Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Strategies for Dealing with Extension's Obscurity Challenge

These are my remarks after receiving the ACE Professional Award on June 9, 2015. Although I don't really blog anymore, it seemed like making them available at this site made some sense. They are undergoing another round of editing, so I will probably post an updated version in the next day or two. Anyway, I hope you find them of interest, and feel free to continue the conversation wherever that may take you. Just let me know where so that I can participate. :)

Thank you Joanne, and thank you Rhonda for that kind introduction, and thank you (audience)!  I’m quite honored, and was surprised to receive this award. When I look at the list of past recipients— many people who I have known and worked with, I’m also quite humbled.
I’ve been a member of ACE for a very long time over 26 years. But I’ve been associated with ACE for even longer than that. Some thirty years ago Gene Hettel and I, when we were both at Iowa State, won a C&A award for some innovative work we did on documenting spreadsheets. My first ACE meeting was in 1989 in Portland. I think that was when a decision was made to invite information technologists to join, and when the IT SIG was created? I’m thinking I might have even been the first chair of the IT SIG, but I’m not really sure.

All of this is to say, I’ve been around a long time, which is a distinguishing feature of the recipients of this award. I note that the last three winners have also mentioned their longevity. All of us are pretty old and in the twilight years of our careers.

My role in ACE and the Land-Grant system has, I’m guessing, been quite different than most of yours, and I think that maybe because of that I might offer a slightly different perspective.

One of the perks of receiving this award is that we get a chance to share our thinking with you through some remarks, or maybe that’s a last chance to share. I certainly hope it’s not that. Here goes.

Dr. Cathann Kress, the Vice President for Extension and Outreach at Iowa State University spoke at the ESP meeting last October about the Land-Grant system and Extension being on the precipice of a new Golden Age. Being your basic technoutopian, I too believe that we are on the potential precipice of a new Golden Age, but my belief comes with a big “if” or perhaps a major “yeah but”.  It’s not going to happen if we keep doing the same old things that got us to where we are at today.  The tactics and strategies of the 20th century are not going to get us to where we need to be going in the 21st.

We have some big issues that we need to be addressing. I’m going to address one of those issues today, but it is the one which I believe is our most significant, it is the issue of our obscurity, and our inability to have our message heard.

Does anyone know who Joseph Garrett is? Also known as Swampy? Can I see a show of hands if you know who he is. (No one raised their hand.) He’s a person who is pretty good at playing the game Minecraft. He is also an educator. He has a YouTube channel where he shares videos of himself and his friends playing the game. He has 5.5 million followers. His videos have been viewed 3.5 billion times. That’s scale! That’s reach! Is it impactful? I don’t know, that requires a different sort of analysis, but his message is getting out, and it’s getting out in a big way. This is just one guy doing his thing online.

I often hear people tout our Web site numbers in Extension. These are mostly spoken of in regard to pageviews. I had some numbers shared with me just last night at dinner. These were from two of our very largest Land-Grants. If you were ranking our top Land-Grant universities these two would be in the top five on everyone’s list.  The metric that most of us use to gauge the success of our websites is pageviews. Both of these universities had almost identical annual pageviews at a little over 5 million, but the bounce rates for both of these sites was at 80%. Which means only 20% of the people stayed on their pages long enough to actually read something. To get the number of pages actually read, you would need to reduce the number of visitors to each site by some 4 million people. So basically, they were getting somewhere around 1 million pageviews a year.  Any way you slice it, those are not numbers for which we should be proud. We truly are obscure!
So today I’m going to give you my recommendations for how we might become less obscure. None of these recommendations will cost you a dime to implement, and they don’t require that you spend millions of dollars and countless staff hours implementing solutions. Here are my recommendations for combating our obscurity:

