users of extension
> programs and services. Perhaps you do know who your customers are, and are in
> touch with their needs, but there are many communities and constiuents whos
> needs are not being met by extension services.
> who do we serve and what do they want?
That last statement is the real kicker that the Extension Services in
every single state need to be asking! As to how we keep track and
how do we know where we are heading I think that this often comes
down to how the Extension Service is organized in each and every
state. The more control that the University and Extension Service
Administration in a state has over the County Staff the greater can
be the danger of the Extension Service becoming a puppet to what a
few people think the mission should be. On the other hand IF those in
the decision making seat have great vision and can identify where we
need to be going that Extension Service can move very quickly to meet
a need as it occurs rather than after it occurs.
Here in Kansas we have a very grass roots controlled Extension
Service. In each county we have 4, 6 member Program Development
Committees elected in public election each year. The 4 committees are
for Ag, 4-H/Youth, Home Economics and Economic/Rural Development. The
county staff works with these PDC's to establish plans of work. These
plans of work go to area and state staff who are suppossed to use
them to focus their efforts on the needs of the people as identified
by the people. Once again there is room for problems. Area and state
staff may say grassroots be damned they don't know what they need and
go off and plan programs on their own. OR the local people really
like the programs they have, and don't really want to talk about what
really needs to be addressed so you wind up with the same people
coming to the same meetings and the ones who want something else or
aren't getting served keep looking until they find someone who meets
their needs. It becomes very important for the local staff to keep
the local people informed of state and national needs and programs,
as well as help the committees make sure they good a good mix of
replacements for elections. This can be scary though because it's
more secure to work with committee memebers that are going to want
programs that you are already doing, rather than ask you for (gasp) a
What it really comes down to is cooperation all the way along, asking
your customers what they need and want (sometimes 2 different things)
and also asking your non-customers what they aren't getting (not a
comfortable thing to do sometimes).
As to what should the Extension service be doing, that should be up
to "the people" to decide. Which will be fine as long as we get a
good mix of opinions and not just the vocal minority. I think we
need to remember why the Extesnion Service was started. There were a
great number of people in need of information and education. It just
so happened that a majority of the people were farmers in rural areas
so that's where the extension service worked and the programs were
ag, home ec, etc. There is still a need there but not near the client
base. There are also still a lot of "needs" that can benefit from
Extension's research backed information base and a lot of clientele
who need that "free" access to information. There are needs in
natural resource protection for farmers and homeowners alike. The
needs of family and youth are a constant challenge now just as they
were in 1914. Citizens of rural communities are desparately in need
of someone to help them access the information superhighway. There
are challenges out there and plenty of need for an Extension Service.
But just as the face of America has changed inthe past 81 years so
should be the Extension Service. Our county does not have the same
Extension Service it did when I started 14 years ago. It has changed
radically and needed to. And when we showed our responsiveness to
needs in the county the ongoing and increasing response of the people
to the County Commission (that provides 81% of the money to keep this
office going - State and Fed monies account for 19%) we have been
given the support and finances to continue those programs. We haven't
done anything earth shaking or that we'll win a Nobel Prize for...
we've just evaluted the needs of the people (all the people) and
tried to meet those needs!
To be successful there has to be grassroots input and grassroots
support. And I feel that it needs to continue to be a public
instituion so that information does not go merely to those who can
afford it or have figured out how to access it.
BTW a good analysis of the Extension Service (albeit over 10 years
old now) is "The Cooperative Extension Service - A National
Assessment" by Paul D. Warner and James A. Christenson.
Now I'll get off my soap box, finish my lunch, and go back to being a
County Extension Agent!
Chuck Otte Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org
Geary County Extension Office, PO BOX 28 913-238-4161
Junction City, KS 66441-0028 FAX 913-238-7166