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Strategic Plan and Vision: FAQs

 
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OVERVIEW

This section includes some common and important Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) regarding the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service’s Strategic Plan & Vision. These FAQs include questions submitted by employees at our strategic plan announcement meetings, employee district meetings, inquiries sent to Extension Service administration, and posts made on our UserVoice system.

*We will continue to add and update FAQs as we receive them and are able to respond (see UserVoice below).

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What were the Goals behind the Strategic Vision & Planning Process?

  1. Focus our efforts on our most competitive and needed programs.
  2. Strengthen our impacts toward state and the counties.
  3. Create a financial buffer to reduce major impacts of future cuts.
  4. Develop a staffing model that aligns to our new financial realities and provides competitive salaries and a better quality of life for our employees.

Why was a new strategic plan and changes necessary?

  • The Extension Service has seen recurring federal and state budget cuts of around $14 million since 2008, resulting in the loss of roughly 157 campus and county positions. Our operating model was no longer sustainable, and it was time to prioritize what we can do best with the staffing that our funding will support.
     
    In addition, Extension across the nation celebrated 100 years of service in 2014, which presented a unique opportunity not only to recognize our historical impacts, but also to evaluate our operations and envision long-term goals to improve how we serve our clients. It was time to look in the mirror and ask questions like, “Who are we?,” “Who do we want to be?,” and “How can we continue to serve North Carolina for years to come?”
     
    Change is necessary in order to remain relevant and valuable in today’s ever-changing society. We are positioning Extension at N.C. State for long-term sustainability so we can provide more and better solutions in our core program areas to improve the lives, land and economy of North Carolinians.

What are the Core Program Areas for the Extension Service going forward?

  • We are focusing our resources where we are most needed, best equipped to provide solutions and can make the most impacts on the state’s communities and economy: Agriculture, Food & 4-H Youth Development. These areas also came across loud and clear as the services that are most needed during our extensive planning process and listening sessions with 2,000 people across the state.
     
    *Each Core Program Area includes multiple sub-programs and services of value (view examples). We are not reducing our focus to merely three programs, but three broad programmatic areas of greatest strength and expertise.

What services/programs will you no longer be offering? Where will people go for services you’ll no longer provide?

  • We will transition away from 3 objectives in our current program planning and reporting:
    1.  

    2. Parenting & Caregiver Skills
    3. Family Financial Management Skills
    4. Energy Conservation

     
    We are exploring alternative providers for services in these areas, which may involve different organizations depending on the region of the state. It’s a time-consuming process, but one that we’re committed to. We will identify the resources we feel are best suited to provide the services that we will no longer offer. At that time, we will develop and share a document and/or webpage to direct clients to these alternate providers and facilitate a seamless transition of services.

When will the changes outlined in the strategic plan be implemented?

  • Changes will take place throughout a 22-month transition period from August 2014 to July 2016. View an Implementation Timeline Summary (PDF), which will be updated as needed.
     
    We understand the strain that a transition phase can put on people, so we’re making sure to implement changes over a period of time in order to minimize the impacts on people’s lives and livelihoods. Transition and support resources/services will also be provided for those employees that have been identified as needing to realign their programs or otherwise transition away from their current focus.

Does this strategic plan and associated changes include N.C. A&T State University?

  • This strategic plan builds on a long, proud tradition of serving the citizens and communities of North Carolina to create a modern organization that transfers and applies the research at N.C. State University. The plan and changes are specific to N.C. State and do not reflect organizational changes on the part of N.C. A&T State University.
     
    Cooperative Extension is a collaboration between the federal, state and local governments, as well as among land-grant universities across the nation. While the Extension Service at N.C. State partners with N.C. A&T State as our fellow N.C. land-grant university, this plan reflects changes only for N.C. State Extension. Strategic partnerships are the lifeblood of Extension, and we will continue to partner with N.C. A&T as well as local governments across the state to provide solutions to North Carolinians.

How did Extension Service administration go about the planning process? How did you come to these decisions?

