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This is the fourth 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, the trend toward open and working within networks.

I've been struggling with this post for a couple of months. Post-literacy emerged as a theme in the conversation referenced above, but I'm still trying to make sense of it. Is it purely hypothetical as it is described on Wikipedia?

"A postliterate society is a hypothetical society in which multimedia technology has advanced to the point where literacy, the ability to read or write, is no longer necessary or common" -Wikipedia

Is post-literacy old news? Are we already living in a post-literate society as Marshal McLuhan described it almost 40 years ago?

What's the relationship between print literacy, media literacy and digital literacy? Is post-literacy emergent or, as mentioned in the conversation below, has reading in America been dead for 90 years?

I'll continue making sense of post-literacy because I believe it is an important theme in the future of Extension. As part of academia, much of Cooperative Extension's information delivery and virtually all of it's library is alphabet-based. What happens if the majority of people become incapable or, at least, uninterested in consuming information through reading? Academia can exist (does exist?) talking only to each other, but Extension, by definition, must converse with "the public," and "the public" has largely devalued alphabet-based information.

13 minutes before the start of the 2016 NFL Draft, a video was released of offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil smoking marijuana through a gas mask. The morning after, several analysts talked about how the fact that there was video of the incident influenced the public perception. They noted, correctly in my opinion, that had this incident been detailed in an alphabet-based medium, without the video, the public would have largely dismissed it.

This is more than "seeing is believing." It's more like "seeing is caring."

If so much of Extension continues to alphabet-based, can we remain (become?) relevant? Is there any hope of moving away from alphabet-based information if Extension remains part of academia?

Over the past year, I've had the good fortune to get to know Jessica Beckendorf. Jessica approaches her work with great energy, empathy and sense of community.

I was excited to find a post on the Military Families Learning Network blog in which Jessica and her University of Wisconsin Extension colleague Sandy Liang, describe their work with the County Veterans Service Officer in their community to build capacity to address PTSD and Criminal Justice Response to Veterans in Crisis.

Here's a follow-up blog post from Jessica and Sandy.

I've written before about how important I think networks are to the future of Extension. The work Jessica and Sandy are doing, work that builds the capacity of a community to deal with complex issues, is a great example of Extension working in a networked way. Their willingness to play a supporting role, to connect people and organizations, and to encourage community ownership of the project are all indicative of a network mindset.

I was anxious to talk with Jessica and Sandy about their work. I hope you enjoy the conversation.

Jami Dellifield and Amanda Raines from Ohio State University Extension - Hardin County are spreading the word about the positive impact Cooperative Extension professionals could have just by being aware of how to interact with someone dealing with a mental health issue. They are encouraging Extension educators and agents to attend Mental Health First Aid training.

In the conversation below, Amanda and Jami make a compelling case. When you hear about their experiences and think of the difference you can make just by being able to recognize when someone might be dealing with a mental health issue, it's difficult to disagree. What do you think? Have you had an experience like the ones Jami and Amanda described? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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One of the most common questions I get about social media and working out loud is, "How do I keep my personal and professional life separate online?" I have to admit that, while I understand the question, I've never been able to relate to the feeling behind it. I've always seen my work life and personal life as intertwined. I held my newborn daughter in my arms while hosting a classical music program on public radio (she was our first and very quiet, something I can't say for the two boys that followed). I've tried to bring my passions to my work and to make my work personal.

Victor Villegas has found ways to bring his interests in technology and aeronautics to his work with Oregon State University Extension. He has even combined his passion for music with his interest in drones as the DroneSinger.

Victor and I talked about bringing our personal interests to our work in the most recent Working Differently in Extension podcast. We also talked about his drone parody songs, his involvement in unmanned aerial systems in agriculture, drone regulation and more. Enjoy!

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Here's the last of our conversations recorded at the National eXtension Conference in San Antonio. Jamie Seger, Ohio State University Extension, and Paul Hill, Utah State University Extension, are two of the leaders of the eXtension Educational Technology Learning Network (edtechln). They have done great work in providing spaces for Cooperative Extension professional to discuss new tools and in bringing new tools and technologies to Cooperative Extension.

Jamie, Paul and the edtechln have also been very supportive of the Working Differently in Extension podcast. I'm glad we had the opportunity to record this conversation about tools and trends in Cooperative Extension. I hope you enjoy it at least half as much as I did.

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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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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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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