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I had the opportunity to record 3 podcasts at last week's National eXtension Conference. You may have already heard the first, featuring John Stepper and Kevin Gamble. The last of the 3, with guests Paul Hill and Jamie Seger, will post Thursday, April 7. In between is this week's interview with Christine Geith, CEO of eXtension.

We first heard from Chris last summer, shortly after she joined eXtension. In our most recent conversation, about 10 months later, the direction she has set for eXtension is more clear. We are starting to see tangible evidence of eXtension's new focus on issues, innovation and impact. I was in the room for one day of the I3 Issues Teams "Design-a-thon," and was impressed by the overall energy in the room and with the thoughtfulness of the team members I spoke with.

Of course, energy does not always translate to meaningful work. eXtension definitely has some rough waters to negotiate. The line item in the USDA budget that has provided $1.5 million in eXtension funding has been dropped. It's also unclear to me if Extension state directors or Cooperative Extension professionals across the nation can keep up with the aggressive pace of change Chris has set.

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John Stepper, author of "Working Out Loud," received a really positive reaction to his presentation and workshop at the 2016 National eXtension Conference in San Antonio. I was lucky enough to sit down with John Stepper and Kevin Gamble, who is bringing working out loud to Cooperative Extension, for a conversation on working out loud, Extension, generosity, relationships and more.

I've been participating on one of the working out loud circles Kevin is facilitating, and it really has been a rewarding experience. The practice of intentionally seeking out connections, making small contributions out of generosity and working to strengthen connections has changed the way I work. It has encouraged me to record more Working Differently in Extension podcasts and to post more often to this blog. Finally, working out loud has lead to new connections, conversations and collaborations. I hope you'll find the conversation below helpful, and that you'll seek out your own path to engaging with working out loud.

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The latest Working Differently in Extension podcast is full of ideas that are interconnected. Social learning is at the core of my conversation with Justin Smith, Bryce DuBois and Jason Corwin, but that concept leads to thoughts about assessment, facilitation, communities and, for me, Cooperative Extension's role in helping human networks address complex problems.

I'm afraid my attempts to sort out all of these connected thoughts might have impaired by interviewing skills. I'm not sure this podcast will help you better understand how Justin, Bryce and Jason used mind-mapping to assess social learning, but it might introduce you to some new ways of thinking about Extension work and, hopefully, create some valuable connections in your mind.

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On the latest Working Differently in Extension podcast, I talked with Aaron Yoder, Assistant Professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, about wearable technology. Aaron has been involved in projects that use wearables to monitor health and safety. He's the leader of the eXtension Wearable Technology Learning Network.

I recorded this podcast using Zencastr, which records me and each of my guests separately on our respective computers, then uploads each audio file to my Dropbox. Zencastr will even mix the files together in post-production, so I don't have to edit them together.

I'm hoping this will produce a much better sound than on previous podcasts, where the audio was taken from the YouTube archive of a Hangout On-air. What do you think? Does this podcast sound better? Let me know in the comments. Thanks!

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Working Differently in ExtensionI had a great conversation today with Alice Henneman, UNL Extension, and Joanne Kinsey, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, about their blog post, "How Extension Can Think Like an Entrepreneur."

We talked about the traits of an entrepreneur (according to Gallup) and what it might mean to Cooperative Extension if we were more entrepreneurial.

I think there is definitely potential for us to work differently by thinking like entrepreneurs; innovating to reach new and more diverse audiences, finding new ways to make meaningful impacts and growing the capacity of our communities to address grand challenges.

I do worry that administrators and legislators might think "entrepreneurial" only means Extension professionals chasing after alternative funding.

Enjoy the show.

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Network Sculpture
by kconnors, used under Morguefile free license

This is the third in a series of posts on Extension in the year 2050. The posts discuss themes that emerged in a conversation about the future of Extension. So far, I've written about contextualized information and the trend toward open.

I hesitate to bring up networks when talking about Cooperative Extension's future. I don't want to give the impression that working within networks is something we should be preparing for. It is something we should already be doing.

Cooperative Extension is being called upon now, not in the distant future, to help address large-scale, complex issues. The “grand challenges of the future, including agricultural and food security, urban programming, health and wellness, resource resilience, and community vitality.”  The best way to do that is to start working within networks.

The grand challenges we are being asked to help address involve wicked problems, which arise from extreme uncertainty, risk and social complexity. These wicked problems defy straightforward solutions and are constantly changing, making a linear approach (think logic model) ineffective.

