Dynamic. That’s a word we use to describe the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach program Leading Communities. We describe the program as dynamic because we want to always be able to adapt the program to the current and emerging community leadership and engagement needs of our Iowa counties. A research-based community engagement program, Leading Communities was developed and is provided to Iowa communities by community development specialists in Community and Economic Development.
Our most dramatic change in the program occurred in 2020, when COVID-19 forced us to pivot to a virtual delivery protocol. Delivering virtually, we were able to complete all the programs we started in 2019 and 2020. Feedback collected from our participants helped us understand what worked and what didn’t work and identified the silver linings associated with the programming and delivery changes we had to make. They told us:
- They appreciated the time during the sessions to discuss how COVID-19 was affecting their lives and their communities.
- Despite the occasional technological glitches and steep learning curves, they were pleased to be able to continue and complete Leading Communities.
- They liked our interactive use of Power Point. Power Point helped us to better engage with those learners who are more visually oriented. Coupling a visual program format with interactive strategies such as sharing cameras, verbal discussion, polls, chat, whiteboards, and small breakout group activities enabled participants to engage with each other in more diverse ways.
- Providing increased accessibility to the program via recorded sessions enabled some participants to complete the program.
As we move forward this year, we are excited about making further adaptations based on your observations. We will introduce Leading Communities 2.0 in early spring. We are planning to:
- Maintain our research-based core curriculum and learning objectives.
- Include more of a focus on issues specific to client communities.
- Be prepared to deliver Leading Communities in multiple modalities, such as face to face, virtual, and a combination of both. We want also to be able to include both synchronous and asynchronous components. These adaptations should allow for continuity of programming, regardless of unexpected externalities.
- Help participants write an implementable community development project plan.
- Assist participants in networking with ISU Extension and Outreach expertise and organizations that can help communities implement their plans.
- Continue to serve as a resource as communities begin implementing their community development projects.
In closing, we would like to express our gratitude to all of our participants and to our CED specialists and county offices who provided the Leading Communities program during unprecedented times. We particularly thank ISU Vice President of Extension and Outreach Dr. John Lawrence for providing educational stipends for counties participating in Leading Communities. We would also like to invite further feedback and observations about the Leading Communities program from participants. Those with additional thoughts or comments can contact either Deborah Tootle email@example.com or Brian Perry firstname.lastname@example.org.