Effective Military-Extension-Community Partnerships

Friday Field Notes

jim diedrick FFNFor this weeks Friday Field Notes we are offering some reflections by Jim Deidrick, Military/Extension Program Specialist, DoD-USDA Partnerships, Extension Center for Youth Development, University of Minnesota Extension.

For the past 11 years I have had the honor and privilege of working with USDA military partnerships: first as a State 4-H Military Liaison and then nationally with the Department of Defense and Army Child, Youth and School Services.  I have been privileged to see first-hand the value added benefit that can be achieved through this national partnership focused on supporting geographically dispersed school age children and youth through the deployment and reintegration of their loved one.

diedrick pic1Through partnerships with state and local military communities, Extension staff nationwide have expanded and refined their expertise in working with military youth and families.  And in true Extension fashion, built effective community outreach teams with non-military partners for launching local and statewide support efforts.   Working together with military partners, Extension staff trained and supported local outreach teams in creating and implementing strategies for supporting military youth and families within their own communities; i.e. offering training to public school teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, and other youth organizations; developing local support programs; hosting recognition events,  etc.

As I reflect on and generalize some of my observations, seven important themes come to the surface in building and supporting effective partnerships:

  1. Community awareness of the need and of the partnership – It is important that the community be able to see that this is a need in their community. Why should they care?  Why is public support necessary? And they need to know that there is a team that they can connect with in addressing this need.
  2. Intentional recruitment of key community stakeholders – As a core group begins to form it is important to not only rely upon those that voluntarily come forward but to also develop an ongoing strategy for the recruitment of other key community stakeholders.diedrick pic4
  3. A champion to monitor and support a balance between partner relationships and outcomes – To sustain an effective team, it is important that healthy relationships are built among partners. Partners need to learn about each other, how to work together effectively, and that they can depend upon each other.  But having good working relationships is not sufficient.  The team needs to be actively doing something to address the reason they came together.  The partners need to know that their investment of resources is making a difference.  A skilled “champion” is needed that constantly pays attention to balancing team relationships and outcomes.  Swinging too much one way or the other will have an impact on team effectiveness and sustainability.  This balance is constantly changing as teams gain experience, new partners join, and as personnel change.
  4. Active commitment to common mission among all partners – It is important that all partners share in a common mission and see an active role on the team for themselves and their organizations. But, active commitment does not mean the same thing to each partner and the team needs to honor and respect what each partner is able to contribute.
  5. Leadership provided at some level by all partners – It is both highly effective and motivating for partners to provide leadership for team efforts within their area of expertise/resource.diedrick pic2
  6. Utilize existing and new resources to fill gaps, reduce duplication, and make a tangible difference – Effective teams systematically scan for needs, gaps and duplication of available supports for military connected youth and families in their community. They strategically assess and utilize resources at their disposal in planning and delivering impactful programming.
  7. Celebration of impact (in order to celebrate, need to evaluate effectiveness) – It is important that teams recognize and celebrate the good work they are doing. In order to know if programming is making a difference, some form of evaluation must be done.  Not every effort needs a formal quantitative evaluation.  Collecting comments, feedback and stories from participants are also effective.

One of the resources that we developed to assist teams in many of these areas was the Operation: Military Kids Ready, Set, Go! Implementation Guide 2nd DRAFT available on the 4-H Military Partnerships website.  Included are many tools that can be adapted for use with a variety of teams.

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