Had this been a normal year, I would be heading to Glacier National Park for a week of no cell phone and no Zoom meetings. But this isn't a normal year (I hope!). Instead, my calendar opened up such that I can participate in a multi-day training that aligns with two of my personal core values, not the least of which is continuous improvement. I have to admit that I am dreading the training, not because of the topic, but because of the format. We have to share an ‘object' as part of our self-introduction and reveal something interesting about ourselves. What's worse, we will be journaling through the entire course. Ughh… not my thing. Can't I just make a spreadsheet of some sort? I've had to give my introduction considerable thought. Here's what I have from which to select:
- As part of my self-introduction in kindergarten, I shared that my career goal was to become a pickpocket
- In high school, some teachers encouraged me to pursue a career in music
- I've never been to a dentist, but have all of my teeth and no cavities
- I am half of a set of Irish twins and ‘the middle child'
Perhaps I should call in sick next week.
As part of a virtual national meeting I am attending this week, I listened to a presentation by Scott Hutchins from REE, who talked about REE's continuous improvement efforts, including establishment of Mission-2-Mission goals, measuring and documenting impacts, and a priority-based hiring plan. That all sounds familiar. Dr. Hutchin's comments reflected USDA's Science Blueprint. He spoke a bit about USDA's Agriculture Innovation Agenda and its application for setting discovery goals (targeting and steering efforts) as well as the benefits now recognized as a result of the NIFA and ERS moves to Kansas City.
Parag Chitnis, Interim Director for NIFA, shared that the Request for Applications is under development for the Urban Agriculture program and should be out early in Federal FY21 (October-ish). That RFA will be of great interest to UC ANR personnel. The Sustainable Ag Systems RFA should be out at about the same time. The program ties closely to both the Science Blueprint and the Agriculture Innovation Agenda. Of note for this program is that two years of funding will be awarded in a single year. I'm curious to see how ‘sustainable' addresses resiliency of our ag system. I suspect researchers needed to look to the COVID-19 AFRI program for those opportunities (applications were due June 4, 2020).
NIFA, too, focuses on continuous improvement and provided an update on Project CAFÉ (Collaboratively Achieving Functional Excellence). The Project responds to feedback from state partners about process improvements needed for grants management, capacity funds management, and customer service. Thanks to all from UC ANR who provided feedback to NIFA last year.
Just a couple more days of the virtual national meeting, then back to homework. Maybe I will find something interesting over the weekend!
I think most of us, if not all, have realized that we need to do things differently in order to really achieve the intent of the Morrill Act; improving the lives of all state residents by providing access to formal and informal education. We're not alone. In talking with the Extension directors from a number of states last week, it seems to be a common theme. One of our Western neighbors has an upcoming annual conference where the theme is ‘fail fast'. This refers to the concept of ideation where you develop ideas and quickly test them on a small scale so that you can determine what may and may not work before making a large investment of time and/or money only to find that the idea doesn't work. UC ANR will be trying this out at an ideation workshop in late November. I look forward to seeing what ideas emerge to help us think about how we continue to provide the impactful programming and research we always have in a changing environment. To get a glimpse of some of the innovative approaches to Extension that are going on around the U.S. take a look at the current issue of the Journal of Extension.
I talked with the director in Iowa as well. I knew that Iowa had a standardized formula for county support of Extension, unlike many states, including CA. The formula is that each of the 99 counties directs 2.7% of collected property tax to Extension. That equates to $830k in support from Polk County (Des Moines) for FY18/19. The Polk County budget is $276M for FY18/19. Compare that to the numbers I heard when we were in LA a week+ ago ($475k for Extension out of a $28B county budget). I don't think LA is unusual for counties in CA. But Iowa is considering change. Following a 2009 budget reduction, all of the county contributions remained with the counties and all employees paid from those funds became county employees. As a result, the sense is that there is a weakened connection between the county and campus. That then weakens the ability to connect the general public to science; a pillar of what led to the creation of Extension.
I thought of LA County, among other counties, during conversations last week about urban extension. The general sense was that Extension is well positioned to do this around the country because we are grounded in our mission to serve the people of the state, aligned in vision and values with urban populations, and positioned to lead locally. Sound familiar? It should as these are the elements of the UC ANR promise. A key topic identified as relevant to an urban audience was green infrastructure was a focus. I envisioned Darren's demonstrations at the Orange County UCCE/SCREC that illustrate the principles of green infrastructure well. And, having just been back to the LA UCCE office I thought about Siavash and his program that works closely with the LA Housing Authority. My take away - we've got this as it's been a part of UC ANR for quite some time now. That doesn't mean we couldn't do it better. Given that continuous improvement is one of our core values, we must constantly seek better ways to do more, more efficiently and more effectively.
Now I really need to get to the position proposals.
Are jurors allowed to yell out ‘Objection'? I've wanted to say that so many times over the last couple of days. I'd like this whole process to move along at a faster pace. A few years ago I went through a training that built on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator by answering a series of questions, pre-training, that provided insight into how participants process information. During the training, we simulated a 1-hr meeting during a 1-min exercise. The first group spent less than 15 seconds (or less than 15 min of the 1-hr meeting) gathering data, proposing solutions, and preparing an action plan. The fourth group spent the entire meeting wanting to gather and discuss data, thus not getting to the point of discussing solutions or developing an action plan. I was in the third group, spending half the meeting gathering and interpreting data, a quarter of the meeting proposing solutions, and the final quarter of the meeting developing an action plan around the preferred solution. So I can only imagine how frustrated/bored those jurors that exhibit behaviors like those in the first two groups of the simulation are with this process.
I've heard great things about the personality type training that was conducted at the statewide conference. Perhaps this is one that we could offer again as a webinar. I'm hoping we are able to do that with the training that was provided on the topic of managing change. If you attended a training that you thought was exceptional and appropriate to be offered to all of ANR via a Zoom webinar, please let me know and we can see what we can accommodate. It's important to continue the conversations that were started at the conference. Webinar-based trainings and discussions throughout the year are one way to do that. Given the response to our keynote speaker that's another topic that might be worthy of further discussion. Remember, Dr. Antwi Akom has a TED talk that you might be interested in taking a look at.
Don't forget about the Third Thursday WebANR Cafes that start in May! It couldn't be any easier to remember – the same Zoom room each month and always the third Thursday of the month. I've marked my calendar without even knowing the topics. At only 30 to 35 minutes each, and over the noon hour, it's an easy investment of time to make, regardless of the topic. And for those months that are already booked on my calendar, I love the fact that I can go to the recording and get caught up on the conversation after the fact.
Looking forward to hearing your ideas. Time for me to go back to the juror box. At least I get Monday 'off' and can be back in the office for the day.