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I Know MI Numbers featured at Ag Expo

As you know, Michigan State University Extension is implementing the I Know MI Numbers initiative, focusing on five targeted programs among many identified as critical to the state’s future on Gov. Rick Snyder’s dashboard. MSU Extension staff members educated the public about each issue in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources tent and the MSU Extension Bookstore tent at Ag ExpoJuly 19–21. In temperatures in the 90s with humidity that led to heat indexes in the 100s, our dedicated staff soldiered on to encourage attendees to improve their quality of life.

MSU Extension Bookstore tent

MSU Extension Bookstore tent

At the MSU Extension Bookstore tent, Ag Expo attendees could purchase soil test kits. The kits make it easy for gardeners to get quick results and information when they send in their soil samples through Extension to the MSU Soil and Plant Nutrient Lab. Mary Wilson, MSU Extension consumer horticulture educator and state coordinator of the MSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program, was on hand in the CANR tent to explain the process. Using the soil test results, gardeners can more accurately determine the amount of fertilizers and herbicides to use – lessening the chance of overuse. This would reduce runoff, improving water quality – a goal of the I Know MI Numbers targeted program: Agriculture That Protects Michigan’s Waters. We’d like to see Michigan’s water index moving higher than 88, on a scale of 100. (If you missed getting a soil test kit, you can still get one at the MSU Extension Bookstore at bookstore.msue.msu.edu.) Staff involved with the water quality initiative staffed a display at the CANR tent as well. And during Ag Expo, many demonstrations throughout the three-day event focused on agriculture that improves water quality. We have nearly 60 programs or events throughout the state that focus on key water-quality issues.

Agriculture That Protects Michigan's Waters

Agriculture That Protects Michigan's Waters exhibit. Photo by Katie Alexander.

In the CANR tent, Extension staff members measured visitors’ height and weight to help them determine their BMI (body mass index). Staff members were ready to talk nutrition and healthy habits with attendees. Reducing adult obesity is a targeted program that aims at reaching 8,000 people across the state to make healthy changes in their behavior. In Genesee and Saginaw counties, 35 adult obesity prevention/reduction classes reach hundreds of adults with information to help them improve their BMI.

Reducing adult obesity

Reducing adult obesity exhibit. Photo by Katie Alexander.

Helping Our Cities and Towns Succeed aims at helping local officials address the fiscal crisis and reduce the cost of government. Michigan residents attending Ag Expo could determine their local fiscal health number (by checking a chart on the Michigan Department of Treasury’s website, created by MSUE) and compare it to other communities. They then placed a colored tack on a map that represented one of three categories: neutral, watch or stress. The goal of this targeted program is to have all communities fall in the neutral category, a number between zero and four. Extension is partnering with the governor and the Michigan Department of Treasury to educate Michigan residents about fiscal health.

Helping Our Cities and Towns Succeed

Helping Our Cities and Towns Succeed exhibit. Photo by Katie Alexander.

Increasing early childhood literacy focuses on Michigan children entering kindergarten with the skills they need in order to be reading at grade level by the third grade. In the CANR tent, a children’s story hour took place every hour. After listening to the story, a child could choose a free book to take home. MSU Extension has held five events since June in which children and parents focused on developing pre-reading skills. And we’ll be distributing up to 500,000 books donated by First Book to youth living in low-income situations.

Increasing Early Childhood Literacy

Increasing Early Childhood Literacy exhibit. Photo by Katie Alexander

MSU Extension is helping to improve science literacy by supporting teachers with resources, experiments and lesson plans that align with Michigan Science Education standards and coordinating 4-H Science Blast and 4-H National Youth Science Day. Kids who attended Ag Expo participated in two water-quality science experiments and the Fashion-a-Fish project activity to improve their own science literacy.

Improving Science Literacy

Improving Science Literacy exhibit. Photo by Katie Alexander.

