Listening sessions help extension determine key issues

Vice president for extension and outreach John Lawrence held 62 listening sessions across the state last summer and fall with about 1,200 participants.

The main focus of the meetings was to determine the most important issues impacting Iowa communities' ability to thrive over the next five years. Workforce challenges, child care, housing, mental health and the farm economy were issues stakeholders, extension staff and representatives from county extension councils cited most frequently.

The listening sessions are part of the information-gathering process being used to make decisions about program priorities, staffing needs and resource allocation.

The discussions also led to three internal themes extension members want to see addressed: organizational structure, communication and leadership. Responses to all three are in the works.

Extension and outreach's Structured for Success committee is working to develop two to four organizational structures county extensions could use and is scheduled to release its recommendations by September. An internal communication task force recently concluded its look into improving communication within extension and will share its recommendations this spring.

Lawrence is working with community and economic development specialists to offer programming to assist communities in identifying leaders. Extension and outreach will help cover the cost if extension councils also contribute money, and council members and county staff take part in the program.

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