Packages, Pizza, and People

Recently, my oldest son was reading an article to me about how Amazon plans to start offering deliveries via drone-like “octocopters.” While there are numerous issues for them to still work out – like negotiating bad weather, sufficient battery life, and the fact that most human beings may not be able to resist knocking stuff out of the sky – it could be reality at some time in the not too distant future. Domino’s Pizza also is contemplating such a delivery system. I find this quite interesting, mostly because there’s just nothing like having a delivery system that brings you something you want quickly and efficiently.

This reminded me of comments from colleagues who responded to my informal organizational survey last summer. Some of them focused on Extension and Outreach as a distribution system with procedures to facilitate and monitor the flow of information from the university to the public. Carrying out the metaphor, the system has distribution centers linked to local franchises, but needs a host of delivery people to move the produce. One colleague talked about the importance of delivery people in this system:

In most cases you know them well and they are trusted faces. They go everywhere, are admitted in places where others aren’t invited, and are present in the daily lives of the whole of society. All of this is, of course, secondary to their primary role of deliverers of service. Who doesn’t anxiously wait for the arrival of that package ordered online or isn’t pleasantly surprised by a card in the mail? The pizza guy is a welcome and anticipated visitor at my house, because he brings us something valuable, something that we desire. … Our organization should aspire to be an efficient and effective delivery system represented by the best, friendliest, and most trusted delivery people around. … We should always be timely, courteous, and deliver only the highest quality product.

It begs the question: What do our constituents want delivered? To that end, we just completed our statewide needs assessment, and the major “Aha” for me was recognizing where the identified needs might fit in our overall program development process. While we must be responsive to our citizens, we also can’t walk away from mainstay programs in our portfolio. That’s why we are creating a model to help us all consider the layers of programs which make up our overall efforts. At Annual Conference, we will begin to identify work that falls into each layer and the revenue sources that will fund our work.

Extension and Outreach should aim to be that trusted delivery person, providing welcome access to university research and education. After all, there is a reason we call so much of the work we do “program delivery.” See you there.

— Cathann

Beyond Better Sameness: 2012 Program Catalog

Steve Jobs argued against asking customers what they want, because much of the time, he maintained customers will tell you they want “better sameness.” They want the same thing they have, just better, faster, cheaper. For example, before automobiles were invented, people wanted stronger and faster horses. Essentially, we can only describe what we want in terms of what we already know. The trouble is, it only allows incremental change. How can we innovate or move towards new ideas when we don’t know what the possibilities could be?

Frank W. Capek with Customer Innovations Inc. suggests, instead, to (1) focus on behaviors that drive results; (2) create meaningful, memorable, and differentiated experiences; and (3) deliver in ways that build a strong bond with customers. He says you must move beyond better sameness if you want to provide customers with highly influential experiences.

One way we can move beyond better sameness in ISU Extension and Outreach is in how we communicate and develop our programs. Capek recommends moving from “campaigns,” which sell ideas we wish to promote, to conversations about the future, and to focus on ways to empower partners and create processes that are easy and, perhaps, even fun.

So, that’s what we’re trying to do with this week’s release of the ISU Extension and Outreach 2012 Program Catalog. I wouldn’t say we made it all the way to fun yet. But we hope creating a single, online collection of program options will enhance our program development process by promoting conversations, empowering partners, and allowing us to think more broadly than just a little cheaper or faster version of what we did last year. What’s beyond better sameness? Possibilities. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. The catalog is an internal planning document for ISU Extension and Outreach staff, county staff, and extension councils and is housed on the ISU Extension and Outreach “For Staff” website, at For assistance with logging in, please contact a regional director, program director, or other staff member.

More Than Kicking the Tires

Remember the last time you bought a car? Chances are, before you made that purchase, you did your homework. Maybe you visited car lots, checked ads online or in the newspaper, or studied Consumer Reports. You probably considered new vs. used, miles per gallon, and price, among other things. No doubt you shopped around to find the car that would best meet your needs.

Why would you be any less thorough if you were looking for an educational program? Your education is an investment with a much longer lifespan than any automobile.

If we expect Iowans to participate in educational programs from ISU Extension and Outreach, then we need to make sure they know what they’re going to get. If we expect decision-makers to fund our work, then we need to make sure they recognize the value we provide. If we expect agencies and organizations to partner with us, then we need to make sure they understand our role in the partnership.

That’s why our new program development process includes a “program catalog” — so everyone knows what programs we offer and when they’re available. Our program leadership team is organizing the programs by their impact for economic development, global food security, health and wellbeing, and pre-collegiate outreach.

Counties/regions may sign up in September for programs that will be delivered from November to April and in March for programs that will be delivered from May to October. Program specialists will train county staff as needed to implement the program activities and program offerings. In addition, some programming will occur on an ongoing, as needed basis. Evaluations will be carried out and reported. Those results will be consolidated and used for future decisions and will be included in assessments to start the cycle over again.

Our program development process includes assessing needs, developing programs, scheduling and delivering programs, and evaluating our work. The concept is not new, but it is more focused, better organized and designed to improve efficiencies. Following this process will help us systematically identify priorities, focus our efforts and resources according to identified needs, and be more effective as an organization.

When Iowans seek access to education, they don’t just kick the tires. They want to know that ISU Extension and Outreach programs will meet their needs and improve quality of life in Iowa. See you there.

— Cathann

High Quality Programs

For years, those of us working in Extension and Outreach have hung our hats on being able to tout our programs as “high quality.” We’ve typically defined that as research-based, unbiased, and relevant. Essentially, our programs do what they are supposed to do: provide research-based education and extend the resources of Iowa State University to our state.

What we haven’t kept up with is the proliferation of quality. Think about the last time your car broke down. It happens so seldom to most of us that we find it surprising, which is a lot different than my first car, a Chevy Vega that habitually left me stranded on the side of the road.

Why does this matter? Because the proliferation of quality across educational organizations, across private or nonprofit companies, across even the Internet means that our claim to quality is not so unique anymore. If I can get quality knowledge from here or there, how do I choose? Most of us would go with convenience, and let’s not forget — cheapest.

What this means is that we no longer get to sail along on quality, but have to dig deeper to understand what other criteria our constituents want and will seek out. We have to talk about convenience, cost, responsiveness, connectedness, and new — all while maintaining quality.

Our streamlining of Extension and Outreach Administration includes a functional unit for Program Leadership. This unit will guide our efforts in educational program development. A team, with John Lawrence as temporary lead, is developing plans to carry out what we began during our leadership summit. We’re going to be digging deeper.

This functional unit will

  • Clarify and lead a system-wide program development process, including a system to identify emerging and current needs. 
  • Focus citizens’ advisory efforts at the programmatic level.
  • Create guidelines and criteria for successful program partnerships.
  • Strengthen connections to campus units and departments to enhance the outreach function of ISU colleges.
  • Increase cross-program interaction and coordination.
  • Improve connections between researchers and ISU Extension and Outreach faculty and staff.
  • Create and implement a professional development plan for ISU and county personnel on content and research associated with ISU Extension and Outreach educational programs. 
  • Identify and monitor the impacts and quality of programs.

We have to spend some time reconsidering the components of our high quality programs and recognizing that the components might be different, depending on the program or the audience. In other words, we have to redefine quality. See you there.

— Cathann

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