designEXT – Shaping Ohio State University Extension's Future

OSU Extension is Bringing People and Ideas Together to Shape our Future

Dr. Roger Rennekamp, associate dean and director, OSU Extension

As you know, OSU Extension has embarked upon a multi-year effort to build the Extension organization of the future. That journey began with the Vice President’s Conversation on the Future of Extension. The overall goal of that effort was to ensure that OSU Extension remains responsive to the needs of Ohioans well into the future. That multi-year effort consisted of several separate, but related activities.

Last year, we used data gathered through the Vice President’s Conversation to develop a set of impact areas that more specifically describe the focus of our work. To date, the impact areas have been used primarily as a framework for communicating impacts to our many stakeholders. In the future, it is my hope that we will design a portfolio of evidence-based programs under each of the impact areas that can be implemented across the state of Ohio. It is also my hope that the new impact areas will encourage more work across what people think of as our traditional program areas. We want to partner with individuals and communities to co-create multi-faceted solutions to current and emerging issues.

Earlier this year, we refreshed the vision, mission and values statements for OSU Extension. Our vision is a “word picture” of the world we want to create. The mission describes what we do through direct education and the “convening role” we play in communities. The values define the uniqueness of how we go about fulfilling our mission and achieving our vision.

"Seaman Knapp, known to many of us as the Father of Extension, reportedly advised new faculty against ever referring to themselves as 'experts.' More than 100 years ago, new Extension agents in Ohio were introduced to their communities as 'not a man who comes to criticize existing methods and force his own ideas, but is rather a clearing house where all may bring their problems and work them out together.' . . .

"By working in this way, we back out of the expert role and become a partner in co-creating solutions to issues people care about. The 'work' therefore involves bringing local knowledge and science-based information together in a manner that recognizes and honors both."
(excerpted from, Roger Rennekamp – December 13, 2016)

Now we are ready to build the infrastructure needed to better support our people (i.e. employees, partners and clientele) and our programs. Through this work, we hope to eliminate many of the barriers that are preventing us from being as efficient and effective as we can be.

Currently, we administer OSU Extension through a vertical, hierarchical structure that is best suited for maintaining order within the organization through command and control tactics. In such structures, decision making is often left to a handful of high-level executives and the flow of information through the layers of the organization is often slow. I believe that a flatter organization better serves our needs. Consequently, I am hoping that we can eliminate one or more layers through which communication from and to counties can flow.

I believe it is also important to restore dedicated leadership for operations and organizational development, including enhanced and coordinated support for professional development, advisory leadership systems, priority setting, and planning.

I want our entire organization to proactively address these items. Last month, the Extension Cabinet met with a group of 14 county-based educators who agreed to help inform the redesign of our infrastructure as part of what I’m calling our designEXT project (review the project goals). This group of individuals participated in focus group discussions designed to gather information useful in making decisions about a future organizational structure and how we can best support the work of county faculty and staff.

At the conclusion of the focus-group meeting, each person volunteered to join one of four subcommittees focused on county structure, operations, personal and organizational development, and programming. Each group met several times to craft recommendations that were posted for comment in September. You can review the original recommendations here.

Thank you to the OSU Extension employees who provided constructive feedback based on your experience and expertise in Extension. The survey was closed in September. After reviewing and analyzing a myriad of responses, the OSU Extension Administrative Cabinet has announced several next steps and initial decisions as of October 12, 2017.

designEXT Decisions – October 12, 2017

Decision presentation by Dr. Roger Rennekamp, director – October 18, 2017