Communication recommendations

John Lawrence’s message from April 22, 2019

About a year ago, I appointed and charged a task force with figuring out how to improve communication within ISU Extension and Outreach so we could do a better job of delivering on our mission. More than 1,000 hours of staff time later, at our 2019 Annual Conference, these hardworking colleagues delivered their report – all 215 pages of it – to me and to the leadership team. Did you know?

  • Deb Sellers and Ross Wilburn co-chaired the task force, which included staff members Alex Merk, Andrea Nelson, Ben Pullen, Ann Torbert and Terry Torneten; and Marshall County Extension Council member Mary Giese. (And they are very grateful for Patti Lewis, secretary in Human Sciences Extension and Outreach, who provided administrative support.) We appreciate all their work and thank all of them for their dedication to this effort.
  • As the task force members gathered information in various ways, they were encouraged by the positive response in both numbers of participants and thoughtfulness of the comments. The amount of data generated was wide-ranging and represented many perspectives.
  • With everything they discussed, contemplated and decided, their collective desire was to increase the effectiveness of ISU Extension and Outreach.

Over the past few weeks, the leadership team and I have been reviewing the full report, and we’re pleased to share this Internal Communications Task Force Report Executive Summary, which includes a summary of the findings and all of the task force’s recommendations. Overall, the data indicate that significant challenges exist within ISU Extension and Outreach. However, the data also show that our people believe our organization can address these challenges and improve our situation.

The leadership team accepted the full report, and during our retreat on May 31, we will focus on prioritizing the task force’s recommendations and decide how to move forward. However, we all have a role in improving communication within our organization. As the leadership team develops an implementation plan, we promise to gather your input and communicate with you regularly.

I will include updates in my weekly email messages at least once per month to keep you informed on progress. These “Internal Communications: Updates” also will be compiled on my “Did You Know” blog, so you can refer to them at any time, all in one place. In addition, we’ll add a link to this updates page within MyExtension and on the Structured for Success webpage so that everyone has more than one way to find the latest updates.

Together we’ll move ISU Extension and Outreach forward – to provide transparency, boost morale, increase the effectiveness of our organization and improve our service to all Iowans.

One more note: Sometimes ISU Extension and Outreach also faces external communication challenges, but that is a fact of life for a large, varied and complex organization. When a news story or a social media post or an offhand comment gives you pause, remember our vision, our mission and our goals. Iowa State University and ISU Extension and Outreach are committed to diversity and inclusion on campus in Ames and in every corner of the state. (And it’s the third goal in our 2017-2022 Extension and Outreach Strategic Plan.) We want our faculty, staff, students, and all of the people we serve through Extension and the 4-H Youth Development program to know they are welcomed, supported, and valued. We are dedicated to serving all Iowans.

We focus on feeding people, keeping them healthy, helping their communities prosper and thrive, and turning the world over to the next generation better than we found it. We will keep striving to make ISU Extension and Outreach more diverse and our programs more inclusive, and overall to make our organization, and the part of the world we influence, a place of justice for all.

— John D. Lawrence
Iowa State University Vice President for Extension and Outreach

Watch and share our videos

John Lawrence’s Monday Message from May 22, 2017

I am beginning to feel more comfortable as the Interim VP of our organization. I hope you are becoming more comfortable with me. For those of you who don’t know me, Advancement put together a brief video interview with me that gives you more background and perspective, and gives them more material for the blooper reel. I’m reminded of the reference about making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but I think it turned out all right.

 still from John Lawrence video

People have been asking questions about whether there are changes in direction for ISU Extension and Outreach and where are we headed. The simple answers are no and forward. As I listen and learn about our organization, people and work, I believe that we are doing well and I encourage you to continue moving forward. Iowa State has a new strategic plan and ISU Extension and Outreach along with the colleges are reviewing and revising their plans to be consistent with the university’s plan. Through that process we will assess direction and function and share any changes through our system. Similarly, as I learn things that deserve attention and we adjust to budget pressures, those changes also will be shared.

