Spring 1991 // Volume 29 // Number 1 // To The Point // 1TP3

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Results, Not Good Intentions, Count!

Extension's long-standing efforts in rural development haven't been comprehensive. Now we must act boldly and consistently on what we know-less preaching and more pushing.

Lorilee R. Sandmann
West Central Regional
Education Exchange
Michigan State University-Grand Rapids

Rural development and Extension programming have been linked since the enactment of the Smith-Lever Act-so what's new? Schutjer hit three critical areas that not only need recognition, but demand immediate action to make the linkage between rural development and Extension programs contemporary, anticipatory, and effective. It was refreshing that Schutjer admits what's needed isn't necessarily only more funding. No, the problem isn't just funding. More critical right now is for Extension to address fully the conceptual, institutional, and niche concerns raised by Schutjer. Do we really have the resolve to move on the issues Schutjer raises? Are we really willing to change the ways we're doing things now to reshape rural areas?

Foremost, a need exists for a clear conceptual base. Rural development, like community development, needs to be thought of as an integrated, holistic approach, not just a catch-all term. If an overall theory of rural development doesn't exist, as Schutjer claims, then it follows that it's hard to have a comprehensive rural development Extension program. Holistic approaches are needed. Extension's longstanding efforts in rural development haven't been comprehensive. Although Extension is a familiar name, it may not have as much credibility as we think. Indeed, Extension may actually be less effective in rural development than someone else with a superior, more integrated approach. Results, not good intentions, count!

Diverse Development in Rural Areas

To frame a new conceptual base, perhaps we should replace the term rural development with "development in rural areas" and even add the word "diverse" in front of development. Definition of development and rural development programs must be four-fold:

  1. Economic capacity-to provide a decent living for existing and future residents (which, as Schutjer points out, is more than minimum wage jobs).

  2. People growing capacity-to have a life worth living in a place where a living can be made. This includes educational, environmental, cultural, and recreational opportunities.

  3. Self-determination capacity-the degree to which citizens, organizations, and procedures are involved in decision making that affects their future.

  4. Continuation capacity-the cumulative effects of people's actions on the social, natural resource, and economic environments and what it means for the future.

As Schutjer points out, rural development is more than agricultural development. Agriculture is no longer the dominant shaper of rural communities. Agriculture in rural areas should be considered a wealth- and job-producing entity, much like other businesses. Its needs should be consistent with those of other businesses in rural areas, as part of comprehensive economic development planning.

Yes, Extension can play an important role in coordinating rural development efforts. But, if this is to happen, we must demonstrate that we can access all parts of the land-grant university. More of the same won't do.

A "New World" Context

Finally, a point that Schutjer overlooks. Both the people of rural areas and the faculty of Extension need to find ways to examine their attitudes and outlook on life to see if they're consistent with rapid change in the modern world. It's within the context of this "new world" that development efforts in rural areas will take place.

If Extension is to contribute to diverse development in rural areas, we need a comprehensive, conceptual framework with a broadened institutional response and an articulated, genuine comparative advantage. But don't we already know this? Now we must act boldly and consistently on what we know-less preaching and more pushing.

Editor's note: For more on rural development, see the special Forum section on "Facing Reality in Rural America," pages 32-34.