Seeing the full picture

Our programs support a variety of people from across the state and in various subjects. If you go to our website, you’ll find eight subject headings, and under each of those, you’ll find nearly 80 additional topics. I’ve voiced my discomfort with that dizzying number before. My concern is that some of us and some of the people we serve might interpret that to mean that we claim to be expert on all things to all people. But I have to remind myself that the list of topics is more like an index at the end of a book and not the table of contents at the front. Still, I listen carefully to people our programs serve to see if they think of us as an encyclopedia of information on all subjects, or specialists with expertise in key areas.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had an opportunity to meet with community leaders who serve on two of our 13 district advisory councils. I always come away from those encounters impressed by the leadership we’re able to attract to serve on our councils. And in these two cases, I’ve come away pleased with the diversity of interests represented by our council members. They each come to Michigan State University Extension with a particular interest related to one or several of our programs.

I met a farmer, an economic development expert, someone who markets agricultural products globally, an advocate for school children, a mayor of a small city, and a dean at a community college, to name a few. The diversity of their expertise and vocations helps define the diversity of our programs. And they seem to appreciate the breadth of those programs, and the need for us to be focused in the areas that concern them.

Having them share their perspectives is one of the richest experiences I get to have as Director. They each come in with a commitment to their interest area and often encourage us to delve deeper into the needs they see as being most critical in their district and from their perspective. But in the discussions around the table, they also get to hear what matters most to others.

I deeply appreciate the needs and suggestions that each council member brings, they help further sharpen our focus and innovate ways to better address their needs. And just as deeply, I appreciate that they hear each other – the diversity of needs and perspectives that we are trying to address. We don’t have 80 program priorities or work groups, we have 16. And it is always a struggle for those 16 work groups to set annual priorities and set their focus to maximize impact in communities across the states.

We’re still working on being more effective at telling the stories of our stakeholders, the differences we make and how we are being accountable for the resources entrusted to us. But we’re strengthened tremendously by the willingness of community leaders to sit with us and with each other to discuss their needs and how we should focus our future efforts. At times like that, not only do I get to see the full picture of what we’re doing those council members do as well. I’m grateful for their insights and their commitment to help make us better.

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