We still want a #StrongIowa. We achieve it by feeding people, keeping them healthy, helping their communities to prosper and thrive, and turning the world over to the next generation better than we found it. We serve as a 99-county campus, connecting the needs of Iowans with Iowa State University research and resources. We provide education and partnerships designed to solve today’s problems and prepare for the future.

By the way, in spite of what you thought about my video interview, you should watch and share our videos that showcase the work of our people throughout the state. Did you know?

  • Our Story videos share the stories of our programs and people working for a strong Iowa.
  • UKnow features a variety of ISU Extension and Outreach “how to” videos with research-based, do-it-yourself advice.
  • The ISU Extension and Outreach YouTube channel is your connection to videos about our organization, as well as from our program areas and university partners.

One more thing: Mark your calendars and save the date for Annual Conference 2018. It’s set for Monday, March 26, 2018 – at the Scheman Building on the Iowa State campus in Ames.

— John D. Lawrence
Iowa State University Interim Vice President for Extension and Outreach

A priceless heirloom

John Lawrence’s Monday Message from April 3, 2017

Feeding people, keeping them healthy, helping their communities to prosper and thrive, and turning the world over to the next generation better than we found it: Sounds like a plan for a strong Iowa. As I take on this new role as acting vice president for extension and outreach, I am thankful for the leadership and stewardship of Dr. Cathann Kress. She is leaving our organization in a strong position for what is ahead. And as I said at Annual Conference, I will try not to screw it up. I feel like I have been handed a priceless heirloom and told not to drop it.

Jay Harmon has been named interim director of Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension and interim associate dean for extension and outreach programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. During the interim, ANR will be taking a team approach to cover programs that I gave leadership to over the past seven years.

As recent rains prove, sometimes there are dark clouds on the horizon. However, our strong position and bright future will help us navigate the rough weather, as we turn into the wind to stay on course.

  • We face the uncertainty of a new Iowa State University president. We know Ben Allen and, more important, he knows Iowa State and ISU Extension and Outreach. I am confident that we can work with him in the interim. However, we will need strong representation on the search committee for our new president. I will be asking some of you to participate.
  • The press release announcing my appointment mentioned a national search for a permanent vice president for extension and outreach “in the coming months.” I don’t know the impact President Leath’s departure may have on the timing. You may have me around for a while. I made a firm commitment to be flexible on my interim appointment and to do what is best for ISU Extension and Outreach.
  • There’s uncertainty at the federal level. The Administration’s Budget Blue Print called for a 21 percent reduction in USDA, but didn’t mention the land-grant universities or SNAP-Ed specifically. Longer-term, discussions have started on the new Farm Bill that will set the policy direction for the next five years and beyond. The Farm Bill is not just for farmers, as it sets direction for nutrition, conservation, commodity risk management and other policy, and specifically addresses research and extension programs.
  • There is less uncertainty at the state level, and that is good news. The bad news is that budgets will be tighter and likely will remain so for the next two to three years, while the economy recovers and the rainy day fund is replenished.

Moving forward, it will be like drinking from a fire hose as I learn more about our organization, but here is my promise to you. I will listen and learn. I plan to meet with program directors to learn about their programs and people. I will consult with our partners, including councils, colleges, agencies and NGOs to understand how we work together today and in the future. I will engage with stakeholders, to better appreciate their needs and what they expect from us.

I have an open door policy, open inbox and open phone for you – the staff, faculty and county councils of ISU Extension and Outreach. Invite me out. I would like to meet with you and your stakeholders. Together with the leadership team, I will work to maintain your trust and will share information throughout the process.

We are going into this stretch of rough weather without a map, but we do have a compass to help us stay on course.  That compass is our mission and vision, our core values and our culture.  It is who we are.  We are one system. We are Iowa State University Extension and Outreach! I look forward to working with you as acting and then interim vice president. Together we will keep our organization on course toward a bright future.

— John D. Lawrence
Iowa State University Acting Vice President for Extension and Outreach

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