Spring 1993 // Volume 31 // Number 1 // To The Point // 1TP1

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Environment for Innovation and Professionalism

Extension is no longer providing us with a "career for life." Our programs in the future will need to focus in arenas where we have a competitive advantage. It's time for us to become proactive in dealing with our future.

Patricia J. Buchanan
President, Epsilon Sigma Phi
Assistant to Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs
University Extension, University of Missouri-Columbia

Change has always been an integral part of being an Extension professional. However, it seems that today changes are occurring faster and from so many different directions that we often find it difficult to determine which change to react to first. Of course, some of our co-workers will always find it great to talk about change as long as it doesn't affect them.

One of the greatest changes having an impact on Extension professionals in recent years has been that Extension is no longer providing us with a "career for life." We've all seen many of our co-workers being given the opportunity for an early retirement, a change in position title, a move to a new location, a return to school to obtain a different degree, or in some cases termination. We've had more turnover than ever in Extension history.

At the same time, as new clientele needs have emerged, many staff have had to review their programs and prioritize their time more effectively. For some, this has meant a "letting go" of old activities and traditional clientele. Not only has this created anxiety on the part of the staff, but some clientele feel Extension's no longer serving them.

Extension faculty of the future will continue to face many changes that will affect their personal and professional lives. They will be required to implement programs that will be more income producing, as our traditional funding sources decrease. Securing external sources of funding will be a skill required of all Extension professionals. With this funding will come an even greater need for accountability. Grant-funding organizations will require more reporting and data than we've previously known in Extension.

The decades ahead will make it necessary for us to find ways to coordinate and collaborate with many other organizations and agencies. Further exploration of partnerships with the private sector, government, and other educational institutions will be necessary to enhance our program delivery, as well as our program content.

Our programs in the future will need to focus in arenas where we have a competitive advantage. We're the only adult education organization that can provide clientele access to the research base of the total university. We must continue to maintain our integrity as an educational organization that responds to the needs of the clientele. However, we may need to find new ways to look at Extension and how we plan and deliver programs. Extension professionals must have easy access to and knowledge of the use of new emerging technologies to deliver programs more efficiently and effectively. Computer skills and access to a computer will be paramount.

We'll continue to see even more diversity in our organization and more temporary, short-term employees. This will require us to see diversity as an asset-not a detriment. We must do whatever we can to make the workforce of the future feel they are an integral part of Extension. Even though they may only be working with Extension programs for a short time, we can find effective ways of using their talent and expertise.

All of the changes that have occurred and are occurring have led staff to believe they have little control over their future; therefore, one of the greatest challenges facing us as Extension professionals is learning how to change that belief. We often see ourselves in an organization where our responsibilities are limited by our Extension title or position and we assume little responsibility for the results produced by the organization or by our co-workers.

It's time for us to become proactive in dealing with our future as an Extension System. Not only do we need to cope with the many changes confronting us, we also need to explore ways we have created problems for ourselves. All too often, we become too concerned about invading someone else's territory and making sure our identity isn't lost. We're often our own worst enemy.

We will need to be supportive of change and champions of the holistic view of Extension. Our understanding and appreciation for change will be essential and we must be ready to see why these changes just might be positive. We must continually ask ourselves how we can make change work for us. For some of us, it may mean a new career and for others maybe just a change of direction.

Our survival as a viable adult education organization will depend on developing a greater sense of community among all Extension professionals. Epsilon Sigma Phi (ESP) can play an important role in the development of this community by serving as a facilitator for the interaction needed in building this community.

Above all, we're going to have to take some time to create a shared vision among all of us, as well as among our clientele and decision makers. What's more essential to our future success and existence than all of us working toward a common goal? However, for this vision to be created, we'll need to develop a greater appreciation for common goals and values. With this shared vision and an acceptance of the reality of constant change will come an even broader base of support for Extension.

Our professional organizations can and must take a leadership role in providing the Extension staff member of today and tomorrow with quality professional development activities. They can contribute to the esprit de corps by being supportive during these many changes. At the same time, we need to champion excellence in our programs and professional development. Keeping current and qualified will be even greater in the coming months and years. We must be "out front" in creating an environment for innovation and professionalism.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter in her book When Giants Learn To Dance summarizes well what the future holds for Extension. She says, "The years ahead will be best of all, however, for those who learn to balance dreams and discipline. The future will belong to those who embrace the potential of wider opportunities but recognize the realities of constrained resources-and find new solutions that permit doing more with less. Individual excellence is not enough; responsibility for the performance of the whole team is required."

Editor's Note: Downsized programs...agent specialization...county clustering...issues programming...diversity. These are just a few of the many changes having an impact on county and state faculty-the people who make up the Cooperative Extension System. For this issue's To the Point section, we asked: How is this era of extraordinary change affecting faculty, and what do you see as their role in the future? The presidents of four Extension professional associations respond with their observations and insights.