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CIVIC Team from the University of Florida and Florida A&M finds new opportunities to create with eXtension’s Impact Collaborative

The Impact Collaborative prepared the CIVIC team with new skills, resources, and opportunities that have helped them come together as a team to accelerate and scale their program. Their involvement with the Impact Collaborative has helped create new pathways for reaching a more diverse audience, find strategic ways to engage new partners, and better help Extension professionals across Florida facilitate a process that builds community capacity in addressing challenging issues such as climate change, sustainability, opioid addiction, and water quality. – Vonda Richardson, Director of Extension at Florida A&M University

The CIVIC Team (Community Voices, Informed Choices) is a program co-led by faculty at Florida A&M University and the University of Florida. Their program builds capacity for communities to better understand and address their challenges, as well as facilitate improved quality of life. These challenges include issues for which there are no clear, scientifically best solutions, such as sea level rise, school violence, opioid addiction, and water quality. 

From the University of Florida, the team includes Martha Monroe, Extension Professor; Lara Milligan, Extension Agent; Carol Alberts, Extension Agent; Alicia Betancourt, County Director; and Linda Seals, Regional Specialized Agent. From Florida A&M University, the team includes Dreamal Worthen, Extension Professor; Sandra Thompson, Extension Specialist; and Kenya Washington, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice.

According to Martha Monroe, CIVIC Team Leader, “all CIVIC programs are firmly rooted in Research and convey the best available science. All programs include Values-based Deliberative Discussions as a mechanism for engaging a variety of perspectives, building understanding, and creating partnerships. Additionally, programs address justice, equity, inclusion, and diversity in leadership, issue framing, solution forming, and community engagement in recognition of the critical importance of respecting and engaging all members of a community in opportunities to improve their well-being.” 

Becoming an Impact Collaborative Program Team

This team first began working with eXtension’s Impact Collaborative in October, 2018 at the first national Impact Collaborative Summit. During the Summit, teams had the opportunity to work through an Innovation Skill-Building experience in order to help catalyze innovation towards an increased local impact. 

“As Extension professionals, it is important that we are addressing what the community wants and we are serving as a resource in terms of helping the community. The Summit is providing us the tools and the skill set for having us better prepared when I go back to my institution to do this work. When I hit a roadblock, I can pull out the tools that we’ve received at the Summit in order to help diagnose problems,” said Worthen. 

At that Summit, the team had the opportunity to present their program to a panel of Extension leaders and external partners at a “PitchFest.” Teams participating in the PitchFest not only gained valuable feedback from the panel and their peers across Extension, but teams that are most-ready to implement their projects and programs had the chance to secure an opportunity for strategic support. For the CIVIC team, their success at the PitchFest awarded them a free trip to the April 2019 Impact Collaborative Summit, and consulting from eXtension’s Partnership Development team consisting of Teresa Hogue, Andrea Hernandez, and Lynn Luckow. 

The Partnership Development team provided advice on developing a suite of investment partners and worked to link the CIVIC team with potential partnership opportunities. 

Reconnecting with the Impact Collaborative

In April 2019, the CIVIC team participated in the second Impact Collaborative Summit. This Summit was designed to provide greater one-on-one support to project and program teams than the previous Summit, including a coach for each team, the opportunity to access a graphic artist and a concept-mapping coach to help visualize, connect, and identify gaps in their project planning, and several Key Informants on staff with subject-matter-expertise in specialized areas. 

According to Washington, “The most valuable thing we get out of this Summit was the opportunity to form our team identity, and that’s because we’ve been working in silos as a result of not being on the same campus. Some of the very best work we do here is the opportunity to coalesce as a team and learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses…It was valuable for us to be here so we could articulate our thoughts to others and get feedback, and see what others hear when we’re talking so we can understand if that matches our intention. One of the most gratifying moments was working with the visualization station – having the graphic recorder try to understand what we were trying to do – and then illustrate a picture of that which enabled us to feel more confident that we were in the right direction. I can’t put a price tag on that. To me – it was the greatest benefit of being here.”

Thompson felt that the Impact Collaborative Summit provided a unique opportunity to create impactful results at the local level. “We’re here at the April 2019 Impact Collaborative Summit to expand upon the deep dive into learning about conceptualization and engaging the community that we did in October. We’re here really developing the program and putting it in a marketable format. What I can say about each experience is that it really gives us individually and collectively the opportunity to create. It’s unstructured, it’s intense, but it’s productive.”

The culminating event of the April 2019 Impact Collaborative Summit was an opportunity for teams to present their projects and programs to a panel of Extension leaders and external partners at a “LaunchFest.” Similar to the PitchFest in October 2018, teams participating in the LaunchFest not only gained valuable feedback from the panel and their peers across Extension, but teams that are most-ready to implement their projects and programs have the chance to secure an opportunity for funding. As a result of their presentation at the LaunchFest, the CIVIC team received a pre-approved application for a $5000 grant funded by eXtension to move their project towards implementation. 

Moving Forward Towards Implementation

As the team moves forward, they are working together to achieve three goals:

  1. Institutionalize strategies for the University of Florida and Florida A&M University faculty to easily work together, develop resources, conduct training, and equitably provide resources.
  2. Support Extension agents as they build community partnerships, adapt issue frameworks to address local situations, and prepare their community for values- and research-based discussions
  3. Support Extension agents as they deliver high quality, diverse and equitable, transformative community programs. 

The CIVIC program is implemented at the state and local level. At the state level, the leadership team plans in-service training, seeks funding, mentors agents, develops resources and materials, hosts the website, designs evaluation tools, and reports on CIVIC activities at the state level. At the local level, the county agents build partnerships, assess the community’s perspectives, revise materials to meet local needs, develop an appropriate sequence of programs to build capacity, facilitate movement toward solutions or recommendations by providing a platform to support community leaders, and report on the success of CIVIC programs. At present, the team is currently scaling participation in CIVIC programs. 

The grant will help provide the resources needed to support the development of state-level resources which will help agents move forward with confidence and competence. The resources will support the development of state-level resources which will help agents move forward with confidence and competence. It will also help better position CIVIC to request funding from investment partners as they continue to strengthen their state infrastructure, develop resources, train agents, and address community challenges.

Reflecting upon her experience with the Impact Collaborative, Thompson shared “the Impact Collaborative Summit is energizing, and I hadn’t experienced that before. We are being given new skills, new processes, new people to talk to that help us take our past experiences and knowledge to create something new that is relevant to where we are today, and where the people that we are serving are today. The Impact Collaborative gives you the space, the knowledge, the time, and expertise to create amazing work. I haven’t really received that anywhere else.”

About the eXtension Foundation

The eXtension Foundation is a membership-based non-profit designed to be the engine fueling U.S. Cooperative Extension’s advancement in making a more visible and measurable impact in support of education outreach from land-grant universities/colleges located in every state and territory. eXtension provides an array of opportunities for Extension professionals that foster innovation creation, the adoption of innovations at member institutions, and increased impact of Extension programs.