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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Improving the Extension Program Planning Process?

Texas AgriLife Extension Service places a great deal of time and resources in conducting program planning conferences.  It is no doubt that program planning conferences is a critical component of Texas Agrilife Extension Service’s performance management system.  However, the program planning conference itself is only one component in a  series of related activities which includes the distribution of Program Planning documents that provides expectations for programming, Program Development Trainings and Workshops, Specialist Scheduling,  the Program Planning Conference, Plan review and feedback, Plan approval, coaching and feedback by District Extension Administrator and Regional Program Directors during the implementation of programs, and the Performance Appraisal.  The following graph illustrates Texas AgriLife Extension Service’s performance management system;
In today’s economic climate program planning must be focused on ensuring that Extension is efficiently allocating resources that results in the following;
  • Program excellence not just focused on approving a plan on the TeXas System.
  • Committed to developing better programs that result in measurable outcomes.
  • More efficient utilization of District Extension Administrator, Regional Program Directors and Agents time.
One of the methods that will be utilized to increase the efficiency of the program planning conference will be utilizing Lync to conduct the program planning conference.   We will utilize this distance educational communication tool to add value to pre- program  planning conference activities (distribution of program planning materials, program development trainings or workshops, specialist scheduling, etc.) by employing video conferencing capabilities that is collaborative, engaging, and cost effective.

Microsoft Lync can provide the following benefits for Extension;
  • Control costs – District Extension Administrator, Regional Program Directors and agents can effectively communicate among geographically dispersed County and District offices without long distance charges. Integrated audio, video, and Web conferencing will reduce travel costs, as well as the cost of third-party teleconferencing fees.
  • Improve productivity- Applications available with Lync assists District Extension Administrator, Regional Program Directors and Agents communicate within a more productive format. Instead of e-mailing documents back and forth for approval, Middle Managers and Agents can rely on real-time collaboration through desktop applications such as sharing plans and reports on the TeXas System, power point presentations, Word documents and utilization of  a virtual whiteboard.
  • Gain operational efficiencies -By integrating Lync  in program planing and conferencing  delays can be reduced or eliminated. For geographically dispersed county and district offices, group chat can enable efficient, topic-specific, multi-party discussions saving time and money.
  • Enables Extension to be more responsive to clientele- By reducing the number of face to face meetings that require travel time for Agents allowing them to be in the county to respond to clientele needs and conduct educational programming.
Whenever any change is implemented some are reluctant and have questions related to the change. The following are some questions that have been posed related to the use of distance education in program planning conferences;

Question- Will Lync be utilized for conferences with all agents?
Answer- All agents may be involved with a Lync conference, but agents who need additional assistance will be required to attended a face to face program planning session.  The District Extension Administrator and Regional Program Directors will identify those agents who need to participate in a scheduled face to face session which include agents who are not prepared for their Lync session, new agents, agents who have plans that do not contain required elements, agents who have performance issues, etc.

Question- What happens if the system does not work the day the Lync session is scheduled?
Answer-This system has proven to be very reliable, however it is always advisable to have backup plans in the event a technical problem arises.  However, this is really no different than if an agent or middle manager has car trouble on their way to a meeting– we need to have a backup plan to accommodate unexpected situations!

Question- Will this diminish the effectiveness of the program planning conference?
Answer- No! The program planning conference is only one component of the performance management system and if we conduct quality program development trainings or workshops and conduct an effective program planning conference via Lync our program planning should be even more effective.  It should be emphasized that Lync provides face to face interaction, capacity to share documents, provides opportunity to utilize power point presentations and many of the same elements that have been utilized in the past during conferences except middle managers and agents are saving time due to reduce travel and reduced down time for agents who have traditionally had to wait for their individual conference. 

Question-Will Lync be utilized for other conferences and meetings?
Answer- Yes!! Middle managers and Agents will utilize Lync for planning meetings, mid-year reviews, cluster meetings, involving specialists in program area committee meetings, collaboration of development of educational materials, etc.

It is expected that District 11 agents be recognized as visionary leaders who embrace change and aggressively implement new management processes. As Texas Agrilife Extension incorporates Lync in our management processes the most important element that will influence the success of this process in our District is our mindset and attitude. 

Your Outlook Calendar 
As we continue to explore the many new effective tools associated with our migration to the Microsoft Exchange Outlook system I wanted to encourage you to use your Outlook calendar. Your calendar is inter-graded into your email account and to the Lync system.  When you are invited to a meeting via email or to a online meeting through Lync you will be asked to accept or decline the invitation. If you accept the invitation the system will automatically add the meeting to your Outlook calendar. You will be getting many emails in the future from me and others with invitations to meetings etc. It would be beneficial if you would use your calendar to keep track of important dates and deadlines. We are also in the process of initiating a District 11 Extension Calendar and a District 11 4-H calendar that will be shared with each one of you and your support staff.  You will be able to view the calendar from your Outlook email account and will have the availability to post county events to the District calenders. There will be much more to come on the use of your calender in the future. I have used an electronic calendar for the past two years and have become accustomed to the calender very quickly. There is also much value in sharing your calendar with your support staff, once your calendar is shared with support staff they can add appointments and reminders to your professional calender and you can also do the same. I understand that not all of you have mobile devices that will incorporate your calendar to your device, however you still have the option to print your updated calendar. 

D-11 4-H NEWS
District 11 will be hosting an invitational Hippology Contest at the Fayette Co Extension Office (LaGrange, TX) on Saturday, August 13, 2011.  This contest is being offered as a fun, friendly opportunity for youth with an interest in horses to test their knowledge and skills of the horse industry.  Many of the competitions will be participating in Hippology for the first time so don’t hesitate to come and learn more about this FUN contest!  Thanks to JD Folbre, Kara Matheney, Tina Kallus (volunteer from Fayette Co) and the Fayette Co staff for working together to make this possible.  For more information, rules, and registration deadlines, visit the link on the District 11 4-H website at

District 4-H Photos Available
More photo galleries have been added to the District 11 4-H website:
·         2011 Junior Leader Lab (thanks to photographer Scott Willey)
·         2011 Leadership Lab
·         2011 Texas 4-H Roundup – District 11 Photos (these are candid shots, professional photos can be found on the Texas 4-H website)

All these photos and more from other events can be found by clicking on ‘D11 4-H Photo Galleries’ on the right hand menu of the District 11 4-H homepage (

 Please feel free to download any of the photos for your own use, newsletters, publications, etc.  Please share the link with 4-H families in your county too!

WANTED:  Photos from the District Horse Show!  If you or any of your 4-H families have photos from the District Horse Show, please let me know…I would like a copy!

Texas 4-H Volunteer Conference

We are excited about the upcoming first ever Texas 4-H Volunteer Conference to be held in San Antonio on July 29-31, 2011.  There are over 250 volunteer registered statewide.  District 11 will be represented by 15 volunteers, 1 agent, and 1 workshop presenter. 

Volunteers registered from District 11 include: 
ARANSAS – Elizabeth Beebe & Ada Owens,  AUSTIN – Monica Eskew,  BEE – Candace Kovar, COLORADO – Katie Kunz & Barbara Weishuhn, DEWITT – Monica Carson, FAYETTE – Carlette Drabek, Jennifer Miksch, & Jennifer Zapalac, KARNES – Corina Venable,  NUECES – Linda Johnson, VICTORIA – Henry Wood & Karen Wood, WHARTON – Stacie Williamson.

Shamaine St Julien and Jodi McManus will also be attending.

Please make sure to thank these volunteers for taking the time to learn more about supporting the 4-H program and see if they can share information at an upcoming Club Manager or 4-H Volunteer training in your county.