Game Changer for Extension

Dave King, Associate Provost, Outreach and Engagement
Dave King, Associate Provost, Outreach and Engagement
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Someone once said that the only person who really likes change is a baby with a wet diaper. As I have been calling the statewide deployment of the new Ask an Expert system a “game changer” for Oregon Extension, I have been asked to clarify what that really means.  So, okay, here we go…

One thing it means is that everyone in Extension will have a role to play in the new initiative. For almost a hundred years, Extension has been the sum of individual county and campus-based parts. Regularly we’ve addressed problems county-by-county or in departments on campus, sometimes without the involvement or support from colleagues in adjacent offices or communities. This has been a major part of our customer-orientation. We’re here for you.  We respond right now, if we can. It’s becoming clear that we can’t afford that approach universally, as attractive as it is to our clients and learners. In order to remain politically and financially viable as an educational organization, we need to spread available resources more efficiently.

One interesting thing about Internet access, you can be personal but not present.  As an example, think how complicated your life would be if you had to talk on the phone or in person to everyone you now interact with via email. When you use email, you’re still responding personally, just not in person. With Ask an Expert, when someone in a county asks a question, the question will be made available to a pool of program-area-based faculty—including you—and only one of you will have to address the question.  By using a program-area approach rather than a county-by-county approach, you all will share the load. Since deploying Ask an Expert in counties in North Carolina, they have reported a reduction in direct and many times repetitive calls to county offices and even campus response lines. Once Ask an Expert is deployed in Oregon, this could free you to develop more educational opportunities that respond to the needs of our primary clients.

Another factor in the “game changer” scenario is that eXtension nationally has reported in some cases 65% of the people who use the Ask an Expert portal are new to Extension.  There’s no reason to doubt that we will see similar response. When we tried an early version of this process about six years ago, more than 75% of those who asked questions were first-time Oregon Extension users. Check out "Who's That Knocking at Our Door? Characterizing Extension's Online Clientele." Our future viability as an educational organization (as a whole) is dependent on bringing new customers to our programs.

As Scott has said on multiple occasions, we are going to have to reinvent the “service” part of the Extension Service. Ask an Expert is the new “service” we provide. Out of this, Extension becomes more of a directly responsive “educational” organization. We still answer questions but just more efficiently than we have, allowing us to focus on educational programming that will address our learner‘s needs and reinforce our presence as a preeminent education source.

So, if you don’t have an eXtension ID—required for you to participate in the Ask an Expert pool—your program leader will be knocking on your door soon.  Get a jump on them. Sign up for an eXtension ID.

If you have questions or want to know more about Ask an Expert in Oregon, contact your program leader, or Steve Dodrill or Mark Anderson-Wilk; they are leading the deployment team.

Also take the opportunity to offer comments here in the new Newsletter format. Discuss and share ideas with your colleagues here.

Dave King
Associate Provost, Outreach and Engagement