Outreach? Engagement? Extension?

- Friday, February 12, 2021
Extension 100th Anniversary Logo

Life is full of questions and these days it seems there is clearly no shortage. As Extension professionals this is our business. It is what we do. When talking with others about our work, we may also encounter this one: What is the difference between outreach and engagement? And (c’mon, you know it is coming), how is Extension different?

I was in a couple of meetings this week where these questions were asked. That makes sense, right? It’s cold and snowy. It’s mid-February. We work at a land-grant institution. We have meetings. Our business is all about finding answers to questions.

Writing is fun when the author is inspired. Given that I’ve been thinking on these questions more and more lately, they seemed the perfect inspiration for this post. Quick side note: I have learned that this comes to your in-box at all hours of the day and night; not because that’s when I write it, but rather our little digital assistants that make up the delivery system seem to take hours upon hours to package and forward the material. I don’t write it then, send it then, or expect you to read it then.

Outreach, engagement, and Extension are considered a critical mission area of land-grant institutions. In many ways they are similar. But how are they different? Let’s look at congressional testimony provided on the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Smith-Lever Act. Celebrating the centennial of the creation of Extension, Scott Reed, former Oregon State Extension director, noted the organizational learning (and evolution) that took place over the first 100 years. Reed said that Extension work involves more than simply conveying information through outreach channels. It also involves engagement of audiences and partners. Reed said, “Outreach begins with an answer; Engagement ends with one.”

If teaching, research, and service are key foundational principles of a land-grant institution, we could say Outreach to communities is all that service that involves taking knowledge gained through our research out to others (“I have the answer”). To Engage would imply we have in some way partnered with these audiences to inform our shared inquiry (i.e. research) that leads to “we have answers” (and more questions, of course). So, what is Extension? In addition to the ways it has been described in this previous post, might it also be considered the best of both and the brand name given to such efforts funded cooperatively, at least in part, since 1914?

Ready to think and discuss more on this? Next Tuesday (Feb 16, 3:30-4:30) we have time to do just that. Let me know if you would like the connection info. It’s cold and snowy, remember?

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