The eXtension Foundation “Issue Corps” is an accelerator for Cooperative Extension professionals to amplify their impact on local issues. The Corps experience quickens the adoption of new research and innovative practices in local program design and delivery.
In 2017, the eXtension Foundation with the Cooperative Extension System (CES) is planning to bring together 2000 CES professionals and their community partners into multi-themed Issue Corps 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 Issue Corps members at each member institution in 2017.
Issue Corps Background
eXtension Issue Corps cohorts in 2016 successfully engaged nearly 400 Cooperative Extension professionals in 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.
The 2016 Corps members reported the following:
- 93% believed the Issue Corps 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 Issue Corps.
- 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 Issue Corps participation.
The Issue Corps Experience
The Issue Corps 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
eXtension plans to recruit and orient up to 400 volunteer Key Informants for the 2017 Issue Corps experiences. 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 Corps 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), and the Joint Council for Extension Professionals. The expertise of Key Informants is aligned with research and practice in the Corps thematic areas; cross-cutting skills such as evaluation, social media strategy, online education, funding sources, community engagement, storytelling, and innovative technologies; and innovations such as Makerspaces and Citizen Science. Key informants also assist in organizing each Corps cohort, reviewing proposals submitted, coaching project teams, and providing ongoing support as projects develop.
The 2017 “designathons” will focus 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 through. This work is done in consultation with Key Informants before, during and after the designathon event with an emphasis on incorporating the latest relevant research and innovations. The Designathon aids Issue Corps 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 Issue Corps empowers, advances, and accelerates results. Bringing like minds together to network creates a synergy of creativity, innovation, and success. Corps alumni attest to enhanced project outcomes, 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
Following the designathon event, eXtension continues to provide access to Key Informants and other critical eXtension tools and resources while projects move into the implementation phase. As the projects move toward completion, eXtension tracks progress and local impact reports from Corps members, and shares success stories with all partners. Successful projects serve as models and provide evidence for broader adoption nationwide.