Cornell Extension LIVCO Project Team Finds Impact Collaborative Was “An amazing team building opportunity”

As Director of Cornell Cooperative Extension, I am delighted that County Associations around New York have been involved in the Impact Collaborative. One example of the success of this program is the unique, virtual opportunity for our Livingston County team to work through a creative and structured process to explore and develop a concept in a short period of time. It also helped with goals they had around team building. The Impact Collaborative provided our team with access to effective coaching and expert informants, which will help this work not only maintain momentum, but grow. The pandemic has been challenging for all of us, but this event and the process proved a bright spot for our Livingston County team.

– Christopher Watkins, PhD – Professor, School of Integrative Plant Science Horticulture Section, Director, Cornell Cooperative Extension

A team from Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Livingston County came together at the recent eXtension Foundation Impact Collaborative Summit. Their association is situated on a park-like campus of more than one hundred acres. They had an idea of turning their campus into a learning laboratory for the community, with demonstration gardens and more. 

The team was one of 25 groups from across the country that participated in the first ever virtual Impact Collaborative Summit, held in October 2020. Team members participating were executive director Jolie Spiers; Jennifer Schwab, program coordinator; Bernadette Harwood, Ag in the Classroom educator; Renee Hopkins, 4-H educator; and Mark Wittmeyer, youth development team leader.

Teams participating in the Summit were provided one-on-one coaching by the Impact Collaborative’s network of Innovation Facilitators. Innovation Facilitators are Cooperative Extension professionals who are trained to provide individuals with a new way of looking at program and project development, using the Innovation Skill-Building Experience (ISBE). ISBE is a methodology that helps new and existing programs across states and institutions identify gaps in their program planning and design, ensure they are most ready for implementation, and have explored all considerations to maximize their local impact

Jolie Spiers, executive director of CCE in Livingston County spoke with us about their team, the project they are building, and their experience with the Impact Collaborative. “The Impact Collaborative served as a catalyst for us to put structure around how we approach big ideas and think out of the box,” Spiers said. “The process provided some structure for our thinking, and enabled us to grow an idea in a very short period of time.”

Each team participating in the Summit had access to “expert” Key Informants from Extension and other external organizations. Key Informants assisted teams on a range of topics, including catalyzation, innovation, program development and evaluation; community partnerships; communications, marketing and digital engagement; diversity, equity, and inclusion; educational technology and instructional design; visualization; and more.  

 “Our key informants inspired us to think big, outside of the box, and with the goal of having an impact outside of our own association,” Spiers shared. “As this was our first time attending, we weren’t quite sure how the process with the Key Informants worked and we signed up for something like eight slots. Fortunately our amazing coach, Amanda Benton from New Mexico State, gently redirected us to allow for more  – and much needed – time to focus on going through the workbook that was provided. Our coaches were so supportive of our idea and also helped us see how to incorporate new aspects like workforce development into the project.”

Spiers indicated that the project concept changed over the course of the Impact Collaborative in important ways, and will continue to evolve. “We started off with the idea of a botanical garden on our campus and ended up with the concept for a collaborative learning lab for our entire community. Now it’s not a garden that we’re building. We understand more fully how a garden is the catalyst for change, the catalyst to bring all aspects of our association together – parenting, nutrition, agriculture in the classroom, Master Gardeners, agricultural research, youth development – and then pull in the rest of our community in, too, with workforce development, veterans, and other potential new partners.”

The team will continue their work. They will also partner again with the eXtension Foundation for future opportunities, including the Innovation Skill-Building Experience and facilitator training, as well as attending the 2021 Impact Collaborative.

When asked about the value of the experience to their team, Spiers replied, “Attending the Impact Collaborative was an amazing team building opportunity for our association. We plan to build upon what we learned at our first Impact Collaborative.” 

To learn more about the team’s work and their experience at the Summit, listen to this podcast interview.

The Extension Foundation’s Impact Collaborative is a results-driven program that catalyzes innovative ideas through a unique, structured, and supported process. The process enables Extension to work with community partners to find and implement the kinds of solutions that will result in the greatest local impact. The Impact Collaborative program is available to Extension Foundation members. Learn more about upcoming opportunities with the Impact Collaborative program at extension.org or by joining Connect Extension at connect.extension.org.