Thursday, June 05, 2008

Ask the Expert

Knowing the following:
eXtension has an "Ask an Expert" feature that is supported by numerous Extension Agents and Specialists from across the country. They answer questions in about 16 different categories with more to be added.

Extension Services across the country have publications on MANY different topics.

I recently revisited the AllExperts site and thought about a question that has been on my mind for quite some time. It first came to me when I learned about Wikipedia.

Would an agent or specialist participating in others (i.e. AllExperts and Wikipedia) as an expert and contributor be a good way of marketing Extension?

My Current Opinions and Thoughts:
Yes, it is good for agents and specialists to participate and contribute in other sites where 'experts' are needed and recognized with one caveat. There must be a way for the contributions to be recognized as coming from an Extension Agent or Specialist. This can be done in Wikipedia by each individual creating and maintaining a user page with information about credentials and of course their association with Extension (with links). This may require that we maintain two separate accounts - one for when they are representing Extension and one for when we want to post something that should not be associated with Extension - i.e. personal opinions that aren't backed by research.

When we contribute we need to be sure to reference (and link when appropriate) Extension publications, services and expertise.

The argument against this is that we are providing these other services free content and expertise, improving their reputation - which may drive traffic away from our sites. I disagree with this argument. IMHO, the more we can be seen as expert participants on other sites, the more traffic will be driven to our own sites.

Besides, the Extension mission is to disseminate the researched based information to the public. Doesn't it make sense to take advantage of all the venues we can to achieve that goal? Let me make a physical world analogy - if we had the opportunity to talk to a large group of interested people that someone else gathered together, wouldn't we take advantage of that?
Of course we'd wear our Extension name tag and mention Extension services and products in our talk. So, what's the difference?

The problem I see is that most of us are assigned a geographic region to serve. With the web, we are serving a many more than our region and most in our region will never see the results of the time we spend in these endeavors. How do we justify spending time on these type projects to our funders - who primarily care about the people in their geographic region?

Call for discussion:

I don't claim that I'm right in my thinking - that's why I'm posting. I'd like to hear your opinions and reasoning - especially if they disagree with mine!

Should agents and specialists be encouraged to contribute to non-Extension sites? If so, how should those activities be encouraged?

How can they be rewarded and recognized for the time it takes?

How can we 'sell' it to our funding sources?


Stephen Judd said...


I'd go so far as to say that if Extension folks don't participate in and contribute to these types of site they will become irrelevant. Expecting people to come to us to get information isn't a viable long-term strategy. eXtension or any of the many local extension sites are unlikely to become destination sites and will only matter if they rank high in search results. I (and I'd guess most folks) don't try to figure out which site(s) has/have the information I want and then go search that site, I just Google it. I'm not sure how to deal with the funder issue, but since the information is still available to their constituents, maybe there's some justification for time spent.

Virginia Morgan White said...

Even though we argue that we need to stay focused on helping the local constituents, we find that local funding is drying up--so contributing on sites such as Wikipedia, Wikihowto, and others may not have as much of a negative impact on our budgets as we think because the money is already at risk. In fact, making those virtual contributions (with appropriate connections back to Extension), should increase our exposure and result in additional or differerent funding streams.

floyd said...

Hi John,

Good post. Thanks for raising these types of questions. I think Extension is a grass-roots type of organization. And while the landscape may be changing, core to our success is engagement and relevance. I agree with your analogy, we would certainly attend any face-to-face local meeting where we could make an impact. Participation is key. Successful staff are those who engage with relevant information. I've been thinking lately that we need to shift our online strategy from content-first (or only), to one of engagement (staff)supported by information and programs. A cultural change is needed. In the meantime, I've wondered if we should treat the Internet as just another region... investing in staff and resources.

John Dorner said...

Thank you all for commenting. I hope more people add their thoughts and the discussion continues...