  • The strategic plan is the result of a 10-month planning process that illustrated where we are a) most needed by the people of North Carolina, and b) best equipped to provide research-based information that makes the greatest impacts on the state’s communities and economy. Our vision is a culmination of extensive research and discussions with employees and stakeholders, including:
    1. 2,000 participants at 14 public listening sessions;
    2. More than 600 employees at Extension’s State Conference in 2013;
    3. *Eight state Extension systems that have undergone change;
    4. 179 county commissioners and managers that responded to surveys assessing their needs; and
    5. Extension leadership met with local & state government, commodity groups, community organizations, advisory councils and others.

     
    *State Extension Systems consulted were: Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Virginia.

  • We are ensuring that Extension will continue to be the leading source of research-based knowledge and solutions in Agriculture, Food and Youth Development for many years to come.

How will these changes address the organization’s budgetary challenges and/or improve services?

  • The changes laid out by the strategic plan will allow us to operate and be successful within our means, which was not the case previously. Our prior operating model was no longer sustainable, as evidenced by our overstretched agents and local staffing structures; we’ve permanently lost 157 campus and county positions through attrition in just the last two bienniums.
     
    Our new model will provide us the avenues to redistribute county staff and refocus our resources to provide equitable support for our clients and county partners across the state, which has not existed in many counties for years. It will also provide a blueprint for programmatic investment in our core areas of agriculture, food and 4-H youth development, which is where we are strongest, best (and most uniquely) equipped to provide research-based knowledge, and most needed by North Carolina.

If Extension is investing more in “high tech,” does this mean you’re phasing out/reducing onsite work and visits?

  • Extension is a leader in experiential education, both online and onsite. We plan to optimize our use of modern technologies and leverage the most efficient, relevant and timely delivery interfaces for engaging our clients. However, our emphasis will always remain on relationships and personal service. Our greatest asset is our people, and they’ll be there to work hand in hand with clients.
     
    The Pew Internet Project’s research related to mobile technology suggests that 90% of American adults own a cell phone and 42% own a computer tablet (as of January 2014). Extension’s clients are an increasingly plugged-in audience with the capabilities and desire to access information digitally. The research also indicates that there is no difference in the rate of cell phone ownership between urban and rural citizens, suggesting that access to technology in America is becoming increasingly balanced regardless of geography.

    Another study conducted by Copernicus Marketing, Consulting, and Research – “Cooperative Extension Brand Value” – illustrates that the majority of our clients are “very likely” to attend meetings or workshops and request printed materials. So an emphasis should and will remain on personal service; a balance must be established.

    As such, we will employ a “high tech” AND “high touch” approach as an organization by packaging technologically advanced educational tools with onsite activities like trainings, field days, visits, etc. This 21st-century approach to education is an impactful and effective strategy that will help our people sustain existing relationships as well as engage new audiences with valuable Extension resources.

It seems like there are a lot of details that still need to be worked out. Are you ready to go with this plan?

  • The strategic plan rollout is a roadmap to a sustainable, successful future for the Extension Service. It isn’t intended to offer all the answers, but rather presents a vision that will come to fruition in collaboration with our employees and partners. Extension is a large and complex organization with many moving parts, diverse clients and unique local needs.
     
    There is no silver bullet or single solution, and we need your help to identify the best series of solutions in many cases. We will convene program teams to begin work on certain issues and goals, such as a team to address volunteers and the need for sustaining and growing those relationships.
     
    We purposefully launched the plan at this point, without certain details set in stone, so our employees can help fill in the gaps and work with us to finalize the best approach for our long-term sustainability. In addition, we recognize that local governments – our most important partners – have unique needs that we can’t define on our own at the state level.
     
    There are 101 local conversations we need to have in order to develop the Extension Service of the future! We will continue to communicate with employees and stakeholders on a regular basis to keep you informed and engaged as the plan takes shape.

What is happening to volunteer programs like Extension Master Gardener?

  • Volunteer-driven programs, including Extension Master Gardener and others, will continue to be an integral part of Extension for many years to come. In 2013, more than 40,000 volunteers contributed over 870,000 hours to Extension. We plan to grow those relationships and build those valuable programs even more in the future; we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without them.