Thanks to all who participated in making it possible to get the word out about the I Know MI Numbers initiative at Ag Expo.

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‘I Know MI Numbers’ to improve Michigan’s future

Since its founding, Michigan State University Extension has, in all areas of endeavor, led Michigan residents forward by improving their lives. Today, Michigan residents face crucial issues that affect their quality of life including rising levels of obesity, low achievement in science literacy, threats to water quality, children unprepared for school, and cities and townships facing bankruptcy in a tenuous economic recovery.

 MSUE’s “I Know MI Numbers” (pronounced “I know my numbers”) initiative will inspire residents to be active participants in understanding the “numbers” that translate into healthier living, productive and sustainable agriculture, a cleaner environment, educational achievement and good local government. Our final goal is a state that is thriving and successful.

 We’ll execute five programs over the next six to nine months through the “I Know MI Numbers” initiative. The programs relate to areas highlighted as priorities in Gov. Rick Snyder’s dashboard, which measures Michigan’s performance relative to other states and relative to our past in order to be able to measure improvements. This idea of keeping track by numbers is familiar to us in Extension as we continuously seek to measure the impact of our work in numbers and in stories. By focusing on five key areas in an intense effort, we intend to make a difference, demonstrating that we take the dashboard seriously, we take our mission seriously in helping Michigan to improve, and we hold ourselves accountable.

 As you all know, this is not the only work we’ll be doing over the next six months. Rather, these projects help to draw attention to the impact and relevance of our programs. We will feature other work that is underway, such as our work in community food systems, that will be showing impacts over a longer time horizon. The projects we’re featuring now are ones that help us to show our ability to respond and achieve impacts in a short time.

 The programs include:

 Agriculture that Protects Michigan’s Waters

The first bill that Gov. Snyder signed into law was the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program legislation. In signing it, he called attention to the importance of agriculture in Michigan’s economic recovery and the innovation of Michigan agriculturalists in taking on responsibility for practices that protect and enhance Michigan’s natural resources. Water is a tremendous resource in Michigan for agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and recreation. Clean and safe water resources are crucial to our quality of life and a bright economic future. And water quality is one of the 21 metrics on the governor’s dashboard. MSU Extension staff members will work with farmers to educate them about and help them to implement practices that reduce the flow of nutrients and pesticides to the water supply. MSU Extension will implement educational programs during the growing season and measure the impacts so that by the end of the growing season, we can collect measurable outcome data that directly correspond to improved water quality.

 Reducing Adult Obesity

Obesity leads to chronic disease and affects quality of life. Educational programming can help people change their behavior and in doing so can improve their own health. Our science-based education program aims to reduce the BMI (Body Mass Index) of individuals in Genesee and Saginaw counties, where obesity levels are the highest in the state. Working with faith-based organizations, worksites and through its existing programming, MSU Extension will lead nutrition education classes with an increased emphasis on obesity reduction. Our goal is to reach 8,000 people before the end of the year, changing behaviors and improving health, and demonstrating to participants and to decision makers if significant changes have been achieved.

 Helping our Cities and Towns Succeed

MSU Extension educators, working with partners from the legal and financial sectors, are providing the educational foundation for local officials to use tools provided by the governor and Legislature to address the fiscal crisis, improving the quality of service and reducing the cost of government. Extension staff members will provide workshops and trainings on topics such as the new emergency financial manager law, legal contracts, health care management, turnaround plans, local finance, local government cooperation and consolidation, school law and finance, and municipal bankruptcy.

 Increasing Early Childhood Literacy

More than a third of children enter kindergarten without the skills needed to benefit from the instruction they receive. MSU Extension is partnering with the Molina Foundation to distribute 50,000 books across Michigan. Combined with other learning resources that will be included, parents and caregivers will have the resources they need to better prepare young children for success in school and life. Supporting literacy education is how MSU Extension will help our youngest citizens to be reading at grade level by the third grade.

