Impact Collaborative Process Helps Extension Professionals Create Online Civil Rights Training

What I think helped with the process was having people tell their own personal stories. It made the difference. People resonate more with personal stories versus, “this is the law.”

While presenting at the first eXtension Issue Corps (now called the Impact Collaborative) Designathon in 2016, Renee Pardello, assistant dean for the University of Minnesota Extension, began to have conversations with Extension professionals from across the country about integrating global dynamics and cultural knowledge into Extension education, research, and outreach.

“What I discovered is there is a wide range of people’s knowledge regarding the interplay of global realities and understanding the variety of cultures representing work clients, partners, and colleagues,” Pardello said.  “Some people said they’d never even thought about it,” regarding topics such as civil rights and why Extension complies with civil rights laws and the value it brings to Extension.

After finishing her Impact Collaborative experience, Pardello began developing a civil rights training designed to be effective for Minnesota faculty and Extension faculty across the country. Pardello received assistance creating the training with more than 40 Extension faculty, educators, and staff from the University of Minnesota. She also used resources from other land-grant universities to include Washington State University, Ohio State University, and Pennsylvania State University.

Pardello credits the Impact Collaborative process for reinforcing the need. “What I think helped with the process was having people tell their own personal stories. It made the difference. People resonate more with personal stories versus, ‘this is the law,’” Pardello said.

The training, which is currently offered through eXtension, is a robust online training with five modules consisting of videos, activities, and resources that provide a thorough review of civil rights laws and resources. Real-life scenarios and group discussions are included to educate, enlighten and inform Extension professionals about equity, diversity and civil rights. The goal is to address equity, diversity, and inclusion and to surpass civil rights expectations.

As a result of the work and expertise used to develop the civil rights training, Pardello was asked to return in 2017 and serve as a key informant for the 2017 Impact Collaborative.

The original Designathon was a day and a half process that includes four steps, which are design thinking, key informant expertise, growing base of evidence-based practice and dynamic synergy. Each step comes with objectives that serve to change the way the teams work. After completing the process, the teams leave with a new plan allowing them to work more effectively.

As a key informant, Pardello spoke to each group about their projects. She also helped the groups develop strategies to effectively reach new audiences and to be inclusive in regards to language. When creating a strategy map, Pardello began to understand the barriers that challenged many of the groups.

“The barrier was giving people language so they could be successful in initiating conversations with diverse groups. Hopefully, as these groups move forward, they will feel comfortable going into a community in the U.S. where they don’t fit in,” Pardello said.

Holli Arp, the University of Minnesota program leader for leadership and civic engagement, recently completed her online civil rights training. She said the training provided a common understanding of the laws and expectations of a land-grant institution. She said the intentional efforts of the organization to have everyone complete the training, but also to go beyond what is required by law, helped her analyze the team’s programming delivery.

“It gave you a chance to reflect on your own thinking and your own processes,” Arp said.  “It made me really think, is our programming really accessible to all?”

Recognizing there are communities that are underserved or unserved because of current processes, Arp said in Minnesota they began focusing team conversations about how to expand their reach.

Through the help of a seed grant with South Dakota State University, Arp said they are initiating conversations in the Latino community with the goal of helping the community understand the breadth of what Extension is and the services it provides.  They also would like to create leadership programming that fits the community’s needs.  “We hope to co-create something that can be more meaningful and grow,” Arp said.

In addition to Arp, Michael Darger, Extension community economics specialist at the University of Minnesota, said the training helped him realize the need to be prepared to do something different.

“Changing structure is hard, but I’m optimistic. I recommend the course; I think it was put together intentionally,” Darger said.

Although this effort began in Minnesota, concepts such as global dynamics, cultural knowledge, and civil rights are ideologies that Pardello believes will overall benefit Cooperative Extension programming in the U.S. and abroad.

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This story was written by ChaNae Bradley, Senior Communications Specialist  at Fort Valley State University