The eXtension Foundation “Impact Collaborative” is an accelerator for Cooperative Extension professionals to amplify their impact on local issues. The Impact Collaborative experience quickens the adoption of new research and innovative practices in local program design and delivery.
In 2017-2018, the eXtension Foundation with the Cooperative Extension System (CES) is planning to bring together nearly 2,000 CES professionals and their community partners into multi-themed Impact Collaborative experiences to develop and strengthen local impact in behavioral health, food systems, diversity & inclusion, and regionally-focused themes to be determined with partners. Our goal is to work with 15-35 Impact Collaborative members at each eXtension Foundation member institution in 2017-2018.
Impact Collaborative Background
Since early 2016 eXtension has successfully engaged hundreds of Cooperative Extension professionals in the development of impactful projects addressing topics such as local food systems, climate, small business development, enhancing rural capacity, equine biosecurity, financial management, backyard poultry, women in agriculture and diversity and inclusion. These efforts were part of the eXtension Issue Corps program. In 2017, the eXtension Foundation rebranded the Issue Corps as the Impact Collaborative.
The Impact Collaborative members reported working differently as a result, including:
- 93% believed the Impact Collaborative participation was a positive experience.
- 86% gained awareness of, access to, or training in the use of new tools.
- 83% were exposed to new or different ideas and/or viewpoints.
- 82% interacted with other Extension professionals outside their normal professional circle
- 68% feel they can influence either their institution and/or their professional field in new ways after participating in the Impact Collaborative.
- The majority reported improved ability to participate in professional discussions, developed confidence in sharing resources, gained comfort in recommending alternate approaches to ideas, and are working differently because of their Impact Collaborative participation.
The Impact Collaborative Experience
The Impact Collaborative is constructed around four essential elements: Design thinking, key informant expertise, a growing base of evidence-based practice and a dynamic synergy that happens when colleagues passionate about solving the same issues network face-to-face and online.
Access to Key Informants
A Key Informant is a recognized expert from either a land-grant university, non-profit organization, or private industry, willing to share the latest research and innovations in Extension and related practice to help Collaborative members accelerate their project impact and scale. Key Informants include our cadre of eXtension Fellows funded in partnership with organizations such as USDA-NIFA, Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN), Digital Green and organizations of the Joint Council for Extension Professionals (JCEP). Locally-identified and willing Key Informants are also a critical part of the Impact Collaborative process.
The catalyzing event in the Impact Collaborative process is a face-to-face Designathon. This 1.5-day event is focused on critically examining the structure of each project including: understanding local needs; identifying research and existing evidence-based programs and practices to meet that need, concept mapping the project’s attributes and elements; and identifying gaps and opportunities for greater impact and greater scale. This work is done in consultation with Key Informants to incorporate the latest relevant research and innovations. The Designathon aids Collaborative members and their projects by providing education and skill building tailored to specific needs, leveraging resources by networking and forming partnerships, and leveraging innovative approaches and processes to generate new resources needed to fulfill project goals.
Dynamic Networking Synergy
While there are myriad conferences that focus on professional development, an eXtension Designathon takes action toward creating greater measurable, visible local impact by local community Extension educators and agents. Designing a project as a part of the Impact Collaborative empowers, advances, and accelerates results. Bringing like minds together to network creates a synergy of creativity, innovation, and success. Collaborative alumni attest to enhanced project outcomes, the creation of new social and professional networks, and dynamic relationships that create systemic change in how Cooperative Extension professionals address local problems.
Growing Evidence Base
The Impact Collaborative experience is designed to foster the evidence of local impact and to document solutions that work in a way that can be shared across the Extension system. Throughout the process, eXtension provides access to Key Informants and other critical eXtension tools and resources while projects move from preparation to implementation to impact. As we begin to learn from our first cohorts in 2016…results happen! Stories about Impact Collaborative projects are found on the eXtension website here.