Fall 1991 // Volume 29 // Number 3 // To The Point // 3TP2

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Change Is Real

The value of having statewide themes-and national priorities, for that matter-is that previously overlooked needs can be identified, resources can be marshaled, and programs that have run their course can be dropped.

Ann Thompson
Director and Vice-President
for Extension
Auburn University
Auburn, Alabama

While we don't agree with everything Nelson has to say, we do applaud his willingness to question and challenge the status quo in Extension. Only by confronting the organization's current situation-and objectively assessing its internal strengths and weaknesses vis-a-vis external opportunities and challenges-can a true strategic planning and organizational change process begin.

Creating a strategic plan-or establishing a list of national priorities-simply because everyone else is doing it, is a wasteful exercise. However, if those within the organization take a hard look and conclude that things must change if Extension is to be a driving force in modern society, then the groundwork is laid for remarkable reforms. Rather than just "doing what we've always done," we can begin the exciting process of leading Extension to be responsive to the changing needs of the populace- the original driving force behind the creation of the Cooperative Extension System.

In 1986, in anticipation of establishing a new four-year plan-of-work cycle, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Auburn, Alabama A&M, and Tuskegee Universities cooperating),2 examined itself and its relationship to the needs of the people of Alabama. This initiative led into a strategic planning process that ultimately involved a broad cross-cut of the organization and incorporated the viewpoints of people throughout Alabama. Steps in the process included scanning the environment to project an image of the future, developing a revitalized sense of mission for the organization, analyzing external opportunities and challenges as well as internal strengths and weaknesses, establishing a set of priorities for action, and creating a mechanism for implementing local programs-adapted to meet local needs-guided by these priorities.

Notice that the process involved "bottom-up" as well as "top -down" planning. Needs for specific programming "bubbled up" from the grassroots, and these needs, when synergized, formed program priorities. The five resulting program priorities (regaining agricultural and forestry profitability; developing, conserving, and managing natural resources; enhancing family and individual well-being; developing human resources; and revitalizing rural Alabama) became themes for local county programming and advisory groups.

As in any truly responsive organization, specialists and county agents in Alabama were given the freedom to adapt these priority themes into local programming. The value of having statewide themes-and national priorities, for that matter-is that previously overlooked needs can be identified, resources can be marshalled, and programs that have run their course can be dropped. To be sure, as Nelson predicts, our process found that most of Alabama's existing Extension programming was sound, but several candidates for restructuring, modification, or elimination were identified. More importantly, we discovered major needs for multidisciplinary efforts. For example, dealing with high infant mortality rates in rural Alabama, a major problem, requires social, nutritional, educational, community, and even medical attention. By expanding our focus and involving new university partners, such as the College of Education, School of Nursing, and School of Pharmacy in our Extension programming, we in Alabama are becoming more responsive to real needs identified by the people of Alabama.

We don't engage in strategic planning, initiative setting, and multidisciplinary work just because it's the faddish thing to do-they actually work in Alabama. However, Cooperative Extension Service professionals exist because they're willing to challenge the status quo to be more responsive to the real needs of the populace.

Change is real and I'm proud that Extension leadership at every level enhances the idea that tools and techniques to keep itself into continual self and organizational renewal be incorporated into guiding the changing of its educational programs with people.

Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said that the art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to perceive change amid order.

That is Extension's challenge today! Change is real. Let's learn to live with and use it.


1. Developed with input from William I. Sauser, associate vice- president for Extension and Jack Smith, Extension assistant to the director, Marketing Relations.

2. Priorities for People-A Strategic Plan for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Ex-14 (Auburn, Alabama: Auburn University, Cooperative Extension Service, July 1987).