That Which Must Not Be Named

Happy New Year!

There has been a lot of chatter in social media about the coming extinction of Cooperative Extension. (What a great opener to follow my new year wishes, huh?)  It’s not the result of people contemplating what lies ahead in a new year. It’s not because in 2014 we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act. This kind of talk tends to come up now and again as people come to grips with change. How much longer will people seek out extension when they can be online 24/7? How will we meet the challenges of the future?  What will we need to do differently?  I’m glad to see this being discussed.

One of the people taking about it is Jim Langcuster (the “ExtensionGuy” on Twitter), a retired news and public affairs specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. He compares extension to a dinosaur and says that to avoid extinction, extension must become a “bona fide digital delivery system” with extension educators as technical professionals. (Read his blog post.)

We’d be fools not to pay attention to this challenge. However, I don’t think extension is facing a precipice where we must go completely digital or go home. True, people want easier access to information – and the research in library science points that out more and more. But they also want an “experience,” which is hard to have with only a digital presence. We need to enhance our digital access while focusing the experience of extension for our constituents. A great example of that was a recent Farm Bill meeting I attended in Blairstown. Ryan Drollette did a great job of combining a face-to-face experience, which allowed him to tailor the pace and content, with the online resources including our Ag Decision Maker.

We need to talk about these challenges and how we do our work. If for no other reason than it’s good to do what my kids and friends call “naming our Voldemorts.” In the Harry Potter movies, the bad guy gains power through fear, even the fear of saying his name. We all have Voldemorts, fears we are too nervous to even name, and these fears prevent us from really exploring how we more fully address and resolve them. However, we diminish their fear-inducing power when we can name them. Let’s name this Voldemort and accept the challenges that change brings by focusing on how we provide access to education and develop meaningful lifelong partnerships to create significant impact for Iowans. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

5 thoughts on “That Which Must Not Be Named

  1. I certainly understand and agree that using technology appropriately to reach audiences is more important today than ever. However, I also agree that it isn’t the magic bullet that will solve every challenge Extension faces. In fact, locally, I am amazed at how even when agency partners and individual citizens could get information electronically, when we have a relationship with them, they seek us out to talk things through. Even in an era of “the whole internet in your pocket,” there is still something to be said for the human touch of listening, empathy, validation and then providing information and potential solutions. Our methods of communicating have certainly changed, but humans still seek and need trusting, reciprocal relationships in order to collectively impact the challenges of our world. I hope others agree that this is a part of our history worth keeping!

  2. I think part of the problem is staying up on the newest technology and using it to make it work for our diverse clientele. As a millennial, I try to keep up with technology and it can be tough. One new way I stay up to date with technology is that I belong to the group ExtEdTechs through I also asked a “computer nerd” (my brother) what websites he follows and he gave me two that I try to look at as well to stay informed.

  3. As a former Iowan now an EMG in NC, I am fighting the good fight in my attempt to do more than just give lip service to serving our community, wherever and however they need it. The Extension-client direct contact will, and should, continue, as there is no question that works for many, if not most. However, when a younger, more tech-saavy population attempts to access horticultural information, they go online and search before picking up the phone or stopping by their county Extension office. The information they receive from such searches is all too often non-science based and we can help dispel many horticultural myths by tagging our online information (i.e., #extMG) posting on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr and the like. The national Extension Master Gardener page on Facebook is found here: I am on the national EMG Social Media team and we’re working to help! Let’s broaden our reach. Thx so much for posting and giving me an opportunity to share what we are doing. I hope it helps!

  4. To keep up digitally and to serve those who utilize your web sites, you need to keep them up to date. I was looking for names of Extension Council members and at least two of your county web sites still listed Council members whose terms ended in 2012 and 2014. If information on web sites does not appear to be current, I do not generally go back to that site again.

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