 Improving Science Literacy

MSU Extension has a long history of providing science education in a nonformal setting that uses an experiential, learn-by-doing method. Since science literacy for school-aged youth in Michigan is below the national average, we plan to help rectify the situation by supporting teachers across Michigan with resources, experiments and lesson plans around three science focus areas: biology (animal and veterinary sciences), plant sciences and environmental sciences (including bioenergy). MSU Extension will provide resource packets to teachers along with training in how to incorporate the resources into their classroom lessons. The materials will align with Michigan Science Education Standards by grade. MSUE staff members will coordinate 4‑H Science Blast and National 4-H Youth Science Day events across Michigan.

 Staff members are hard at work making these programs a reality. We expect initial results to be reported as early as fall 2011.

 View the video below on the “I Know MI Numbers” campaign produced by Agriculture and Natural Resources Communications. It will play on virtually any browser and will also play on most IPhone and Android smart phones. Its narrator is not the most charismatic speaker, but I hope he gets the point across that we mean business when it comes to making a difference in Michigan.

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What’s on your dashboard?

Governor Snyder presented his first State-of-the-State address last night, and delivered a message consistent with what he has said throughout his campaign and in the months following his election success: Michigan’s economy needs a boost, and the most immediate outcome that boost needs to generate is jobs.

 His speech was targeted more at the big ideas of where he intends to lead the state, but he did share a few more concrete examples to help illustrate his intention. One of those examples was the Michigan Dashboard – a quick way of documenting the metrics that he feels we need to improve. These are the metrics that will tell us whether his programs and other changes that the Legislature enacts are leading towards the creation of new jobs for Michigan residents.

 The metrics are organized in five categories: Economic Strength, Health and Education, Value for Government, Quality of Life and Public Safety. Among those five categories, 21 individual metrics are listed, and for each, data from the previous five years are given, and comparisons to other states are listed as well.

 The notion that government would be held accountable to a set of metrics isn’t entirely new. Six years ago, leadership in the Legislature determined that they wanted to use an accountability methodology based on the book “The Price of Government,” authored by David Osborne and Peter Hutchinson. Unfortunately, leadership in the House was more interested than leadership in the Senate, and the governor’s office seemed even less interested in that approach. Even so, at that time, my predecessor, Maggie Bethel, led the charge to show how Michigan State University Extension was able to deliver on the metrics of concern to legislators, and MSUE took the effort more seriously than any other organization inside or outside of state government. The impact papers that Maggie and her communications team generated were remarkable and have continued to influence the way we communicate about MSUE with decision makers.

 Governor Snyder’s approach may be more lasting, if for no other reason than the fact that it is originating from the Executive branch this time. Whether it lasts or not, I think it’s prudent for MSUE staff to once again ask ourselves how we contribute or can contribute to improving the metrics on the dashboard.

 For example, work our state and local government team conducts that assists local governments in finding ways to collaborate on services across jurisdictional lines should help to improve the metric on state and local government operating costs as a percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). Work we do on nutrition education should help to improve on infant mortality, obesity in the population and college readiness. Our Greening Michigan teams can contribute to the clean and safe water resources water quality index. And there are others.

 We need to challenge ourselves to be able to show how our work is contributing to these metrics. They are not our only means of accountability, but they are among our important means of accountability. I challenge each of you to think about how your work and the productivity of your work team can contribute to one or more of these 21 metrics. Where appropriate, we need to build these into our logic models as metrics for measuring our program impacts.

 I’d like to hear from you with your ideas about MSUE contributing to these metrics. Before you hit the “reply” button and send your ideas just to me, please make a few more clicks by going to my blog and add your suggestions as comments to this posting so that others in MSUE, on your work team and outside of MSUE can read your thoughts as well.

 This is a time when we need to be able to once again rise to the challenge, and with the same confidence and boldness that Maggie demonstrated in 2005, speak clearly and demonstrate the value of MSUE for Michigan’s future.

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