A specialized team from the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service has been recognized nationally for its skills in bringing communities to consensus.
The group of 21 extension agents from across the state, trained in group facilitation techniques, received the Excellence in Teamwork Award from the Joint Council on Extension Professionals at the JCEP national meeting in Las Vegas. Since 2010, the core group has trained more than 100 Extension professionals to lead project stakeholders in collaboration exercises, consensus building, strategic planning and more.
“This is part of extension’s effort to provide ‘high-touch’ service, connecting the organization with home communities,” said Mary Lou Addor, program leader and organizational development specialist for Cooperative Extension, and director of N.C. State University’s Natural Resources Leadership Institute.
“In Las Vegas, we also did workshops to share with the others at the JCEP Conference what we do, how North Carolina has this program within Cooperative Extension, and what we plan to do in the future,” said Cabarrus County Extension Director Robbie Furr. He said that while there are other states that have similar programs, North Carolina is on the leading edge of a cohesive facilitation curriculum.
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Furr said the program is not a typical extension program, but they see it as a skill that anybody in Cooperative Extension should have because, “We all work with the public, and work with groups, and do things where being a skill facilitator is necessary.”
In Cabarrus County, Furr facilitated a workshop with the Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI) on the topic of manufacturing, bringing together people from local manufacturing companies, school system, community colleges, and local government and elected officials. As a group, they discussed jobs in the county and what skills people need to be successful in those jobs and gathering ideas on ways to bridge the education gap.
Another project Furr guided was related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.
Leigh Guth, Lincoln County Extension agent in family and consumer sciences, said that they use ground rules and organizational skills that they have developed to draw ideas from all affected groups, making sure everyone is heard, and capturing the essence of what they need.
Guth has led facilitation efforts on a number of issues that include farmland preservation, and the IEI discussion on building manufacturing as a career in Lincoln County.
One community discussion she guided was the fate of a historic Rosenwald school that once served African-American students. She arranged meetings to gather members of the local African-American community, county commissioners and county government officials.
As a result, Lincoln County received a $500,000 grant and some additional funds to help restore the school. The effort to create a purpose for the facility continues, and more partners have become involved.
Trained Cooperative Extension facilitators are leading discussions on similar projects across the state.
“We try to help people see where there are commonalities,” said Guth. “We usually come up with four or five ideas that are common, and it’s really interesting to see how that works.
“It was a great honor to be asked to the meeting in Las Vegas,” she said, “to share what we have learned with folks on a national level, and then to learn from them.”
Carole Howell is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Carole? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The service offered by N.C. Cooperative Extension helps local groups gather information to improve services and solve problems. A core team, available in 18 N.C. counties, was trained by program creator Mary Lou Addor of N.C. State, and has shared their skills with more than 100 other Extension agents. To tap in to this service, contact your county’s N.C. Cooperative Extension office.