For me, the recent holiday season put an old adage to the test, is it better to give than to receive? Like most parents of pre-teen and teenage children, I did a lot more of the former than the latter. Professionally though, I think it is quite a different question – especially in light of our program’s mission to “strengthen the capacity of local leaders, residents and organizations to build strong, vibrant communities by using research-based resources to guide their decisions.”
Let’s take a look at some examples…
- Advice – Extension’s tradition of excellence and impact has always been rooted in the technical assistance and capacity building that we provide. While the mode of transmission has evolved over time, with collaboration and experiential learning playing a more prominent role, we continue to use our alternatives and consequences model to help communities make decisions.
- Data/Analysis – Purdue Extension’s mission is to “deliver practical, research-based information that transforms lives and livelihoods,” and this requires robust data and analytics upon which to build our programmatic foundations. Giving Indiana residents access to this data, through our new Indiana County Data Snapshots, is one of many ways that we aim to give communities the information that they need.
- Thanks/Praise – Community development does not provide instant gratification most of the time. Community-level success occurs at a slower, more cumulative pace. It is incumbent upon catalysts such as Purdue Extension, and our partners, to identify and praise those that are contributing to community initiatives let them know how grateful we are for their contributions.
- Time – Since its inception over one hundred years ago, Cooperative Extension has always been a career that does not fit into an 8am – 5pm timeframe. We spend countless hours in the field, on the road and hitting the books to help us do the jobs that we love. Also, I know many of our staff members volunteer outside of Extension, furthering their impact on the communities in which they live and work.
- Money – Much like our time, Purdue Extension Community Development helps in the financial capital arena whether it is through our award-winning Beginner’s Guide to Grant Writing program or through our action planning Signature Programs in our Quality Places thematic area or at the governmental level through our On Local Government These programs are critical as communities are best positioned to garner fiscal resources when they know how the process works and have a solid plan in place.
- Constructive Criticism – Some of my closest collaborators and partners are my biggest critics! We see this in the field as well. Purdue Extension’s success and the impact we have on communities across the state are partly due to the lessons that we learned along the way. Being open to criticism and providing avenues for input and evaluation is key.
- Engagement – While data and research provide us with a strong foundation for our work, it is truly from Extension’s community engagement that we draw many of our most powerful ideas, lessons and inspiration. Engagement needs to be intentional, direct and equitable. Therefore, it requires thoughtful planning.
- Appreciation – Constructive criticism is tough to take sometimes, so having community members let us know how our work has positively impacted themselves and their community is our greatest reward as Extension professionals. As strange as it sounds, we sometimes shy away from tangible signals of appreciation. Instead, accept it with open arms and be proactive about it when it comes to awards and other opportunities to appreciate your hard work and the work of others.
- Assistance – Much like engagement, our work is driven by the communities we serve. Volunteer hours, and other forms of sweat equity, is what makes community development sustainable. Communities should feel ownership of the final results and community members compelled to offer assistance given the value proposition of the work at hand. Extension professionals should always have a process in place that makes receiving assistance is easy and inclusive.
- Professional Development – One of the best elements of being a Community Development Extension professional is the expectation that we remain lifelong learners. Though we spend much of our time educating others, our profession has a culture that values professional development and learning from a broad array of colleagues and other contributors to the field of community development. Take advantage of the opportunities before you.
So, as these cold January days get incrementally longer with each passing day, take that little bit of extra daylight to ponder how you might give and receive more effectively, both professionally and personally. I’d like to think that they are equally important.
Michael D. Wilcox, Jr., PhD
Assistant Director and Program Leader for Community Development / Purdue Extension
Community and Regional Economics Specialist / Dept. of Agricultural Economics / Purdue University
Senior Associate / Purdue Center for Regional Development
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