Nate Meyer, program leader and associate Extension professor from University of Minnesota Extension, prepared the video below as an introduction to a session on the power of networks in Extension that we collaborated on (with Anne Adrian and Karen Jeannette) for the 2015 NDSU Extension Service conference. As Nate points out, routine problem solving falls short when dealing with grand challenges, because once the challenge seems to have been met, the situation changes.

As Nate says in the video, these wicked problems demand an iterative approach, focused on finding new ways to address these persistent problems. Networks of people and organizations are very well suited to this approach.

"A generative network is a social-relationship platform - a "human operating system" -  for spawning activities. It's a unique and renewable capacity, and this makes it especially useful when taking on complex, unpredictable, large-scale problems..." - Connecting to Change the World, Plastrik, Taylor, and Cleveland.

In networks, people and organizations share a broad goal, but have no defined destination in mind. Knowledge and action in a network are created out of a diversity of opinions, not a predetermined outcome. Networks bring together people and organizations with a unique set of strengths and talents.

While much of a network's potential impact comes from aligning and coordinating around the shared goal, network members are free to innovate on their own as well. A network can apply more talent, effort and innovation to addressing a wicked problem than any single organization.

By working within networks, Extension can be part of that increased capacity, creativity and impact.

No organization, not even Cooperative Extension, can address massive, global problems on its own. Partnerships and coalitions fall short as well. Networks bring a diversity of ideas, expertise and action, often missing in tightly connected coalitions. In networks connections and collaborations emerge and change over time, and the sharing, learning, innovating and adapting keep happening. It's easy to see how the nature of networks aligns with the nature of grand challenges.

Cooperative Extension needs to be working within networks now. As Nate says in the video, Extension should be "finding, building, engineering, and helping to facilitate and strengthen networks" that will enact innovation in their communities.

In 1994, Jessica Lipnak and Jeffrey Stamps wrote, "Life has become too complicated for hierarchy and bureaucracy" (The Age of the Network). In the 21+ years since, life has become even more complex. By 2050, new grand challenges will likely have emerged right alongside those we should already be addressing. If Cooperative Extension expects to be addressing those grand challenges, we had better find and grow our role within diverse, productive, self-directed networks now.

Working Differently in ExtensionI have spent quite a bit of time thinking about how Extension professionals need to work as part of broad coalitions or networks, if Extension is going to be a part of addressing complex problems like health, climate or water. I have spent considerably less time thinking about the skills Extension professionals will need to be effective in these coalitions and networks.

That's where Carol Smathers and Jenny Lobb from Ohio State University Extension come in. They surveyed Extension professionals in Ohio to find out if they were working with community coalitions and what professional development they needed to be more effective in that work They published a Journal of Extension article about what they found out, "Extension Professionals and Community Coalitions: Professional Development Opportunities Related to Leadership and Policy, System, and Environment Change." I talked with Carol and Jenny on the Working Differently in Extension podcast.

If we expect Extension professionals to work with coalitions and networks (I think they must if Extension is going to stay relevant), then we need to make sure they have the skills to help build and sustain them. Community development and leadership specialists in Extension already have a lot of those skills, and are prepared to share them. They might be the single most important group to Extension's future.

Enjoy the podcast!

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Working Differently in ExtensionYesterday on the Working Differently in Extension podcast, I had a really interesting conversation with Linda Prokopy from Purdue University and Rebecca Power from University of Wisconsin Extension. They're the authors of the commentary, "Envisioning New Roles for Land-Grant University Extension: Lessons Learned from Climate Change Outreach in the Midwest," in the December 2015 issue of the Journal of Extension.

As part of the "Useful to Usable" project which develops climate information for corn producers in the North Central Region, Linda and Rebecca have conducted surveys with farmers, Extension personnel and agricultural advisers about what they believe, who they are influenced by and who they trust when it comes to climate change.

If you listen to the podcast, you'll hear that I was very interested in the results from their survey that showed Extension educators do not believe in the anthropogenic climate change at the same level as university scientists. Linda and Rebecca call this a "troubling disconnect," and I agree.

In course of the interview, however, my mind was taken by something else. In their survey, Linda and Rebecca asked about both influence and trust. The results showed that, although Extension was a trusted source of information, it came behind family, chemical and seed dealers, consultants, other farmers, Farm Service Agency and other sources when it came to influence.

We have heard often that Extension is a trusted source of information, but what good is that trust if we have no influence over the people we are trying to help. Kudos for Linda and Rebecca for thinking to ask about both trust and influence.

Enjoy the podcast!

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Working Differently in Extension