Summer 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 2 // To The Point // 2TP3

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Sink or Sail-Our Future with Initiatives


Mary Ellen Waltemire
Extension Agent, 4-H and
County Extenion Director
Washington County
University of Maryland

Here we go again-redefining and realigning from nine initiative areas to six to "sharpen focus." When the initiatives first emerged, several of my colleagues met them head on saying that this was just a new way of reporting what we'd been doing for years. Nothing would change. I observed that the initiatives brought frustration in some, doubt in a few, and pure confusion in others. Still others expressed concern about how limiting this initiative-based programming direction could be and questioned how they'd fit into the picture then and in the future.

From the county's perspective, the initiative approach was long overdue and was certainly a progressive and necessary move on the part of our national leadership. For once, we as Extension faculty can focus our attention on a few program areas, rather than continually trying to do and be everything to everybody. By focusing our efforts, we can add greater depth and scope to a few critical areas and realize more significant knowledge, attitude, and practice change in our clientele. While the initiatives clearly give us direction as a total organization, the approach allows flexibility as we tailor our programs to the expressed needs of our county clientele.

The reactions of elected officials to this more directed focus, as indicated by the budget process, has been favorable. Let's face it, if you were making decisions about budget allocations, wouldn't it be easier to appropriate additional funding for very specific, targeted programs rather than for something as all-encompassing as developing human capital? From a public relations standpoint, sharpening our focus has and will continue to enable more people to fully understand our goals and objectives.

From the university perspective, using an initiative approach expands our opportunities as we draw on the educational and research potential of various departments. Beyond our university systems, nearly unlimited potential exists for collaborative programs with the private and public sectors within counties, regions, and states.

The concept of core programs is innovative and will enable those less daring to continue to play a vital role in this organization by sustaining and introducing programs that are common to most Extension units and provide vital information for our clientele. The transition from a National Initiative to a core program will be an interesting transformation and will no doubt be handled differently by each state.

Clear communication will be vitally important as we move through these changes: developing new initiatives, transforming core programs, and finally, abolishing programs to make way for some new, critical focus. Along with the willingness of county faculty to change and re-direct energies, states will need to make a commitment to their staffs to support them through up-to-date training and broad-based planning and operational support.

If we in Extension are to remain "change agents," then we need to accept Borich's challenge to examine where we fit into the system. Are we bold enough to contribute to the effectiveness of our organization? If so, then we need to accept change, welcome the challenges that face us, and pursue the future vigorously.