Winter 1988 // Volume 26 // Number 4 // Research in Brief // 4RIB1

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Even the Best Rubber Band Will Only Stretch So Far!


Doris S. Smith
Office of Program Information & Analysis
Division of Agriculture & Natural Resources
University of California-Berkeley

How far can you stretch a rubber band before it breaks? We have a Texas nut cracker in our home that's "powered" by several rubber bands. The combined energy of several rubber bands cracks very "tough" nuts. However, a single rubber band, no matter how superior the rubber nor how well attached to the cracker mechanism, will break under the tension or just gently tap the shell, in either case leaving the nut meat captive.

Neither the highly specialized disciplinarian nor the general Extension educator working alone can solve clientele, family, and community problems. Rauschkolb briefly mentions Cooperative Extension's need for linkages with other organizations and the need for technical support staff for Extension professionals. Borich refers to Agricultural Experiment Station and departmental faculty roles in team efforts. But neither gives enough attention to the nature of effective human resource application to "real-world" problems. Particularly in Rauschkolb's article, one gets a vision of a lone (very skilled) knight riding off on a gallant steed to fight the dragons.

Most of us agree that each Extension professional must maintain cutting-edge expertise in a discipline. In addition, we must model flexibility and willingness to change within ourselves and our own academic structures; internal rigidity must not constrain external effectiveness. Also, we must develop university processes for forming both ad hoc, short-term teams and long-term efforts, and we must give these teams adequate fiscal and human support resources for tackling prioritized significant issues.

Few Extension professional staff, however, can pursue simultaneously, over an entire career, narrowing disciplinary expertise while at the same time maintaining in-depth holistic understandings of broad complex issues such as toxic substances in groundwater or cross-cultural parenting in dual-career families. Exceedingly rare are those academicians who can progressively know "more and more about less and less" and "more and more about more and more."

In addition, Rauschkolb and Borich also suggest that such a superstar must be able to effectively communicate in both specialized, highly focused disciplinary forums and in the general, practical, action-oriented world of farming operations, rural development, or family support. Contributing one's expertise and enthusiasm to the whole of a team effort is the answer.

Faculty, Extension specialists, county advisers, administrators, paraprofessionals, and volunteers must also understand that we do not solve problems for people. We develop and communicate knowledge and integrated systems approaches that allow people to make informed choices in the solution of their own problems!

Let's keep focused on our research and Extension mission as we engage in issues programming. Let's accept responsibility with accountability for the development, extension, and educational communication of research-based knowledge as it applies to specific issues, practices, and technologies. But let's be clear on the roles of clientele individually and collectively, governmental entities, other organizations, volunteers, citizens at large, and external realities in needs identification, issues programming, and outcome-impact evaluation.

Extension's mobilization of forces for engaging and solving critical issues depends on administrators, program leaders, and individual staff maintaining the delicate balance between encouraging individual excellence and developing, supporting, and rewarding team efforts. It's imperative that the university and Cooperative Extension openly encourage and empower the timely, cooperative application of diverse knowledge, skills, and energies to important economic, environmental, and social situations.