How does Community & Rural Development (CRD) fit into the new model?

  • Community & Rural Development (CRD) will remain a vital component of the Extension Service going forward. A lot of current programs fit within CRD; the majority of what we do could be described as developing communities, both rural and urban. It’s a very overarching program area that involves each of our three core program areas (agriculture, food and 4-H youth development). As long as CRD programs and efforts fit within the new core program areas they are fine, and those that don’t will have an opportunity to align with the core.

Where can I find outreach resources to help me communicate about the strategic plan to my local clients? What resources are/will be available to help me answer questions I’m receiving?

  • You can find existing resources including materials like a Strategic Plan Handout (1-pager), News Release and Strategic Plan Foundational Document (comprehensive overview) on the public strategic plan website here. Additional materials like the Employees Strategic Plan Announcement Presentation and a recording of the Announcement Webinar are available on the employees strategic plan page here.
     
    We are developing a “communications toolkit” regarding the strategic plan for our employees, volunteers, partners and other valued Extension stakeholders. New resources like FAQs, Key Messages/Talking Points, Video playlist, Podcasts, Social Media resources, etc., as well as county staffing formulas and other data, are on the way to help you facilitate discussions with local governments and others. We will share those materials when available in early September, and we’ll continue to provide regular strategic plan updates and information throughout the process.

 
RESPONSES TO EMPLOYEE FAQs – OCT. 22, 2014

Support for ECA

“I don’t see much connection to NCCES’s new Strategic Vision. There are many ECA programs that are unrelated to Ag, Food, and 4-H (i.e. “Home Energy,” which is no longer part of Extension’s core). I’d like to see admin come out with a statement on whether Extension still supports ECA.”

  • We can assure you that ECA is valued and we have no intentions of severing our long-time relationship. We are simply building a firm position of strength and sustainability that Extension needs to ensure its programs, services and people (including volunteers) will be around for future generations.
     
    Food production, preservation, nutrition and health have been an integral part of FCS and ECA since their inception. Clients throughout the state have made it clear that this is Extension’s most unique niche and opportunity for helping people across the state in the future. Focusing on our core is one way to increase our efficiencies and impacts to address these needs.
     
    Another opportunity is our 4-H youth program. While aligned to both the food and agriculture core, 4-H is not limited to those areas and has a great breadth of topics that can still be used to enhance youth life skills. In this way, some of the traditional FCS/ECA programs, such as family financial management or others, have the potential to move to areas like youth financial management.
     
    We look forward to exploring the possibilities and opportunities of the future together. There is no question that our ECA volunteers and others volunteers are a vital part of Extension’s success. You have been with us since the beginning it is our desire to be together for the next centennial.

If an NCSU-funded FCS Agent manages ECA programs, will we require that all ECA programs focus on Extension’s Core Program Areas?

  • First, it’s important to note that ECA is its own unique organization. While we want to identify opportunities to align certain programs more closely with our core, the ECA isn’t expected to operate solely within the Extension Service’s newly defined parameters. As with other Extension associations, Extension FCS agents can serve as liaisons ¬to ECA to support programs that are within the core, as well as provide education and training to ECA volunteers to better align their work with agents’ program goals. We’ll have discussions with ECA to explore the options and plan for any transitions, etc. in the near future. In the end, there are great opportunities to strengthen ECA’s role in supporting Extension programming.

How will FCS programs/employees be integrated into the Core of ag, food and youth development?

  • Most FCS programs already fit in our core (nutrition, food safety, food preparation, etc.). Those outside the food or ag core areas may fit within our 4-H youth development needs and can support those efforts. Numerous FCS programs can likely be adjusted to align with the core in a fairly seamless fashion, but we understand that employees need clarification and guidance.

When will the objectives on the One Stop Shop (Extension reporting system) change? When will we no longer be able to report areas not included in the Vision? What kinds of changes can be expected?

