Extension Competency in the City

Competencies are just one aspect of leadership development.

Extension’s pursuit to better attract, develop, retain, and structure competent personnel in the city requires new strategies to build on the knowledge base established through previous research and practice. Diversity, complexity, and scale in urban communities challenges leaders to consider a comprehensive talent model.

Throughout Extension’s history, Extension leaders have examined and tested models for effective urban Extension personnel. While there are similarities to staffing and workforce development in all geographic areas, there are opportunities to explore the unique context of personnel serving the Extension mission in large cities.

A fundamental element of human resource systems is identification of competencies, which are defined as a set of observable performance dimensions, including individual knowledge, skills, attitudes, and observable behaviors or characteristics (McClelland, 1973; Mirabile, 1997) and as collective team processes and organizational capabilities (Athey & Orth, 1999). Professional competencies needed by Extension personnel have been studied as a determining factor for relevant selection, training, and retention of talent. Many state Extension systems incorporate competencies into human resource practices and several authors identified Extension personnel competencies based on different types of positions, program areas, geographic areas, stage of career, or demographics of personnel. The majority of research and practice provide a consistent framework, but do not focus on the distinctive competencies of professionals working in or influencing Extension’s work in urban communities.

Competency Framework Development

Competency model development is a participatory process to identify a collective set of competencies that define the requirements for effective performance in a specific job, profession, or organization. A Competency Framework Development model can inform Extension’s recruiting and hiring practices as the next generation of professionals prepare to work on complex issues found in diverse urban areas. The first step is to identify core competencies and allocate resources accordingly. To do this, practitioners participate in a systematic process that includes three facilitated online sessions, using interactive technologies such as Zoom videoconferencing and Google docs for real-time data review. To learn more about Comptency Framework Development and education, eXtension provides valuable resources.

Urban County Extension Director
To better understand what it really takes to serve as an Extension leader in urban or metropolitan designated areas, a competency study was conducted with local Extension directors working in large counties. The county Extension director was selected due to their critical role in navigating community and organizational complexity and the dynamic interaction between internal and external environments (Jamali, 2005). The study aimed to systematically tap into the knowledge of practitioners – people who do the job, not who write about it or instruct it. Results of the Competency Framework Development process with urban county Extension directors include evidence these professionals need specific knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs that are both similar and unique when compared with findings from previous studies. Findings can be found through eXtension, the Journal of Human Sciences and Extension, and proceedings from the 2017 National Urban Extension Conference.

Urban County Educator
The urban county educator is the next Extension position that will be studied through a Competency Framework Development process.


Competency development resources

eXtension Competency Based Education
National Association of Extension Program & Staff Development Professionals
The Skills and Attributes of 21st Century Extension Professionals (2013)
Core Competencies for Agricultural Extension Educators (USAID, 2015)
What every Extension educator should know - core competency handbook (Suvedi, M., & Kaplowitz, M., 2016, USAID)
Harvard's Competency Dictonary
Competency And Skills System (CASS)
Four Dimensions of Leadership and Talent

