eXtension’s Impact Collaborative helps ‘Sustain the Sustainers’ for Multi-State Initiative, USDA-NIFA

Sustainability is one of our strategic priorities. 200 participants representing 33 institutions alongside 10 community partners participated in the NSS + NEES event resulting in inspiring and motivating speakers, new knowledge gained among participants, and new connections developed across organizations. The Impact Collaborative Summits were unique opportunities for this team to engage more deeply in reaching new and more diverse audiences, strategic planning for cultivating new partnerships, and finding new and innovative avenues for increasing local impact. – Dr. Nick Place, Dean and Director for the University of Florida/IFAS Extension Service

Participation in eXtension’s Impact Collaborative Summit helped provide new strategies for planning, audience and partnership engagement, and program delivery for a multi-state team from the University of Florida, Florida A&M, Washington State University, and North Dakota State University. The team, National Sustainability Summit, is addressing complex sustainability issues across the nation. They achieve this through the National Sustainability Summit (NSS) and the National Extension Energy Summit (NEES). These events are in partnership with USDA-NIFA and other community partners. 

The NSS + NEES event was held in April 2019 and brought leading sustainability and energy educators and practitioners together to showcase land-grant university Extension and Research program successes, share challenges, and identify opportunities with expertise in sustainability and energy issues.

Becoming an Impact Collaborative Program Team

The National Sustainability team first joined eXtension’s Impact Collaborative in October 2018 for the first Impact Collaborative Summit. The Impact Collaborative Summit is an eXtension membership benefit where teams from across Extension come together to strengthen community engagement, engage partnerships, strengthen program planning, increase program innovation, and develop strategies to effectively engage new audiences. 

According to Dave Ripplinger, Assistant Professor in the Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics at North Dakota State University and the state’s bioenergy and bioproducts economist, “the Impact Collaborative Summit we attended in October 2018 gave us the opportunity to think more strategically about what we were doing…the assistance that the Impact Collaborative provided us not only impacted the folks in attendance at our event in Tampa, but also back in our communities.”

As a result of their work at the October 2018 Impact Collaborative Summit and their participation in the PitchFest, a place for teams to present their projects and programs to a panel of leaders from Cooperative Extension and partners from external organizations, National Sustainability Summit received the Urgent Community Need Award. This award provided the National Sustainability team strategic coaching support from the eXtension partnership development team, and an all-expenses paid trip to the next Impact Collaborative Summit. 

Strategic coaching support with the team focused on strengthening goals and anticipated outcomes of the Summit; clarifying external partner benefits and opportunities for sponsorship; and, defining considerations for sustaining the Summit for the future, including staffing and co-creation opportunities with partners. 

Deepening Program Planning & Engagement

The team reconnected with the Impact Collaborative after the NSS + NEES event by participating in the April 2019 Impact Collaborative Summit. Jennison Kipp Searcy, Resource Economist with the University of Florida, shared that “the goal of us attending the April 2019 Impact Collaborative Summit was to make sure that the NSS + NEES event was not just a one-off event. We were looking to leverage the momentum we had from all the resources, energy, and thought that went into the NSS + NEES event, and start looking at how to extend that to new partners, existing partners, and work products that can translate into action.”

The backbone of the the April 2019 Impact Collaborative Summit was a framework focused on propelling community impact. Teams were asked to first take a look at their target audiences to inform their program or project development. In many cases, teams were able to identify new audiences to engage that they had not thought of before. “Because of the Impact Collaborative, we’re going to be more deliberate in engaging the 1890 and 1994 communities to increase our ability to reach a more diverse audience. It also made us think about engaging more strategically with potential long-term partners,” said Ripplinger. 

Creating Impactful Results at the Local Level

When asked about what he took from his Impact Collaborative experience that has been most impactful for this team, Ripplinger stated that “the Impact Collaborative was core to supporting both NSS and NEES, and allowed us to put the strategic ideas we were able to form into practice through writing grants, developing new partnerships, and ensuring our own sustainability going forward. The experts that eXtension has assembled to be at these events to inform our planning are phenomenal, and the Impact Collaborative is a top-flight program. Throughout the event, you get tidbits of information from many different individuals that say ‘try this’ or ‘have you thought about this?’ Many of those tidbits can be extremely impactful. I think that any program, particularly those in their early stage, need to get engaged with the Impact Collaborative and take advantage of the creative planning and strategic support they provide…Now that I’ve had a chance to revisit eXtension through the Impact Collaborative, I see how it is playing a critical role in the success of Extension nationally.”

Searcy’s take on her experience is that “the Impact Collaborative gives us a chance to explore our creative and artistic sides, and how to engage non-traditional partners. We can take what we learn here and extend it back to our communities. The Impact Collaborative is helping to sustain the sustainers.”

As a result of their work at the April 2019 Impact Collaborative Summit and their participation in the Impact Collaborative LaunchFest, this team received the top-score award for multi-state/national teams. This award provides them with a pre-approved $5000 grant. 

The $5000 grant from eXtension will assist the team in writing grants to support funding for their next conference, ensure representatives from 1890 and 1994 institutions can attend the next Impact Collaborative Summit in October 2019, and developing marketing materials for the 2021 NSS + NEES event. The National Sustainability Summit team is currently planning their next NSS + NEES event for 2021. 

About the eXtension Foundation

The eXtension Foundation is a membership-based non-profit designed to be the engine fueling U.S. Cooperative Extension’s advancement in making a more visible and measurable impact in support of education outreach from land-grant universities/colleges located in every state and territory. eXtension provides an array of opportunities for Extension professionals that foster innovation creation, the adoption of innovations at member institutions, and increased impact of Extension programs.