  • Employees can expect the Extension Reporting System (ERS) to remain unchanged through the 2015 calendar year; the objectives will be the same. Your Plan of Action (POA), as submitted by individual agents, is perfectly fine through 2015. We will develop a program team dedicated to this topic/issue, which will help establish a revised reporting system to likely take affect in January 2016. We’ll keep you in the loop!

What is being done for pay increases for agents with multiple years of experience?

It was mentioned that the starting salary will be increased for new hires and that those making less than the starting salary will receive a pay increase. Some of us have stuck with the organization even without much of an increase over the last 7 years. Are you considering these folks?

  • This fiscal year, NC State University implemented a “redistribution” of funds for the purpose of salary increases for EPA employees. That is, the State of North Carolina did not give NEW funds, but allowed the University to redistribute current funds for an increase to EPA employees. These funds could be allocated for merit, equity or market-based reasons.
     
    With our strategic plan in place, we knew that one our of our organization’s priorities was to increase starting salaries. To do that, we also needed to be able to adjust the salaries of current employees who would be under that new starting base. Therefore, we utilized some of the funds available to increase the salaries of all EPA Extension agents up to at least $36,000. As a result, we will be able to increase our advertised starting salary for bachelor’s-level employees up as well.
     
    This year’s redistribution of funds for increases was not sufficient to handle the entirety of the salary issues we face. As we look to the upcoming fiscal year and the potential for additional funds for increases, we will plan to continue to direct such funds toward addressing our salary structure priorities as well as rewarding our high performers for their work.

I think there needs to be an internal list of what will continue and what will not and then a general letter to post on websites for external partners. Can you provide these items?

  • We will continue and strengthen programs that address our core clients’ needs. We believe in empowering our employees who will work on teams to determine how to best achieve this. We also feel that a formal list of what is “out” may be too restrictive because certain teams may find innovative and valuable ways to incorporate specific programs or activities. For example, financial management information may be crucial for agriculture producers, food entrepreneurs or 4-H’ers. To completely dismiss financial management education programs would be short-sited.
     
    In addition, every county and local center is going to play out differently. While we will provide support and guidance as possible from the state level, much of the specific transition decisions will need to occur at the county level in order to address local situations and needs. There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather a strategic framework within which we will operate and allocate resources.
     
    Generally speaking, we provide details regarding non-core programs and address some options for employees impacted by those future transitions in various strategic plan resources, like the Strategic Plan Employee Announcement Presentation (page 23), for employees only, and also above in the FAQs.

Will agents be trained in areas outside their expertise?

  • The short answer is “yes.” We will absolutely continue to emphasize subject matter training across all areas. The program teams, which will come together through the early part of 2015, will help with developing training processes and determining the timeline, logistics, etc. for agent trainings. We will also have organizational development and competency trainings led by Dr. Mary Lou Addor. More details will be shared as program teams are formed and trainings take shape in the coming months.

Will Extension budgets continue to see reductions? What are we doing to address/prepare for this?

  • In short, yes. North Carolina’s economy is still experiencing budget challenges that are expected to impact all state-funded agencies and universities. Similarly, we have heard about potential reductions at the federal level. In the county staffing plan, we have built in some financial flexibility to offset budget reductions; however, continuous permanent large reductions or redistributions would impact the entire university system over time.

SUBMIT QUESTIONS & IDEAS

We also encourage you to submit questions regarding the strategic plan on Extension’s UserVoice forum. We value your questions and ideas, and we will work to respond as quickly and efficiently as possible.

As such, we will address most of the UserVoice questions in this FAQs section, where they can all be reviewed and categorized on one page, as opposed to sporadic responses throughout the UserVoice forums.

Share Questions/Ideas on Extension UserVoice
*The questions are listed under “Give feedback” in the right-hand menu.

CONTACT

Have questions? Contact information for the Extension Service Leadership Team can be found here.

For website questions or issues, contact Justin Moore, Extension Communications, at justin_moore@ncsu.edu or 704-250-5433.

Written By

Photo of Justin MooreJustin MooreDirector of Marketing & Communications, NC State Extension (919) 515-1371 justin_moore@ncsu.eduExtension Administration - NC State University
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