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MSU Extension Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute Strategic Plan Products Report Jan-Aug 2021


January 19, 2022 - Author: Agriculture and Agribusiness Educators

Executive Summary

At the onset of 2021, the Michigan State University (MSU) Extension Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute (AABI) initiated the development of a comprehensive strategic planning process, entitled Strategic Direction. Michigan’s agricultural industries and AABI staff are facing a changing landscape and new challenges. Production capacity for many commodities is being impacted by climate change. The institute has limited opportunities for revenue growth, and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic stimulated innovative operating strategies for programmatic delivery. Through the Strategic Direction process the institute sought guidance on how to navigate these many challenges and opportunities and plan its future success.  

A 22-member steering committee, comprised of campus specialists, extension educators and specialists and campus and extension administrators, was enlisted to complete the strategic planning process under the direction of the National Charrette Institute led by Holly Madill and Marie Ruemenapp. Preliminary background materials and information was presented to the committee in order for members to develop a common understanding of institute accomplishments and challenges and outside influences that would impact AABI functions.  Based on this background information, the committee hosted work sessions and included persons internal to MSU and external stakeholders, to identify and prioritize current and future short- and long-term needs and goals and action steps to accomplish them.

From the results of these sessions with persons internal and external to MSU, the steering committee formulated a Practical Vision for the future of AABI. This vision identified the ideals that the institute should strive for with the following formulated outcomes;

  • A positive work environment that is successful at recruitment & retention
  • High impact, science-based organization
  • An integrated, agile, and engaged community of campus & field professionals
  • Improved organizational efficiency
  • A transdisciplinary approach to critical & emerging ag & food issues
  • Enhanced strategic partnerships with key stakeholders
  • Multi-faceted, diverse funding approach.

These ideals were developed to further lead the institute into a high-functioning, science-based, responsive, and nimble organization to address current and future needs of Michigan agriculture and its residents. To that end, the steering committee identified underlying conditions/barriers that currently exist and ways to address those constraints to achieve the identified goals. Strategic direction action items were developed to address those identified barriers.

The following strategic direction action items were collated into themes with subcategories with associated action items:

Theme Area #1: personnel responsibilities and interactions

  1. Increase campus/field collaboration and reward it. Recommendations indicate that there should be improved collaboration between the campus and field program by further defining expectations extension appointments of campus faculty and appropriately reward faculty for successful extension programming and collaboration.
  2. Balanced specialized & general personnel. The steering committee recognized the need for some educators to be broad in their knowledge base to address general topics and to work across work teams to integrate information to holistically formulate solutions for the end-user. The committee also recognized the need for people to be specialized in topic areas. To allow for individuals to further enhance their specialty area, the committee recommends to reintroduce “Affiliate Status” to reward specialization and to further improve alignment of field staff and campus specialists.

Theme Area #2: Work Teams

  1. Flexible work groups. The steering committee emphasized reducing barriers to improve the development of cross-work team projects or Issues Teams. Those efforts should be recognized through the performance review process. The formation of Issues Teams should be incentivized, interdisciplinary, and focused on a few objectives to achieve success and not overburden current staff.
  2. Expanded authority/responsibility for work team leaders . This recommendation is meant to address the top-down approach of the current system. The steering committee recommends that Work Team Leaders need to provide input on team member performance and contribution to ensure all team members are participating on the team and aligning with team and organization goals. The committee also recommends more transparency in the evaluation of administration and support staff. Additionally, the committee recommends that academic and programming staff should be allowed to identify where they should have more input on decision-making, particularly regarding staffing and position placement.

Theme #3: Internal DEI Change

  1. The committee recommended that on-going training regarding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion should be held regularly, be short in duration to allow for people to include it into their schedules and required for all staff. The committee also recommended that the expectation for change be realistic and to relate where staff are on the journey regarding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Theme Area #4: Program staff support and reporting efficiency

  1. Support staff to promote productivity. The committee provided recommendations to improve centralized support for staff developing online courses (e.g. D2L), communicating internally and externally, evaluation and needs assessment, and grant development. The committee also recommends improved capacity within campus-based support units. The committee also recommended that county-based support staff receive more consistent training to improve support to programming staff for the following: video editing, Camtasia or other video capacity, Events Management, dotCMS, or others. County-based support staff should be encouraged and incentivized to specialize on more technical areas so to provide higher level support.
  2. Streamline paperwork & reporting. The committee recommends reduced administrative overload (i.e. reporting) and improve clarity and efficiencies on administrative work processes. The committee recommended that there be consistent reporting mechanisms for campus and field-based staff within extension to provide the complete story of extension. The committee further recommended that internal and external stakeholders be engaged to consider what metrics extension should track and report, improve how extension reports impact outside of the organization, and streamline the reporting process.

Theme Area, #5: Incentives and partnerships

  1. Rewards and Incentives. The steering committee recommends a more delineated advancement path with clearer and more frequent steps within career progression and salary advancement; they recommend a multi-level promotion and rank system to ensure proper milestones are met and staff are adequately compensated. The committee also recommended a review of the past salary structure and to develop a more competitive structure. The committee recommends a review and amend the current performance review system in order for it to provide finer detail of an educator’s work with a focus on direction toward improvement.
  2. Increased partnership with commodity groups. The committee recommends increased involvement and incentive to interact with partners and stakeholders. The committee recommends working to increase new funding partnerships with industry, in part to find ways to increase support for funding new staff. The committee also recommends that industry partners be more involved in the advisement of our extension work and involve them to review assessment tools and suggest how they wish to be engaged and prioritize their engagement and input.
  3. Recognition and Compensation. The committee recommends for the institute to focus on changing the recognition and compensation structure. The committee recommends further and/or additional recognition for campus faculty/specialists to pursue grant opportunities on cross-cutting issues with field staff. In addition, there should be a recognition structure for members of high-performance teams to further stimulate work team and across work-team collaborations. Furthermore, the committee recommends a system that provides more financial support for more in-depth program/research development as well as compensation incentives for those leading efforts that generate funds for the organization.

Priority Ranking

The Steering Committee ranked the subcategories in order of priority for the institute. The ranking indicates those items where more work is needed to improve those topics area. The committee indicated that in some cases lower ranked items were topics that had on-going work within the institute and further effort regarding those lower ranked topics was not necessary. The ranking of the above ten subcategories are;

  1. Rewards and incentives
  2. Increased campus/field collaboration and reward it
  3. Support staff to promote productivity
  4. Streamline paperwork and reporting
  5. Recognition and compensation
  6. Expanded authority/responsibility for work team leaders
  7. Balance specialization and generalists (not the same person)
  8. Increased partnerships with commodity groups
  9. Flexible work teams
  10. Internal DEI change

The complete Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute Strategic Directions report can be found at

The institute thanks the 22-member Steering Committee of: Dr. Angel Abuelo, Dr. Eric Anderson, Paola Bacigalupo-Sanguesa, Jennifer Berkey, Roger Betz, Dr. Erin Burns, Beth Ferry, Sarah Fronczak, Paul Gross, Dr. James Kells, Rebecca Krans, Heidi Lindberg, Erin Lizotte, Dr. David Lowenstein, Dr. Melissa McKendree, Stan Moore, Dennis Pennington, Dr. Nikki Rothwell, Dr. Dale Rozeboom, Matt Shane, Dr. William Shane, Dr. David Thompson and Dr. Benjamin Werling, for their persistence, diligence and professionalism on completing this planning exercise that the institute will use to develop its future success.

Executive Summary Drafted by: Nikki Rothwell, Marilyn Thelen, Ron Bates


Tags: agriculture, msu extension

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