  • Embrace radical transparency - immediately start working outloud (you can google this term). Have every single person in your organization work in the open. Get out from behind your firewalls and work in full public view.  Do everything in the open. The only thing that shouldn’t be public are those things required by law to protect our employee’s privacy. We need to be asking ourselves, “What is our real time presence?”  There are some pretty powerful tools to help us make this happen. (Slack is one.)  Six of the top 10 mobile apps now are for real-time messaging.
  • Reorganize around social networks, not geography. The way we are organized is old-school. There is science to help us do this better.  We need to conduct Social Network Analyses of the entire organization nationwide, and even internationally. Our networks don’t stop at the artificial boundaries of counties, states, and countries. Geography made sense as a means of organization when information was not digital. When information and knowledge moved slowly. Local still matters, but we need to think radically different about our reach and strategies for enabling scale. This happens through networks, and yet we don’t even have maps of the networks we will have to traverse in order to reach potential new audiences.
  • We must get serious about diversity, and not in the traditional “legal” sense. We need to think about diversity differently. Once we know our networks, we need to get about reshaping them. There’s this thing called cultural fit, but maybe a better descriptor is cultural bias. It's where organizations hire people who look and act and think just like themelves, even though we know that more diverse teams make for higher performing teams. We have these absurd expectations in our organization that values harmony. We must all get along. Big ideas, and new thinking rarely come from homogeneous teams. Breakthrough thinking comes from the edges of our networks. We need more edglings, and they aren’t going to look and think like us. Today our edges look very much like our core.  My personal quest is to experience as many diverse sub-cultures as possible. To do so, you have to be willing to get outside your comfort zone. As an organization we need to get outside our comfort zone, and we need to get about this with some urgency.
  • Go to where the people are gathered. We do not live in a Field of Dreams world. If we build-it they will not come. They are never coming! The people are gathered in online social networks. We live in a pull world, but our primary strategies are still centered around push. There is a famous quote published in the New York Times a few years back where they were asking young people participating in a focus group where they got their news. One of the participants responded, “If the news is that important, it will find me.”  They get their news from their social networks. It’s very much like 100 years ago when Seaman Knapp delivered the science of controlling boll weevils to Terrell, Texas through a trusted local agent. Today, those trusted local agents are in someone’s social network, and they more than likely don’t work for us.
  • Embrace openness. We’re on the wrong side of the intellectual property divide.  We need to get about open-licensing everything we do: open access, open source, open data, open science, open content.  We need to give away the farm. This is essential if our information is to flow through networks.  In order for it to flow it has to be legal for it to flow.
  • Finally we need to embrace with open arms the user generated content, the makers, and citizen science movements. In the future, actually right now, we need hundreds of thousands of trusted agents to reach the people. These trusted agents can be found in these movements. These are very much like the populists movements that had education as a focus at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries when Extension was birthed. These are the modern day equivalents of the Grange, and the Farmers Alliance. (And btw, there are some very interesting things happening in some Grange’s today… look up the Grange in Philomath, OR, it’s not your great grandfather’s Grange anymore.)

In closing, how is this all to happen? How do we get from where we are today to where we need to go. Most of what we face in our obscurity challenges are information and media issues. These are the leadership challenges that our organizations look to us, the communication and information technology leaders to provide guidance. If we are to participate in this technoutopian future, and actually experience the Land Grant’s  new Golden Age,  it’s going to be up to us.

Thank you again for this award, and for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts with you today. I would love nothing more than to continue the conversation with any of you here or online if you would like to talk more.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Open Access and Hunger

Medicine is a great example of why open-access is so important to the developing world. There's only one other type of research that is more important--- Agriculture! Without adequate food, health care is just an after-thought. That's what's so wrong about the current Farm Bill's attempt to privatize the research coming from the public's investment in agricultural research. Agricultural research needs to be open. The current Farm Bill proposal to create private profit with public funds is just wrong. It's fine to create the Foundation for Agriculture Research-- just require that all discoveries contain open licensing.
Q: What does OA have to offer the developing world?
A: Everything. A seat at the table as equals. The chance to participate in the worldwide project of research on a level playing field. A route into the academic world for impoverished but motivated students. Immediate access to crucial medical advances. A path towards research that's targeted to these nation's issues. It's almost impossible to overstate how important OA is for the developing world; for me, I think this is the single most important reason why we need OA.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The People's Department

"The Agricultural Department, under the supervision of its present energetic and faithful head, is rapidly commending itself to the great and vital interest it was created to advance. It is precisely the people's Department, in which they feel more directly concerned that in any other. I commend it to the continued attention and fostering care of Congress." -- Abraham Lincoln
Sold to the highest bidder! 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Is Anyone Paying Attention: Farm Bill Version

That someone in the press actually decided to pay attention to the use of public funds for private gain in California is a really good thing. The exact same thing is happening with taxpayer dollars in the new Farm Bill. The plan is take $200 million of taxpayer money and siphon it off to a private entity for commercialization, and the hiding of the intellectual property away from public view. It started at $100 million and was quickly doubled to $200 million. One can only guess how many dollars will be sheltered from public oversight once this new Foundation for Agricultural Research is created.
Some readers may recall coverage on this blog of the most recent Regents meeting (May) in which an entity at UCLA to be known as Newco was created to license university-developed technology.  One small newspaper - the East Bay Express - has now given the new entity some (negative) attention and points out that there was little coverage of the issue in the news media. 
We can only hope that someone will notice what's going on in the Farm Bill before it's too late. Public funded research needs to be accessible to the people who funded it. This couldn't be any more important than when it comes to discoveries concerning food.

