Extension Competency in the City

While there are similarities to staffing and workforce development in all geographic areas, there are opportunities to explore the unique context of personnel serving the Extension mission in large cities.

The urban context of diversity, complexity, and scale require Extension professionals, with diverse backgrounds, to develop unique competencies that build upon those addressed through existing professional development programs. Extension professionals vary in program expertise, background experiences, and scope of their position. Many urban Extension professionals serve as leaders of volunteers, public-private team, and special projects.

Extension’s pursuit to better attract, develop, retain, structure, and recognize competent personnel in the city requires new strategies to build on the knowledge base established through previous research and practice. Throughout Extension’s history, Extension leaders have examined and tested models for effective urban Extension personnel.

A fundamental element of human resource systems is identification of competencies, which are defined as a set of observable performance dimensions, including individual knowledge, skills, attitudes, and observable behaviors or characteristics (McClelland, 1973; Mirabile, 1997) and as collective team processes and organizational capabilities (Athey & Orth, 1999). Professional competencies needed by Extension personnel have been studied as a determining factor for relevant selection, training, and retention of talent. Many state Extension systems incorporate competencies into human resource practices and several authors identified Extension personnel competencies based on different types of positions, program areas, geographic areas, stage of career, or demographics of personnel.

New research and practice contribute to efforts to better understand urban Extension competencies. Here are a few examples.

Creating a Credential for Extension Professionals
(from Extension Foundation January 2019 News Roundup)
A joint effort between the Joint Council of Extension Professionals (JCEP), the Extension Committee on Organization & Policy (ECOP), and eXtension is underway to create a credential for Extension professionals.At the summer board meeting of JCEP in 2018, Scott Reed, the ECOP liaison to JCEP offered the idea of an Extension credential. The JCEP Board supported this opportunity and charged a small group to look at a complete a business plan to determine if the financial costs of creating a credential was worthwhile to the JCEP organization. Chris Geith, CEO of Extension Foundation, offered the support of Extension Foundation to facilitate creating the competency framework required and needed for a professional credential. This is funded, in part, through Extension Foundation’s New Technologies for Ag Extension grant. More information about this Extension Credential will be shared.

Competency Framework Development

The majority of research and practice provide a consistent framework, but do not focus on the distinctive competencies of professionals working in or influencing Extension’s work in urban communities.

Competency model development is a participatory process to identify a collective set of competencies that define the requirements for effective performance in a specific job, profession, or organization. A Competency Framework Development model can inform Extension’s recruiting and hiring practices as the next generation of professionals prepare to work on complex issues found in diverse urban areas. The first step is to identify core competencies and allocate resources accordingly. To do this, practitioners participate in a systematic process that includes three facilitated online sessions, using interactive technologies such as Zoom videoconferencing and Google docs for real-time data review. To learn more about Competency Framework Development and education, Extension Foundation provides valuable resources.

Urban County Extension Director
To better understand what it really takes to serve as an Extension leader in urban or metropolitan designated areas, a competency study was conducted with local Extension directors working in large counties. The county Extension director was selected due to their critical role in navigating community and organizational complexity and the dynamic interaction between internal and external environments (Jamali, 2005). The study aimed to systematically tap into the knowledge of practitioners – people who do the job, not who write about it or instruct it. Results of the Competency Framework Development process with urban county Extension directors include evidence these professionals need specific knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs that are both similar and unique when compared with findings from previous studies. Findings can be found through Extension Foundation, the Journal of Human Sciences and Extension, and proceedings from the 2017 National Urban Extension Conference.

Urban County Educator
The urban county educator is the next Extension position that will be studied through a Competency Framework Development process.

Resources and References

Competency development resources

Competency And Skills System (CASS)
Core Competencies for Agricultural Extension Educators (USAID, 2015)
Four Dimensions of Leadership and Talent
eXtension Competency Based Education
Harvard's Competency Dictonary
National Association of Extension Program & Staff Development Professionals
NonProfit Leadership Alliance - About Competency-Based Education
The Skills and Attributes of 21st Century Extension Professionals (2013)
What every Extension educator should know - core competency handbook (Suvedi, M., & Kaplowitz, M., 2016, USAID)

