Spring 1993 // Volume 31 // Number 1 // To The Point // 1TP4

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Victims or Architects of Change?

We need to see change as a positive force. ...we must change the image of our program from a product to a process orientation. ...it's imperative that we work differently and that we do different work.

Chuck Leifeld
President, National Association of Extension 4-H Agents
Extension Educator/CED
Washington County, Minnesota

Downsizing, specialization, clustering, re-invention-every day a new word or phrase seems to be added to the Extension vocabulary. And every day change seems to become more of a constant. I recently heard someone say that when you live in the midst of inevitable change, the choice is to be its victim or its architect. Our greatest challenge, as 4-H agents, is to become that architect. We need to see change as a positive force in our organization and seek the opportunities that change will provide.

At our annual Extension conference, Bernard Jones, chair of ECOP, said that Extension must move from its service orientation to an educational focus. For 4-H, I believe that means we must change the image of our program from a product to a process orientation. This change must occur internally as well as externally. 4-H is too often viewed as a product-a club, an event, an exhibit, a project-rather than a process helping youth practice life skills that will help them build relationships and develop their communities. The perception that 4-H agents manage some product is a real barrier as we try to build coalitions to address the issues of youth at risk. This same perception creates problems with "traditional audiences" who view the change in program emphasis as abandonment of our heritage and their right. We need to "re-invent" the concept that our Extension mission isn't one dimensional, but rather to identify and address societal issues.

Downsizing presents both the challenge and the opportunity to begin this change process. With reduced resources, it's imperative that we work differently and that we do different work. Greater use of volunteers and youth in leadership roles in the traditional program and in new arenas will allow us to reach out to a larger and more diverse audience. The opportunity to build community coalitions is tremendous-downsizing isn't unique to Extension. The involvement of other players to develop and implement programs assures that all levels of the issue will be addressed. And, has there ever been a better time to "sunset" programs-to involve clientele and critically evaluate what we do and what needs to be done?

Agent specialization and clustering support these changes by providing frameworks in which the 4-H agent can become a specialist and have an arena in which to practice that specialization. Changes must promote the educational focus of 4-H and alter the image of the 4-H agent from a program manager to an Extension educator-an individual with a specific knowledge base and the critical skills to address and have an impact on the issues of today's youth.

We stand at a critical time; the need for our expertise, our resources, is great. We're part of a national network, an educational organization with a demonstrated ability to respond. Our challenge is clear, our opportunity is now. We can't allow ourselves to become the victim of change, we must be the architect.