 Someone finally noticed Newco.

Monday, July 1, 2013

More Attempts to Circumvent Public Access

The regents of the University of California are trying the exact same shenanigans as contained in the Senate version of the Farm Bill.  This is just plain wrong! The public pays for this research, and they have the right to know what it contains. This research needs to be in the public domain where ALL (ANYONE?) could potentially use these results to create new products. This is such crap!
In a unanimous vote last month, the Regents of the University of California created a corporate entity that, if spread to all UC campuses as some regents envision, promises to further privatize scientific research produced by taxpayer-funded laboratories. The entity, named Newco for the time being, also would block a substantial amount of UC research from being accessible to the public, and could reap big profits for corporations and investors that have ties to the well-connected businesspeople who will manage it. 
This is virtually identical to what the Senate wants to do with $200 million of taxpayer dollars in their already passed version of the Farm Bill.  We can only hope the Congress kills this off. Is it any wonder that the public is losing faith in their publicly funded universities?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

2013 Farm Bill's Threat to Open Access

I was reading the Senate's version of the 2013 Farm Bill which is scheduled for  markup this week. Where there is a lot not to like in the bill, it contained one particularly disturbing provision, the use of $100 million of taxpayer's money to create the non-profit Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research.  The purpose of the Foundation is to solicit private funding for agricultural research, and to match it with taxpayer dollars. The bill states very clearly that  "The Foundation shall not be an agency or instrumentality of the United States Government." 

On the surface this seems like a good thing. If industry is going to benefit financially from publicly  supported research then it makes sense that they have some skin in the game. But here is what caught my attention and raised my ire: 
  1. INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY.—The Board shall adopt written standards to govern ownership of any intellectual property rights derived from the collaborative efforts of the Foundation. 
In other words, the Board, which is not an entity of the U.S. government, will determine the intellectual property provisions for the research funded by U.S. taxpayers. This is incredibly disturbing, and a clear end-run to the public's demand for open-access to science research. Just when it appears that open-access will become the law of the land we have a proposal in the Farm Bill to circumvent that access.

The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act of 2013 will require Federal agencies with research expenditures over $100 million to create publicly available repositories of journal articles.  It is basically an extension to all Federal agencies of the National Institute of Health's open-access provisions mandating that the public have access to the results of the research they funded. 

If the people pay for the research, even part of the research, the results belong in the public domain. It's that simple. This language in the Farm Bill is just wrong. It needs to be changed to make sure that the public's intellectual property is not given away and locked-up forever. Write or call your Senators! 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Crowd sourcing a future focused list of core competencies

I'm leading a conversation for professional educators (academics) next week focused on the future of work. This is one of a series of Webcasts dealing with preparing the next generation of non-formal educators. My emphasis will be on optimizing workplace environments around ideation, creativity, and complex problem solving-- basically freeranging. I'm going to be focusing on workplace environments that are friendly to creatives, makers, and solvers.

In preparation for my session I watched the first session which happened last week. The presenters described the results of a delphi study (and another study) that had just been conducted (accepted for publication but not yet in print) that discussed the core competencies of non-formal educators needed for the year 2015. Here is the list:
  • Communication Skills
  • Diversity
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Professionalism
  • Resource management
  • Self direction
  • Teamwork and leadership
  • Thinking and problem solving
  • Teaching
  • Information technology
  • Technology adoption and application
  • Research
  • Program planning, development, and evaluation
  • Subject matter expertise
  • Volunteer management
  • Continuous learning
  • Customer service
  • Flexibility and change
  • Organizational knowledge
  • Understanding stakeholders and communities
  • Management and supervision
  • Marketing
It struck me that this list could have just as easily been generated 10 years ago, and that it's not all that future focused. I know that a delphi is going to bring you a pretty conservative result-- the very nature of the way panelists are selected and the process will eliminate edge perspectives, and the consensus process will result in more conservative and basically safe findings. I think the core elements are probably found in the list above, but they are needing more specificity.

My reaction was to start creating my own list of the core competencies that will be needed in five years for a learning intermediary. What are the needed competencies for a networked economy where social learning is exploding? I had a pretty good start on a list when I realized that this might make an interesting crowd sourcing activity. Let's see if we can put together a list that really has a future focus, and I promise to use it in the seminar next Thursday.

Have at it-- either comment here, or over on Google Buzz where this post will be fed. Thanks!!!!

The post can be found here on Google Buzz: Crowd sourcing a future focused list of core competencies