Competency references

-Athey, T. R., & Orth, M. S. (1999). Emerging competency methods for the future. Human resource management, 38(3), 215-225.
-Benge, M., Harder, A., & Goodwin, J. (2015). Solutions to burnout and retention as perceived by the county extension agents of the Colorado State University Extension system. Journal of Human Sciences and Extension, 3(1), 1-16.
-Brown, E. J. (1965). Adapting Extension to urban environment. Journal of Extension, 3(1), pp. 11-18.
-Bull, N. H., Cote, L. S., Warner, P. D., & McKinnie, M. R. (2004). Is Extension relevant for the 21st century? Journal of Extension, 42(6) Article 6COM2.
-Campion, M. A., Fink, A. A., Ruggeberg, B. J., Carr, L., Phillips, G. M., & Odman, R. B. (2011). Doing competencies well: Best practices in competency modeling. Personnel Psychology, 64(1), 225-262.
-Cochran, G. R. (2009). Ohio State University Extension competency study: Developing a competency model for a 21st century Extension organization (Doctoral dissertation, The Ohio State University).
-Cummings, S., Andrews, K., Weber, K. M., Poster, B. (2015). Developing Extension Professionals to Develop Extension Programs: A Case Study for the -Changing Face of Extension. Journal of Human Sciences and Extension Volume, 2(1).
Cooper, A. W. & Graham, D. L. (2001) Competencies Needed to be Successful County Agents and County Supervisors, Journal of Extension, 39(1)
-De Ciantis, D., Fox, J., Gaolach, B., Jacobsen, J., Obropta, C., Proden, P., Ruemenapp, M.A., Squires, J., Vavrina, C., Wagoner, S. & Willis, M. J. A. (2015). National Framework for Urban Extension.
-Deen, M. Y., Parker, L. A., Hill, L. G., Huskey, M., & Whitehall, A. P. (2014). Navigating Difference: Development and Implementation of a Successful Cultural Competency Training for Extension and Outreach Professionals. Journal of Extension, 52(1), n1.
-Doz, Y. (1996). Managing core competency for corporate renewal: towards a managerial theory of core competencies. In Organization and Strategy in the Evolution of the Enterprise (pp. 155-178). Palgrave Macmillan UK.
-Fuhrman, N. E., & Morgan, A. C. (2012). Program evaluation competencies of Extension professionals: Implications for continuing professional development. Aligning Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory with a Comprehensive Agricultural Education Model, 53(4), 85-97.
-Jamali, D. (2005). Changing management paradigms: implications for educational institutions. Journal of Management Development, 24(2), 104-115.
-Harder, A., Place, N. T., & Scheer, S. D. (2010). Towards a Competency-based Extension Education Curriculum: A Delphi Study, 51(3), 44-52.
-Harriman, L. C., & Daugherty, R. A. (1992). Staffing extension for the 21st century. Journal of Extension, 30(4), 4FUT1.
-Haynes, B. R. (2000). Management Skills of County Extension Administrators: Are They Sufficient to Do the Job? Journal of Extension, 38(2), 2RIB2.
-Hibberd, C., Blomeke, C., & Lillard, A. (2013). The skills and attributes of 21st century extension professionals.
-Hyatt, G (1966). Promotion to a supervisory or administrative role is no guarantee of adequate preparation or effective performance. Journal of Extension, 3.
-Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Institutions. (1999). Returning to our roots: The engaged institution. Washington, DC: National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.
-Krofta, J., & Panshin, D. (1989). Big-city imperative: Agenda for action. Journal of Extension, Fall 1989, 27(3).
-Lado, A. A., & Wilson, M. C. (1994). Human resource systems and sustained competitive advantage: A competency-based perspective. Academy of management review, 19(4), 699-727.
-Lakai, D. Identification of Competencies Needed by Extension Agents in North Carolina Cooperative Extension.
-Lakai, D., Jayaratne, K. S. U., Moore, G. E., & Kistler, M. J. (2014). Identification of Current Proficiency Level of Extension Competencies and the Competencies Needed for Extension Agents to Be Successful in the 21st Century. Journal of Human Sciences and Extension Volume, 2(1).
-Maddy, D. J., Niemann, K., Lindquist, J., & Bateman, K. (2002). Core competencies for the cooperative extension system. [Report]. Personnel and Organizational Development Committee (PODC) of the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP).
-McClelland, D. C. (1973). Testing for competence rather than for “intelligence.” American psychologist, 28(1), 1.
-Miller, J. R. (1973). Are New Models for Local Extension Organization Needed?. Journal of Extension, 11, 57-66.
-Mintzberg, H. (1994). The fall and rise of strategic planning. Harvard business review, 72(1), 107-114.
-Mirabile, R. J. (1997). Everything you wanted to know about competency modeling. Training & Development, 51(8), 73-78.
-Moore, L.L. & Rudd, R. D. (2004). Leadership Skills and Competencies for Extension Directors and Administrators. Journal of Agricultural Education, 45(3), 22-33
-National Extension Urban Task Force. (1996). Urban extension: A national agenda. ECOP National Extension Urban Task Force.
-Norton, R. E. (1998). Quality Instruction for the High Performance Workplace: DACUM.
-Prahalad, C. K., & Hamel, G. (1990). The Core Competence of the Corporation. Harvard Business Review, 68(3), 79-91.
-Ritsos, P. B., & Miller, L. E. (1985). Professional Competencies Needed by Extension Employees in Urban Counties of Ohio. Summary of Research 43.
-Russâft, D., Watkins, K. E., Marsick, V. J., Jacobs, R. L., & McLean, G. N. (2014). What Do the Next 25 Years Hold for HRD Research in Areas of Our Interest?. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 25(1), 5-27.
-Schafer, J. M., Huegel, C. N., & Mazzotti, F. J. (1992). Expanding into the urban arena. Journal of Extension, 30(2), 2FEA1.
-Stevens, G. W. (2013). A critical review of the science and practice of competency modeling. Human Resource Development Review, 12(1), 86-107.
-Stone, B., & Rennekamp, R. (2004). New Foundations for the 4-H Youth Development Profession: 4-H Professional Research, Knowledge, and Competencies Study, 2004. Conducted in cooperation with the National 4-H Professional Development Task Force. National 4-H Headquarters, CSREES, USDA.
-Vakola, M., Eric Soderquist, K., & Prastacos, G. P. (2007). Competency management in support of organisational change. International Journal of Manpower, 28(3/4), 260-275.
-Varner, D. L. (2011). A phenomenological study of millennial generation cooperative extension educators’ development of core competencies.
-Webster, N., & Ingram, P. (2007). Exploring the challenges for Extension educators working in urban communities. Journal of Extension, 45(3) Article 3IAW3.
-Yep, H. Y. (1980). Expanding urban programming. Journal of Extension, 19(3), pp. 29-33.
-Young, J., & Vavrina, C. (2014). Kentucky’s urban extension focus. Journal of Extension, 52(3), 3IAW3.

Sample state Extension competencies

Kentucky (DEI)
North Dakota