Three Ways a National Digital Strategy Will Vitalize Cooperative Extension

Written by: Christine Geith

Primary Source: Christine Geith

If the 10-year old eXtension didn’t exist, would it be created today? My recent posts on Five Ways SoLoMo Could be Used for Community Impact and Think Possible: SoLoMo Inspiration for eXtension have been part of more conversations about a digital strategy for Cooperative Extension in general – not just for eXtension.

Cooperative Extension needs a digital strategy to leverage scarce resources. For example, local offices need expertise in specialty areas that can no longer be supported with local staff; local staff need ways to answer an ever-widening arena of questions from community members needing trusted, science-based knowledge.  A national digital strategy can be designed to increase the local value of Cooperative Extension offices.

Why a national digital strategy? To create services and expertise that local extension staff wouldn’t otherwise have:

– to amplify local and national scientific knowledge

– to accelerate local adoption of science-based innovations

– to improve local prosperity

This is what extension specialists do already – it’s their core mission  – AND a national digital strategy will amplify, accelerate and improve their impact.

How can a national digital strategy make this difference? Here are 3 key components of a national digital strategy for Cooperative Extension:

1. Facilitate local digital innovations through staff development and incubating support for local office digital pilot projects (such as creating local apps, offering online programs, and crowdsourcing solutions).

2. Aggregate local and national data and content through communities of practice and also with content-sharing standards.

3. Once knowledge is aggregated, increase its value in partnership with external companies and organizations. With large-scale aggregation at the national level, you can partner with external organizations to do more things with it that benefit local extension offices. For example, a partner can analyze that data and make new meaning out of it; a partner can embed geo-coded content into social/mobile applications for local services; and partners can develop value-added local applications for things like household recycling and nutrition.

Leveraging national data, expertise and content with partner organizations is critical for facilitating local impact and for growing local digital innovations and staff development. It’s this aggregation that enables unique products and services by and for local extension specialists. This is how Cooperative Extension can amplify, accelerate and improve its impacts on local communities. And, what if this could be done in a way that over time, doesn’t have additional cost to State Cooperative Extension, and could even generate revenue for them over time?

What governance structure is required to enable this digital strategy? There are 8 abilities that an organization needs to deliver this strategy:

1. Ability to continually align with national cooperative extension mission, vision and priorities.

2. Ability to offer services to state/local offices on a subscription and fee-for-service basis.

3. Ability to sub-license intellectual property of State Cooperative Extension data and content. This is essential for #2 and #3 of the strategy.

4. Ability for the CEO of the legal entity to enter into legal contracts that include intellectual property and revenue commitments (essential for #2 and #3 in the strategy).

5. Ability to generate revenue, aligned with mission, to cover operating expenses (i.e. donations, contracts for services).

6. Ability to provide revenue back to State Cooperative Extension directors.

7. Ability to independently hire the expertise required to deliver success on time and on budget.

8. Ability to have its own board of directors and officers representing the leadership, expertise, political alliances and business connections needed to grow the organization to success for the benefit of Cooperative Extension locally and nationally.

Does eXtension have what it takes to deliver this digital strategy? eXtension was designed to be the national digital strategy a decade ago. It appears to have some of what’s needed already in place – communities of practice and aggregation capacity for example. From my understanding, it has some of the organizational abilities, but not some of the critical ones.

If this is interesting to someone, they can do an analysis of this digital strategy against the current capacity and assets of eXtension. I would be curious to know the results.

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Christine Geith
What my LinkedIn profile doesn’t tell you: I’ve been fortunate to help found two pioneering university departments for online learning and I’ve helped co-create about a dozen organizations – from airline supply and computer training to 4 non-profit education technology organizations. I was a founding board member of a global for-profit education services company and I’m an advisor for edtech startups. I serve as Provost and Executive Director of Michigan State University MSUglobal Knowledge and Learning Innovations MSUglobal. I’m an artist creating nature-inspired paintings with acrylics and digital light on my iPhone and iPad. I’m also a bio energy healing practitioner and president-elect of the National Association for Esoteric Healing.