Spring 1989 // Volume 27 // Number 1 // Ideas at Work // 1IAW1

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Building Community Teams


Elisabeth Schafer
Associate Professor and Nutrition Specialist
Iowa State University
Ames, Iowa

Susan L. Anthony
Chief, Bureau of Nutrition
Iowa Department of Public Health
Des Moines, Iowa

Suzanne Secor Parker
Bureau of Food and Nutrition
Iowa Department of Education
Des Moines, Iowa

Laura Sands
Center for Agricultural and Rural Development
Iowa State University
Ames, Iowa

Cooperation is part of the Extension creed, but does it really work? Our experience convinced us that building community teams can: (1) increase the quality of client services, (2) strengthen each program, and (3) support professional development through networking.

What Did We Do?

Many community programs, both governmental and private, provide food and nutrition services to low-income families. Because we have similar objectives and clientele, the state director of nutrition education for the Special Supplemental Foods for Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC), a consultant from the Child Care Food Program (CCFP), and a nutrition specialist from the Extension Service began to meet quarterly.

The three of us represented separate agencies of USDA. Our purpose was to keep one another informed of changes in regulations or services and development of educational resources. We soon discovered we were able to save time and money by using educational resources developed by one another. It wasn't necessary for WIC, for example, to develop a printed brochure on emergency food pantries, since the Extension Service already had a good one. We discussed nutrition issues for the low-income audience and enjoyed a critical exchange of ideas.

After resolving local disagreements among agencies and giving presentations to one another's state meetings, we developed a long-range plan of action in four phases: (1) collect baseline data on local cooperation, (2) conduct a statewide interagency inservice meeting on team-building, (3) collect follow-up data on changes in cooperative behavior, and (4) assess the impact of cooperative efforts on clientele.

In a classic research-Extension linkage, we interested a graduate student in studying cooperation among community food and nutrition agencies. Using a mailed questionnaire, she collected data on availability of food and nutrition services, level and type of local cooperation, and reasons for cooperation/noncooperation.

Using her profile, we planned and held a statewide interagency inservice meeting where agencies met separately, then in plenary session to learn the value of their uniqueness to a cooperative team. Geographically assigned small interagency groups planned cooperative ventures for local implementation. Professionals in the participating agencies were enthusiastic about getting to know one another and exchanged telephone numbers.

What Was the Result?

In several counties, community food and nutrition teams have formed and now meet regularly. In three counties, multiple newsletters have been consolidated into single, unified, joint-agency monthly newsletters. One county sponsored a joint Child Care Health Fair. Extensive referral systems were established. The new community teams planned and conducted joint training sessions for day care providers.

Agencies report better use of resources and less duplication of services available through other programs. Agents report that coordination of effort results in less client confusion, mutual political support in times of budget cuts, and shared expertise. Professionals from small communities no longer feel isolated from others with similar responsibilities.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Phases 1, 2, and 3 of our long-range plan for cooperation have been completed. We're now ready for the final phase: to assess the benefits to program clientele of interagency cooperation. In summary, Extension, cooperating with other community programs, can improve service to clientele, increase each program's visibility in the community, and establish supportive professional networks. True cooperation can produce better programs with fewer tax dollars.