Competency references - Extension related

-Athey, T. R., & Orth, M. S. (1999). Emerging competency methods for the future. Human resource management, 38(3), 215-225.
-Benge, M., Harder, A., & Goodwin, J. (2015). Solutions to burnout and retention as perceived by the county extension agents of the Colorado State University Extension system. Journal of Human Sciences and Extension, 3(1), 1-16. Retrieved from
-Brown, E. J. (1965). Adapting Extension to urban environment. Journal of Extension, 3(1), pp. 11-18. Retrieved from
-Bull, N. H., Cote, L. S., Warner, P. D., & McKinnie, M. R. (2004). Is Extension relevant for the 21st century? Journal of Extension, 42(6) Article 6COM2. Retrieved from
-Campion, M. A., Fink, A. A., Ruggeberg, B. J., Carr, L., Phillips, G. M., & Odman, R. B. (2011). Doing competencies well: Best practices in competency modeling. Personnel Psychology, 64(1), 225-262.
-Cochran, G. R. (2009). Ohio State University Extension competency study: Developing a competency model for a 21st century Extension organization (Doctoral dissertation, The Ohio State University). Retrieved from
-Cummings, S., Andrews, K., Weber, K. M., Poster, B. (2015). Developing Extension Professionals to Develop Extension Programs: A Case Study for the -Changing Face of Extension. Journal of Human Sciences and Extension Volume, 2(1). Retrieved from
-De Ciantis, D., Fox, J., Gaolach, B., Jacobsen, J., Obropta, C., Proden, P., Ruemenapp, M.A., Squires, J., Vavrina, C., Wagoner, S. & Willis, M. J. A. (2015). National Framework for Urban Extension. Retrieved from
-Deen, M. Y., Parker, L. A., Hill, L. G., Huskey, M., & Whitehall, A. P. (2014). Navigating Difference: Development and Implementation of a Successful Cultural Competency Training for Extension and Outreach Professionals. Journal of Extension, 52(1), n1. Retrieved from
-Doz, Y. (1996). Managing core competency for corporate renewal: towards a managerial theory of core competencies. In Organization and Strategy in the Evolution of the Enterprise (pp. 155-178). Palgrave Macmillan UK.
-Fuhrman, N. E., & Morgan, A. C. (2012). Program evaluation competencies of Extension professionals: Implications for continuing professional development. Aligning Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory with a Comprehensive Agricultural Education Model, 53(4), 85-97. Retrieved from
-Jamali, D. (2005). Changing management paradigms: implications for educational institutions. Journal of Management Development, 24(2), 104-115.
-Harriman, L. C., & Daugherty, R. A. (1992). Staffing extension for the 21st century. Journal of Extension, 30(4), 4FUT1. Retrieved from
-Haynes, B. R. (2000). Management Skills of County Extension Administrators: Are They Sufficient to Do the Job? Journal of Extension, 38(2), 2RIB2. Retrieved from
-Hibberd, C., Blomeke, C., & Lillard, A. (2013). The skills and attributes of 21st century extension professionals. Retrieved from
-Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Institutions. (1999). Returning to our roots: The engaged institution. Washington, DC: National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.
-Krofta, J., & Panshin, D. (1989). Big-city imperative: Agenda for action. Journal of Extension, Fall 1989, 27(3). Retrieved from
-Lado, A. A., & Wilson, M. C. (1994). Human resource systems and sustained competitive advantage: A competency-based perspective. Academy of management review, 19(4), 699-727.
-Lakai, D., Jayaratne, K. S. U., Moore, G. E., & Kistler, M. J. (2014). Identification of Current Proficiency Level of Extension Competencies and the Competencies Needed for Extension Agents to Be Successful in the 21st Century. Journal of Human Sciences and Extension Volume, 2(1). Retrieved from
-Maddy, D. J., Niemann, K., Lindquist, J., & Bateman, K. (2002). Core competencies for the cooperative extension system. [Report]. Personnel and Organizational Development Committee (PODC) of the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP). Retrieved from
-McClelland, D. C. (1973). Testing for competence rather than for “intelligence.” American psychologist, 28(1), 1.
-Miller, J. R. (1973). Are New Models for Local Extension Organization Needed?. Journal of Extension, 11, 57-66. Retrieved from
-Mintzberg, H. (1994). The fall and rise of strategic planning. Harvard business review, 72(1), 107-114.
-Mirabile, R. J. (1997). Everything you wanted to know about competency modeling. Training & Development, 51(8), 73-78.
-National Extension Urban Task Force. (1996). Urban extension: A national agenda. ECOP National Extension Urban Task Force. Retrieved from,%20A%20National%20Agenda.pdf
-Norton, R. E. (1998). Quality Instruction for the High Performance Workplace: DACUM.
-Prahalad, C. K., & Hamel, G. (1990). The Core Competence of the Corporation. Harvard Business Review, 68(3), 79-91.
-Ritsos, P. B., & Miller, L. E. (1985). Professional Competencies Needed by Extension Employees in Urban Counties of Ohio. Summary of Research 43. Retrieved from
-Russ‐Eft, D., Watkins, K. E., Marsick, V. J., Jacobs, R. L., & McLean, G. N. (2014). What Do the Next 25 Years Hold for HRD Research in Areas of Our Interest?. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 25(1), 5-27.
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-Stevens, G. W. (2013). A critical review of the science and practice of competency modeling. Human Resource Development Review, 12(1), 86-107.
-Stone, B., & Rennekamp, R. (2004). New Foundations for the 4-H Youth Development Profession: 4-H Professional Research, Knowledge, and Competencies Study, 2004. Conducted in cooperation with the National 4-H Professional Development Task Force. National 4-H Headquarters, CSREES, USDA. Retrieved from
-Vakola, M., Eric Soderquist, K., & Prastacos, G. P. (2007). Competency management in support of organisational change. International Journal of Manpower, 28(3/4), 260-275.
-Varner, D. L. (2011). A phenomenological study of millennial generation cooperative extension educators’ development of core competencies. Retrieved from
-Webster, N., & Ingram, P. (2007). Exploring the challenges for Extension educators working in urban communities. Journal of Extension, 45(3) Article 3IAW3. Retrieved from
-Yep, H. Y. (1980). Expanding urban programming. Journal of Extension, 19(3), pp. 29-33. Retrieved from
-Young, J., & Vavrina, C. (2014). Kentucky’s urban extension focus. Journal of Extension, 52(3), 3IAW3. Retrieved from